JOB-creating plans for a landmark mill have prompted interest from the descendants of the man who built it.
Huddersfield University has embarked on a £13m scheme to turn Larchfield Mills on Firth Street into an enterprise and innovation centre.
The project, which could bring at least 100 jobs to the town, will see the building transformed to provide workshops, laboratories and rooms that small businesses can rent while they get off the ground.
Work is under way and the plan has special interest for Ben Blackden, whose great-grandfather George Brook Jnr built Larchfield Mills – and whose family made a major contribution to the town.
Mr Blackden, of Buckinghamshire, said: “Mill owners sometimes have the reputation of being from the gentry and uncaring of their employees, a reputation no doubt richly deserved in many cases.
“However the family, including George Brook Snr and his son George Jnr had radical and socialist beliefs and campaigned, among other things, for trades unionism and workers rights.”
George Snr was apprenticed as a dyer and was one of the originators of the Voice of the West Riding – an unstamped, and therefore illegal newspaper established in 1833 which championed working class causes such as the radical reform of parliament, co-operation and trade unionism.
George had become attracted to the ideas of the socialist Robert Owen, where common ownership of the means of production and equality for all would form the basis of society. This was to be achieved in part by building Halls of Science.
George’s obituary in the Examiner in 1881 confirms that he was one of the promoters of Huddersfield’s Hall of Science, a building that still stands today in Bath Street.
These activities were frowned upon by George’s employer, Starkeys, who fired him. George went on to start his own dyeing business in 1847 at Folly Hall and in 1853 he built new premises at Colne Road.
He still continued his political activities and during the election of 1853 a warrant was issued for his arrest on the charge that he “unlawfully and maliciously composed and published a certain scandalous libel upon Joseph Starkey”, who was the Tory candidate. George admitted the charge, but by the time the York sessions came round, he had issued an apology and the case was dismissed.
George Jnr continued and expanded the business and in about 1866 built the existing mill on the narrow strip of land between Firth Street and the canal tow path.
The mill complex grew to include a main five-storey mill, four three-storey buildings, a two-storey weaving shed, warehousing as well as an engine house, boiler rooms and a 130ft square stone chimney. The total frontage to Firth Street was 475ft – plus the finishing mill on the other side of the road.
As a caring employer, George Jnr organised the annual “workpeople’s treat”.
He also showed a concern for health and safety which was unusual in his day. When a fire in the teasing room broke out in 1880 it was brought under control because the room, which was fireproofed, was “fortunately fitted with great completeness with apparatus for extinguishing fire and workmen are well acquainted with the whereabouts of every requisite”.
George Jnr’s obituary describes his business as a “marvellous success”.
George Snr, George Jnr and George Jnr’s eldest son, also called George, are all buried at Egerton Road Cemetery.
Their story is told in the book, The Brooks of Larchfield, written by local historian Alan Brooke.