GANNEX, My Granny and the Lost Mills of Yorkshire.
To my amazement and joy, I recently sourced some fabulous deadstock fabric that had been produced at the now demolished Gannex Mill in Greater Elland, Yorkshire. Always one to love a bit of research to uncover the stories behind the vintage fabrics that we upcycle, I discovered that this unique textile is a surviving piece of social history and one that’s intertwined with my own personal history- let me tell you the story…….
Joseph Kagan, later Lord Kagan, was a colourful character. A Jewish immigrant who fled Stalin’s invasion of Lithuania, he built a textiles business in Yorkshire and developed a new type of cloth which combined the warming properties of wool with the waterproofing of polyester which he named ‘Gannex’.
Gannex raincoats sold across the world with the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson being the staunchest supporter, rarely seen without his. Both men pursued their vision of putting British manufacturing firmly back on the map and reviving the fortunes of the Yorkshire textile industry with Kagan Textiles being the leading employer in Elland for a time.
Ever the entrepreneur, Kagan persuaded the Duke of Edinburgh to order a Gannex raincoat from Harrods thus securing the Royal Warrant and leading to the provision of raincoats for the Queen and even her Corgis to wear.
Lord Kagan is also known for his spectacular fall from grace, doing time inside for ‘tax evasion’ in 1976 after stealing 23 barrels of indigo dye from his former factory, going on the run in Spain and finally being captured and extradited on a visit to Paris when a disgruntled former mistress betrayed him. He was also rumoured to have been a spy. Although jailed and fined he did make a return to the House of Lords and eventually passed away in 1995. (You can read more about the fascinating life of Lord Kagan here).
The Gannex Mill in Elland, Yorkshire, closed in the 1990s and was eventually and controversially demolished in 2010.
So with all of that history and pedigree and Hunted and Stuffed’s love of a good back story, imagine how thrilled I was to hunt down some original vintage rolls of Gannex fabric from this famous, and now long gone, Mill. Enough, in fact, to create two very special Limited Editions…
Similar to The Harold but in Grey wool rather than Navy.
All are 43cm x 43cm and include the feather pad filling.
Just recently Elle Decor published a Trend Alert for plaids – who knew the Duke was so fashion forward?!
So what’s all that got to do with my Granny? Well, researching the history of the Gannex Mill in Yorkshire got me thinking about my maternal grandmother, Lily.
She used to work as a Worsted Weaver in Leeds in the 1940’s and 50’s at the Bean Ing Mill until it too was closed and eventually demolished. After doing some further family research I discovered that her father and also her grandmother both worked in the textile industry too. There is some comfort in discovering that something you have chosen to do is actually in the blood and I was amazed to discover that I’m actually the fifth generation of my family to work in textiles – that I have discovered so far.
My Gran Lily (3rd from left) and other Mill Girls down the local.
This is the interior courtyard of Bean Ing Mill in Leeds at the time Lily worked there in 1948.
Built over a 40 year period by Benjamin Gott, it was the world’s first factory for woollen manufacture. This whole area was demolished in the 1960s and the Yorkshire Post Newspapers building erected on the site.
This is a loom found at the site and the kind that Lily would have operated, perhaps even the same one. She was quite deaf in old age and this was probably the culprit.
So Lily, these cushions are made in your memory.
By the way, the feather cushion pads inside were made in Yorkshire too. 100% Yorkshire made – just like you.
I hope you like them.