INSPIRATION AND SUPPORT FROM THE HEART OF THE BRITISH CLOTH INDUSTRY
However, where to start?
Knowing nothing about weaving we set about learning what would be involved. We knew we wanted the project to be a social enterprise, putting any profits back into the community. Anne and Faith both had experience of running a commercial company; as a retired Diplomatic spouse I had no commercial experience at all. However, I did have useful friends! One of them, a Savile Row tailor, put us in touch with Gordon Kaye, an experienced person in the textile world and former Managing Director of Taylor & Lodge, a well regarded textile mill in Huddersfield. He proved to be an absolute gem.
With a wealth of useful contacts and a reputation second to none he drew up a list of people who would be willing to speak to us about our scheme and give us an idea of what would be involved in such a project. So, with Anne busy with her own commitments, Faith and I set off for Huddersfield and Bradford in April 2012 for a fact-finding mission about textiles.
Our first visit was to the weaving mill of Chris Antich (Antich & Sons Ltd), a building the size of three football pitches. It didn’t take long for Faith and me to realise that our talk of a “weaving industry” on the Marsh was just not feasible. Employing 70 people, using industrial weaving machines from Germany, and with an output of approximately 40,000 metres of cloth a week this was on an industrial scale we had no knowledge of. However, Chris proved to be a tower of strength in terms of advice and encouragement as things moved on.
The next stop was a visit to Bradford to meet Martin Curtis, Director of Curtis Wool Direct Ltd. who own Haworth Scouring Co., the largest wool processing plant of its type in the world. It was thrilling to spend time in his plant, watching the transformation of dirty fleeces full of muck and barbed wire into a virgin and smooth “top”, ready to be spun into whatever result was required.
Finally on to meet John Walsh, Managing Director of Abraham Moon, a vertical mill near Leeds. John had arranged a tour showing us how the whole process of creating cloth was carried out in the one building: the scouring, dyeing, spinning, designing, weaving and manufacture of cloth for apparel, accessories and furnishings. His fabrics and accessories are to be found in many high-quality stores.
Faith and I returned home slightly overwhelmed by all we had seen and learned, and impressed by the reception we had had from the people we had met. Whatever their views as to the feasibility of our vision they were unfailingly helpful and courteous. However, it was clear that we would have to think in more modest terms if we wished to create something which would lead to skills and employment on the Romney Marsh.
Influenced by the way Harris Tweed is produced on the Isle of Harris, a plan evolved which required four phases: (1) to establish that Romney wool, traditionally used in carpets and blankets, could be suitable for clothing fabrics; (2) to design and produce samples of a tweed; (3) to carry out market research and to market test those samples; (4) to set up a hub for training/skills purposes and the organisation of cloth production on the Marsh.