Life as a Yarn Spinner – going through the mill

23 August 2017

In the first instalment of a three-part series, Colin Lawton, grandson of the founder of Fred Lawton & Son, recalls the history behind Lawton Yarns and how he started his career in woollen yarn spinning.

Our family business had its origins in 1902 when my grandfather Fred, who was working for a firm of woollen yarn spinners as Head Spinner, had the opportunity to buy two pairs of spinning mules and four carding sets to set up on his own. With the help of his father, who was also a spinner by trade, he purchased the machinery for the sum of £300 and so founded the business which exists today as Lawton Yarns.

My father Frank, joined the company straight out of school in 1912 and after serving in the Royal Navy during WWI, returned in 1918 to further develop the company with his great engineering skills.  Occupying rented premises, the business survived the great depression of the early 30’s and by 1936 had outgrown the existing premises and moved into a 7,400m2 derelict cotton mill in Huddersfield.

The company continued to grow rapidly during WWII due to an unprecedented demand for military cloths, spun from woollen yarn. By 1948, the company employed about 70 people and was producing around nine tonnes of yarn per week, with an annual turnover of £250,000.

After studying Civil Engineering at University, I was commissioned in the Royal Engineers for two years of military service before joining the family business in 1949. This was a drastic change in direction in my career and meant I needed to study for a professional qualification in woollen textiles which I completed part time at a technical college over the next two years. ‘Going through the mill’ I learnt all the aspects involved in the production of woollen yarns and as well as buying raw materials, the practicalities of selling and management of the enterprise.

Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, there was a dramatic collapse in the price of wool, and it was at this point that I was thrown in at the deep end to fill the shoes of the managing director who had just left the company.