Hainsworth manufactures an extraordinary range of textiles that includes baize cloth for the world’s best pool and snooker tables, felt for the hammers of Steinway pianos, the Hudson Bay Company’s famous “point” blankets, high-tech protective clothing for fire fighters and military personnel, the cloth for classic university scarves, pea coat cloth for the Danish navy and biodegradable woollen coffins. Some 180 people are employed at the company’s Spring Valley Mill in Pudsey on the edge of Leeds.
The company’s board includes managing director Tom Hainsworth and his cousins Adam, the financial director, and Rachel, who is in charge of quality. Astonishingly, the trio are seventh-generation descendants of the splendidly named Abimelech Hainsworth, who started a cloth business in the area in 1783 selling the products of weavers who worked hand looms in their cottages. Also known as Old Bim, he set up his first mill in 1810; the current site was acquired by another Abimelech Hainsworth (aka Young Bim) in 1882.
Part of the secret of the company’s continued success is that it is a fully integrated vertical mill. Any tour of the 200,000 sq ft multi-storey plant starts with the wool store, where bales of raw fibre from Australia are stacked to the ceiling. Virtually every process, including a vast range of specialist finishing techniques, which transforms this smelly, oily wool into marvellous textiles is done on the premises.
Princes William and Harry were both in Hainsworth paradewear cloth at the Royal Wedding last year, as were the page boys, Prince Charles and probably every other man wearing a ceremonial uniform from Great Britain or overseas. Normally, the most widely seen Hainsworth product is the Brigade of Guards’ red uniform cloth. Incredibly, as recently as the early 1990s, colonels of the British regiments could decide on the cloth they wished to see their troops in. In those days Hainsworth produced an incredible 16 shades of red, which makes a mockery of the term “uniform cloth”. Sanity prevailed in the British Ministry of Defence and now there are only two hues for the Guards – scarlet or crimson.
There are also two qualities of this celebrated jacketing. Officers traditionally wear a 100% wool “doeskin” variety that weighs a substantial 380-400 grams (13-14oz). It has a “faced finish”, which means that it has a directional nap that always lays in the same direction, a typical example of Hainsworth’s expertise. The Other Ranks’ tunics are made in a melton that is even heavier at 550 grams (more than 19oz). Wearing that in the heat of even an English summer truly represents making sacrifices for Queen and Country.
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