Holme Mills – flax and coconut matting

(Page created 18/03/13)

A short history by Geoff Pegg, The Holme History Project

Holme Mills (R.Baker)

The flax mill began in 1819 when Waithman & Co. bought the site. There had been a corn mill there for some centuries, operated in association with Jolly’s Farm, probably. The Waithman family were Quakers from Yealand. When they built the mill they also built houses for the workers to live in, thus establishing Holme Mills as a centre of population in itself, but connected to Holme by road. It continued as a flax mill until about 1862, changing hands a couple of times, but a fire around that date, when the mill was owned by an Irishman (and Holme Mills was largely populated by Irish workers) meant the mill went out of business and remained empty for about two years.

At that stage it was bought by Edward Shepherd & Sons. Edward Shepherd retired as a prison governor at Wakefield Gaol in 1864. Altogether nine of his relations were prison governors at some point in Yorkshire, but they also had other interests including in a mill in Dundee. Edward Shepherd bought the mill for his son Francis to run. They converted the flax mill to one which made coir or coconut matting. There was a suggestion that some of the workers were ex-prisoners, imported from Yorkshire, because they had made coconut matting in the prisons. This is unproven (and I think unlikely). However there was an influx of weavers from Yorkshire (Heckmondwike, Liversedge, Gomersal) in the 1890s, but I feel this may have been carpet weavers as Shepherds did start a limited amount of carpet weaving for a while.

William Goodacre Ltd bought the mill in 1916. Their headquarters was at Victoria Dock in London and they were the biggest importers of coir matting in Europe, possibly the world. The workforce remained the same, including the managers at the time, with Goodacres keeping a watching brief over the operation. They also opened a branch in Kendal for making carpets.(Click here to find out more). There was another major fire in the 1960s which gutted the main building, but it was made good and production restarted.

The mill continued making matting into the 1970s, but had also moved into plastic matting by that time. It closed in 1975 and the site was purchased by Eric and Dennis Towers, local garage owners, and it is now a site containing a number of small businesses. At the time of its closure the mill only employed about 30 workers. When it was a flax mill there were several hundred, and as a matting mill between 200 and 300.

For more information about Holme and its industries visit The Holme History Project.