British textile industry

June 17, 2021
Old Cotton Mill Lancashire

The walls are as gleaming white, the herringbone parquet floor as flawless as if it were laid last week. On the welcome mat inside the entrance porch, the company crest bears the motto: 'Industry, Inspiration, Cooperation'.

Only the dust gives it away, and the silence. There are no people here any more, though the ghosts of past occupants are everywhere. In the boardroom, eight padded club chairs dressed in soft teal leather still sit around the board table as if waiting for the weekly meeting. On the wall, a polished chrome dial points out the hour: a quarter to three.

It is as though time has stood still since the summer day in 1939 when W Pearce & Co leatherworks factory opened its doors for the first time – for the building at least; the company has not been so lucky. W Pearce & Cof ceased production in 2002 and its assets, including the Grade II-listed art deco factory and the greenbelt land near Northampton it stands upon, have since been sold off to developers. Now the rooftops of a new estate – 120 houses designed with the factory's elegant features in mind – can be seen peeking above a hillock to its rear.

Development of the factory itself – perversely – has been hamstrung by its remarkably untouched condition, with its plethora of original features and 1930s detailing. "It's so perfectly preserved, " says Michael Pearson, former managing director of the company he knows simply as Pearce's. "It's not a typical industrial building, that is why it's so very, very special."

But while Pearce's may not look like other factories, it shares the same fate as so many industrial buildings: relics of Britain's manufacturing heritage that, in the wake of the housing boom, have been snapped up by developers and transformed into luxury apartments and offices.

The collapse of Britain's traditional manufacturing industry left huge numbers of these buildings to rot in the latter part of the 20th century. Travel through the north-west and their wasted hulks are hard to miss, folded into the rolling moors of this rugged landscape.

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