GANNEX, My Granny and the Lost Mills of Yorkshire.

Posted on January 8, 2014 in Textiles

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…….

Gannex is the brand name for the iconic British textile invented and produced by Kagan Textiles Ltd in Greater Elland, Yorkshire in the 1950’s.

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’.

Lord kagan Gannex

Lord Kagan displaying his Gannex textile invention. (Photo: paphotos.co.uk)

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.

Harold Wilson Gannex Overcoat

Harold Wilson in his Gannex overcoat. (Photo: Ernest G Bilko via Flikr)

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.

Royal Warrant gannex

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.

Gannex Factory Elland

Gannex Mill in 2010 before being demolished.
(Photo: Tim Patterson, Greater Elland Historical Society)

Derelict Gannex factory

Inside the abandoned Gannex Mill before it’s demolition in 2010. (Photo: Rookinella 28DaysLater.org)

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…

THE HAROLD:

Plaid Cushion HaroldA strictly limited edition of 25.

Plaid Upcycled Cushion

 Each piece is handmade, fully lined and over-locked with a hidden zip in the base and has it’s own hand-stamped label with the origin of the vintage textile and the individual edition number.

THE DUKE:
Similar to The Harold but in Grey wool rather than Navy.

Tartan Grey Duke CushionAlso a strictly limited edition of 25.

Hand stamped label

Detail of the hand stamped and individually numbered label.

All are 43cm x 43cm and include the feather pad filling.

(Available to buy here)

 

Just recently Elle Decor published a Trend Alert for plaids – who knew the Duke was so fashion forward?!

Tartan Wool Cushions Duke harold

 These limited edition cushions really are the last parts of the story and once they are gone, they are gone.

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.

Mill Girls Leeds 1950s

This is the interior courtyard of Bean Ing Mill in Leeds at the time Lily worked there in 1948.

Bean Ing Mill Leeds

(Photo: www.leodis.org)

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.

Loom Bean Ing Mill Leeds

(Photo: www.leodis.org)

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.

Love,
Ellie x

4 Responses

  1. ann honeyman
    April 22, 2015

    hi i worked at gannex from 1970 to 1973, it was my first job after leaving school,

    Reply
    • ellielaycock
      September 8, 2016

      Hi Ann,
      I’d love to find out more about your experience of working there! Do you have any photographs or memories from your time there that you’d like to share?
      With very best wishes,
      Ellie x

      Reply
  2. Martina
    August 2, 2016

    Hello Ellie

    I just came across your blog as I had googled Gannex Mill. This was because I am considering buying some of the salvaged floor boards from the mill and just love your blog post! Do you still have any of the cushions to sell? I think it would be amazing to have one or two to link the floor and the product that was produced in the mill.

    Thanks

    Martina

    Reply

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