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24 September 2014
Nation on Film

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BRITAIN'S BREAD HANGS BY A LANCASHIRE THREAD
Mill worker Journey back to a time when king cotton ruled the country, 'kissing the shuttle' was part of the job and the rainy climate of England's North West was celebrated rather than cursed.

A Nation on Film gets to the heart of Lancashire's cotton industry through a unique collection of archive footage.

As the first country in the world to experience an industrial revolution, Britain was ahead of the game and nowhere was this more so than the textile industry.

With its damp climate, plentiful supply of water to drive the mills and canal connections to the port of Liverpool, Lancashire firmly established itself at the centre of the textile boom.

On the up

Mill workers
Inside a textile mill

The invention of steam power allowed many jobs in the textile industry, traditionally performed by hand, to now be performed by machine.

Clips from Messrs Barlow and Jones in 1912 carefully depict the lengthy mechanised process of turning raw cotton to yarn.

The worker became a slave to the machine, but unlike first feared, rather than reduce jobs, the factory system as it became know, demanded an ever growing work force to supervise the machines.

Workers wanted

The training and recruitment of new textile workers is captured in the documentary Cotton Blossoms in which new recruit Mona proves that threading a shuttle is not as easy as it looks.

Male mill worker
A hard and long working day

Recruits may have been plentiful, but working conditions in the mill were harsh. Workers faced stifling temperatures, air thick with dust and long working hours.

In the music and dance clip from 1946 Chasing the Blues, steps are taken to rectify and help improve working conditions in some of the mills.

Painting the interiors of the mills, the addition of first aid rooms and new canteens for workers to rest were all part of the developments and are showcased in the clip Lunchtime at the Mill and First Aid.

Slumming it

At its peak, over 750,000 people were employed in the cotton industry. Workers moved from the land to the industrial towns and cities to seek better paid employment in the mills.

Female mill worker
Hard times - housing was often substandard

But better pay didn't always result in better living conditions. In the silent film Slum Clearance (1938), the legacy of the poorly built, unplanned terraced housing is on show as inspectors measure and record conditions in preparation for improvement.

To escape the harsh working and living conditions, mill workers knew how to enjoy themselves and any occasion was an excuse for a fair.

Whilst wakes weeks were often spent at Blackpool as captured in the 1935 film Happy Memories, Great Harwood celebrated the Queen's Coronation with a weight lifting demonstration in a clip from 1953.

In decline

If the rise of Lancashire's cotton industry had been swift, then by comparison, the fall was painfully slow. The First World War saw the onset of a decline which would span the 20th century.

Crisis in the Textile Industry (1952) charts the industries decline as mill workers collect dole and the word recession makes an unwelcome return to the mill worker's vocabulary.

Through the good times and the bad, A Nation on Film captures and explores life in the North West's textile industry and invites you along for the journey.

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