The Hebden Bridge Fustian Society, which began in 1870 as a workers co-operative, is the focus of a new exhibition at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.
The Workers Who Ran Their Own Mill exhibition launched in July, and focuses on how the society provided employment for men and women through the manufacturing of fustian fabric (a variety of heavy cloth woven from cotton) and clothing at Nutclough Mill.
In the late 19th century, fustian production was one of the most important industries for Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley – so much so that the town became known as Fustianopolis.
The co-operative was founded at a time when firms of dyers and finishers were taking over fustian cutting, meaning that fustian cutters were losing their independence. Joseph Greenwood and James Moss, both local fustian cutters, were keen to start a co-operative workshop, and in 1870 became the first signatories of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society.
The first workshop was set up in Crown Street, before the society moved to the Nutclough Estate in 1873. By 1874 it was employing 36 woman and 18 men, increasing to over 300 by 1919.
The exhibition, which is based on a book written by historian Andrew Bibby, titled All Our Own Work: The Co-operative Pioneers of Hebden Bridge and their Mill, on which the exhibition is based, follows the development, heyday and decline of the Hebden Bridge Fustian Society, and explores the reasons for its evolution, its struggles and the positive impact it had on its workers and the surrounding area.
- The Workers Who Ran Their Own Mill runs until the end of December 2015. For more information on the museum or the exhibition, visit: www.rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop