The Rajah Quilt

The Rajah Quilt

Sunday, January 15, 2012

John Dewhurst and Sons, Cotton Manufacturers

Happy New Year to all! :)

For a few years now I have been collecting Dewhurst Sylko reels, merchandise, boxes and associated paraphernalia. 

Sadly I have not been able to establish a direct link to my family with the Dewhursts of Dewhurst Sylko fame, although they are from locations near to each other.  The Dewhurst Cotton company started with Thomas Dewhurst, who in the latter part of 1789 acquired a corn mill at Elslack, near Skipton, which he converted into a mill for the spinning of cotton by water power.  The first cotton for use at the Elslack Mill was bought in November 1789, and in the beginning of 1790 the mill was in full working order, as from that time forward there are recorded large and regular sales of "twist", principally to Manchester and Blackburn.

In 1813 two mills were rented by Thomas at Millholme, near Skipton, for cotton spinning. In 1819 the brothers John and Isaac Dewhurst, sons of Thomas, bought the lease of Scalegill Mill, near Malham, and in 1822 bought that of the Old Soke Mill at Airton, which had for some time been worked as a cotton mill.  With the money they made from this they built the Belle Vue Mill.  They continued to run the Airton mill, which they acquired freehold in 1834, until just after 1900, trading as Airton Mill Company from 1889, and becoming part of the English Sewing Cotton Company in 1898.  Scalegill Mill was let to another firm for a short while, which went bankrupt, and Dewhurst's bough it back again from 1829, and let to other operators until 1904.


The original Belle Vue Mill at Skipton was built in 1828. This mill was run for the first time on February 17th, 1829, being then used for worsted spinning and weaving.  On Sunday, January 2nd, 1831, it was burnt to the ground. The mill was re-built with astonishing quickness, for before the end of the year it was working again, now as a cotton mill.
The Dewhurst mill at Skipton as it stands today, has been remodelled into apartments.
A plaque on the river walkway beside the mill.

In 1852 the mill was greatly extended, and a shed to hold 385 looms was added. A further enlargement took place in 1859 and 1860. In 1863-4 a warehouse was erected on the site of the Old Work-
house. During the years 1867 to 1870 the newest and largest mill, a noble building adjacent to Broughton-road, was erected. This mill was run for the first time on February 4th, 1870. The building is 225 feet in length, and 70 feet 8 inches in width. It is five stories high, and the rooms are lighted by twenty windows in each side, and six in each end.  The entire factory premises of Messrs. Dewhurst have a floor area of 20,000 square yards. More than 800 operatives are in continual employment.
John Bonny Dewhurst, grandson of Thomas

Belle Vue Mills were engaged in the spinning and weaving of cotton, and in the manufacture of sewing cotton, all the varied processes, including dyeing, being performed on the premises. The thread manufactured by Messrs. Dewhurst bears a very high reputation. Wherever exhibited it has received prize medals : at the Vienna Universal Exhibition of 1873, at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, and at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, medals were awarded to this firm. The firm now goes under the
style of Messrs. John Dewhurst and Sons. It consists of Mr. J. B. Dewhurst and Mr. T. H. Dewhurst, sons of the founder, and Mr. Algernon Dewhurst, son of Mr. J. B. Dewhurst.
Box showing medals from Amsterdam and Frankfurt Exhibitions
Closeup of box showing medals won at World Exhibitions
Drawing of the mill used on boxes of threads

Algernon Dewhurst was also a member of the board of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. In 1882 he was a guest at the opening of Singer's Kilbowie maunfacturing plant in Glasgow, Scotland. Dewhurst's produced a range of threads with 'Specially prepared for Singer' labels.
Reels of thread with Singer labels

The business was converted into a private limited liability company in 1888, the directors being the sons of John Dewhurst: Messers John Bonny Dewhurst, Thomas Henry Dewhurst, Algernon Dewhurst, Lionel Dewhurst, and Arthur Dewhurst. It is interesting to note that for upwards of a century the management of the firm has been in the hands of lineal descendants of the original founder Thomas Dewhurst.


In 1897 all the principal old-established and well-known English thread makers who were not included in the "Coats'" Combine (J & P Clark and J. Coats) consolidated to become a powerful and wealthy Corporation to be known as 'The English Sewing Cotton Co., Limited'.  From the Coats Company Chairman's address to shareholders he said "They decided to enter into closer connection with a view to secure unity of interest, large economies, and harmonious relationship and working between each other and the great Coats' Company".


The chairman of the directors of the new company was Mr Algernon Dewhurst (who held this position until 1902); while the trustees for the debenture holdings were Mr John Bonny Dewhurst, JP Chairman of the Craven Bank; Mr Frederick Charles Arkwright, JP, D.L.; and Mr G. Herbert Strutt, JP. 

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for this!

    I had picked up an old cotton reel at a carboot sale and wondered about it, you have provided great information here!

    I may now keep my eyes open for Dewhurst reels in future!

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  2. Hi Aj, thanks for checking out my blog, happy that you found out something about your cotton reel :)

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  3. Hello Bernadette. I found your piece about Dewhurst's very interesting. I am specifially searching the internet about the three shells thread and when it was last sold on wooden reels. If you have any information about this I would be pleased to receive it.

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  4. Hi Lin,
    The three shells logo is based on the traditional Dewhurst family crest, which is three shells on a shield with a knight's head on the top.
    The logo was used, in various artwork, on Sylko thread up until the BelleVue mill ceased cotton production in the 1980's.

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  5. I have some cards of Dewhurst mending/sock darning yarn which I would be interested to put a date to - looking at them I'm guessing they might be about 1970s. Might anyone know about these please? Photos available if anyone is interested.

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  6. Great to see this. I often used to cross the canal by Dewhirsts on my way from the railway station to the High School when I was a girl. Lovely reminder as I haven't lived in UK for many years.

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  7. Replies
    1. Hello Bernadette and Kanishks Grank! So pleased I stumbled across this while searching for my g/grandfather Charles Dewhurst of Cheshire. I'd love to correspond. My older brother should have more details about this branch of the family. Very best wishes Allegra

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    2. Hello Bernadette and Kanishks Grank! So pleased I stumbled across this while searching for my g/grandfather Charles Dewhurst of Cheshire. I'd love to correspond. My older brother should have more details about this branch of the family. Very best wishes Allegra

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    3. Hello Allegra,
      Thank you for all your comments and sharing some of your family history. this isn't the best format for messaging, if you'd like to find my rajah's granddaughter facebook page that might be easier :)

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  8. If you are still collecting. I have just come across a large supply of Dewhurst spools from my grandma who used to be a dress maker. Let me know if you want to see a photo of what I have found.

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  9. Hi Sky-Lee it would be great to see them but I don't know whether you can post a photo here?

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  10. Hi there, just stumbled across your article whilst searching the web for something that would help me date my Sylko reels. Ideally a list of colours and corresponding numbers and an idea of how long they were produced. Have you seen anything? ��

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    1. Hi Georgina, thank you for your interest :) They were produced for a very long time, there are noticeable changes in the labels and later in the use of plastic reels. There isn't any dating other than using, as you say, the colour charts, which often are not dated, sales receipts and contemporary advertising material, that can help narrow down the changes.

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    2. Thanks Bernadette, a gap to be filled! Do you know how long they produced the singer reels? Have you managed to collect all the colours? There is something strangely addictive about those wooden reels!!

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  11. lovely article, I have recently become a vintage haberdashery addict and am trying to date some of the cotton reels I have acquired. If I find anything I will be sure to come back and post on here :)

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    1. hi Sandra,
      Thanks for your comment. I try to keep an eye out for any invoices, receipts etc that may help date the variations in the reels but so far haven't found anything.

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  12. Hi Bernadette. Lovely to know a bit more about my treasured Sylko threads! Am devastated to have just discovered I can no longer buy them. Do you know why the name was discontinued? Guggerman spools don't fit in my sewing basket! All I can find is a plea at http://www.sewalot.com/sewing_machine_threads.htm:

    "No one has understood why such a valuable trade name was abruptly killed off and it must have been for a really important reason. An explanation would be invaluable so if you know why please mail me: alexsussex@aol.com"

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  13. Great article...I am trying to collect all colours whether wooden or plastic. Any direction on seeing full colour chart would be greatly appreciated.

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  14. Great Article & Tribbute to a well known brand name / s. Hope you are still carrying on with the research and collections.

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    1. Hi AbbyGail, thanks, glad you enjoyed it :) I keep collecting as I find things I can afford, they are becoming more scarce and harder to find

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  15. Hi Rajah's grand-daughter!
    How lovely to stumble across this as I was searching for Charles Dewhurst, my great-grandfather. I am a bit patchy about the details, but I can at least tell you that Charles Dewhurst was married to Annie Davidson of Edinburgh, but left her widowed. They had a marvellous house in Cheshire but I'd have to ask my elder bro for the name. She then married the Manchester cotton broker Walter Jones, a very refined as well as wealthy man. Charles and Annie had two children, George and Margaret Eva (Meta). George was killed on the Western Front which caused eternal grief to his mother and sister. George's brother-officer, later Lt. Col. Roger Mstyn-Owen, then married Meta and produced four children. The eldest, George, died in his teens of natural causes; David was KIA on army exercise in Ireland just before the end of WWII. My aunt Liz, having briefly worked at Bletchley, married Major Warren Freeman-Attwood and they had two children; she later became an art historian and art history teacher. The youngest of Roger and Meta's children, my father William, unexpectedly inherited everything upon his father's death in 1946 or 47 when he was still under 21. William ('Willy') died in 2011 after a career as an art historian. He had three children with Italian artist and writer Gaia Servadio, my mother. The eldest, Owen, still lives at the Mostyn-Owen ancestral home in Shropshire. I am the middle child and live in London where I am a ceramicist, translator and occasional teacher/community relations person (British Pakistanis in particular). The youngest, Orlando, lives between Paris and London: he is a painter and also teaches at the Prince's School. It seems fitting to turn my thoughts back on the past as we commemorate the fallen in the World Wars, and all wars.

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  16. Hello Rajah's Daughter! I stumbled across this whilst searching for stuff about my g/grandfather Charles Dewhurst of Cheshire. Let's correspond!
    All best wishes

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  17. Hello Rajah's daughter! I stumbled across this while searching for anything about Charles Dewhurst, my g/grandfather. Let's correspond! All best wishes Allegra

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