I was up in Yorkshire last week, based in Huddersfield and seeing a few of the mills and merchants, including Pennine, Johnsons and Dugdale.

 
What struck me hardest when I got back was the lack of understanding among bespoke customers, and even Savile Row tailors, about how the mills, the merchants and the various brands on the cloth books relate to each other. The front of house at one Row tailor thought Dugdale wove their own cloth, while most admitted they had never been up to see any of the processes – which leads to myths about the finishing, among other things.
 

This first post, then, will set out the various players in Yorkshire and their relationships.

Mills and cloth merchants are largely separate. The mill weaves the cloth, often for many different merchants and to their designs and specifications. So going around Pennine, for example, which is probably the highest quality mill in Yorkshire, you will see Dormeuil and Dugdale cloth being woven on the same looms. There is no difference in the weaving process, just the yarn that goes into it and the set of the weave.
 

There is then the finishing, which I will go into in a separate post. WT Johnson’s (below) and Holmfirth are the most significant fine worsted finishers remaining, though a re-vitalised Herbert Roberts is also improving.

 
 
The merchants perform a very important role. They come up with the designs, they hold the stock and they sell to the tailors (or indeed made-to-measure and RTW brands). They make big investments for gradual returns – it usually costs between £100,000 and £200,000 to lay down a bunch, with one or two ‘pieces’ (around 70m on average) being woven for each swatch.
 
In recent years, mills such as Taylor & Lodge have been putting out their own bunches, which confuses things slightly. Rather like how Bresciani or Drake’s have started selling their socks and ties directly to the customer, this muddies the waters slightly and creates some tensions in the industry. It’s even more complicated at shows such as Premier Vision, where someone like Gucci might be buying cloth from both mills and merchants.
 

Some merchants also own their own production. Scabal, for example, owns the Bower Roebuck mill, which then produces 99% for Scabal. And Holland & Sherry, which is now owned by the Tom James group of travelling tailors in the US, has a lot of its cloth woven by the Chilean mills that are also part of that US group. In fact, that organisation is entirely vertically integrated, from (Chilean) sheep to tailor.

Back to England, the remaining looming sheds weaving suitings in Yorkshire are:
  • Pennine
  • Bower Roebuck (owned by Scabal) 
  • C&J Antich & Sons
  • Bulmer & Lumb (incorporating old mill names Taylor & Lodge, Arthur Harrison, Kaye   & Stewart and Edwin Woodhouse) 
  • Gamma Beta (incorporating Hield and Moxon) 
  • Luxury Fabric (incorporating John Foster, William Halstead and Joshua Ellis
Merchants often weave with more than one mill – Dugdale’s uses three, for example.
 

And the major merchants with operations in the UK are:

  • Holland & Sherry (owned by the US Tom James group) 
  • LBD Harrison’s (owned by the Dunsford family in Exeter)
    • LBD bought Harrison’s a while ago, and also now owns the Lesser’s name and Porter & Harding 
  • Smith’s (only English merchant based in London)
    • Owns W Bill 
  • Dugdale (only merchant still in the centre of Huddersfield)
    • Owns Thomas Fisher and Duffin & Peace names 
  • Huddersfield Fine Worsteds (Owned by US distributors HMS)
    • Owns Minnis, John G Hardy, Hunt & Winterbotham 
  • Brook Taverner 
  • Bateman & Ogden 
  • Scabal 
  • Dormeuil 
 
One more complication: more progressive merchants often have a middle man between the merchant the mill, who is in charge of sourcing the yarn and arranging and managing the production. Someone like Dugdale has three individuals that do this specialising in different types of cloth. Dormeuil, on the other hand, has a separate company – Minova – that does it and is often confused for a mill itself.
 
I won’t get into the Italian mills, not least because I’ve only visited a couple, but generally they have their own brands (Cerruti, Barberis, Zegna), so there isn’t the English split between merchant and mill. They also weave for others (including many English merchants who still put ‘Made in England’ on their bunches) and have regional distributors (eg Dugdale distributes branded Cerruti cloth).
 
 
The wonderful Keith Charnock of Dugdale & Sons
Photography: Luke Carby
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Anonymous

really intersting simon, i think youre right that even amongst tailors there is confusion or to simplify will say ‘this merchants cloth is made in X’ when it could have come from a variety of sources …

from your recent commission at C&M .. with an old school english cloth by the looks of things are you tending towards english cloths or cloths of a certain type … it seems a lot of clothing affeciandos hate the supers and like cloths resembling sack cloth .. something puritanical about it if nothing else 🙂

anand

Anonymous

so simon lets say you are looking at H&S or Harrisons books for example .. how do you figure out where it has come from or is this not important anyway?

anand

Wooster

Dear Simon,

Thank you for such a wonderful website.I wonder if you have ever come across the fine cloths produced by the Scottish mill Reid and Taylor in the 1970s through to the 1990s.In my view they really were the creme de la creme of all suiting cloths.The last time I saw them offered to the public was in the Silver Gander bunch from Scabal.It is very easy to envisage some aspects of the past as some kind of acme to which we will never see again.Nevertheless it is true that these threads were the Gold Standard that has sadly dropped out of favour now because they are considered too heavey for modern tastes.Yet they drape beautifully.wear like iron (as my old tailor used to say) and feel like silk.

Christopher Ashley

Superb article, not least because it pre empted a question re British mills. Would love to hear about more from outside Yorkshire.

mack11211

What is the relation of the Hield mill to the Hield clothing line?

Anonymous

Wooster,

Reid & Taylor is still around. They have lent their name to a big Indian operation, but continue to sell high quality goods under their own name (made by Marling & Evans I believe).

Anonymous

I don’t really see how bunches direct from mills muddies the waters but anyway… That is obviously the perspective of the merchants! Most English mills have their own stock service program or bunches and this is not really a new phenomenon (just as their Italian counterparts do). These bunches are heavily used in ready-to-wear because of the flexibility they provide.

PS. It probably goes without saying, but Gucci clearly have more money than sense if they are sourcing from merchant bunches!

Anonymous

While it is true that the service will differ slightly from mill to merchant, the end product is ultimately the same. But you are right in the sense that to the final customer this is not always obvious. Plus, merchants will mark up their cloths more heavily so one large variance is price related (this is largely due to their commitments as you have mentioned).

I have been to the mills you have mentioned above plus a few more, so I am very familiar with the level of service provided. I think you will find most mills do offer stock service programs with cut lengths by the meter. I use bunches from likes of William Halstead, Savile Clifford, Taylor & Lodge, Martin & Sons, John Foster etc etc for just this purpose.

Anonymous

do you edit your replies. your piece is lacking in substance. you neglected the largest weave Antich and many innovative distributors.

Carl Melin

I have looked at cloth for a bespoke suit at a tailor in Stockholm (AW Bauer). The cloth I fancied the most was Harrisons Frontier. Do you have any insight in the quality of that cloth?

Thanks!

Tim

Simon,
Thank you for all this information. I’m confused where Lesser or J&J Minnis fit into the picture. I don’t think they are mills but I don’t know if they are merchants or finishers, or what else exactly?

Then, you’ve mentioned in another post that WT Johnsons are the best finishers. I’ve read lots of praise about Lesser as the best, or among the top. Do they use Johnson’s cloth?

Thank you,
Tim

Meg Lukens Noonan

A great look at the fascinating and complex world of Huddersfield’s mills and merchants. It’s heartening to know that fantastic cloth is still being produced in the place where it all started.

I had the pleasure of visiting Pennine while doing research for my book, The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury & Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat. From the outside, you would never know what magic they are weaving in there.

Anonymous

“I have looked at cloth for a bespoke suit at a tailor in Stockholm (AW Bauer). The cloth I fancied the most was Harrisons Frontier. Do you have any insight in the quality of that cloth?”

Harrisons frontier cloth is an all wool panama produced in Huddersfield by an independant family owned manufacturer, so far unmentioned on these pages, as are the commission weavers they’ve used to produce it for many years.
The cloth is finished by WT Johnson and sons in Huddersfield.

Refering to the Harrisons Lesser bunch, this too is finished by WT Johnsons and I can assure you that the two gentlemen at LBD/Harrisons are as particular about the finish of that cloth today as any of its producers in the past may have been.

Richard Martin

Explaining the curiosities of the weaving trade is an excellent thing, Simon. But I am not sure that you have drawn sufficient distinction between those mills that weave on their own account, and those that are commission weavers. Some of course are both. And then there are those manufacturing companies that do not weave themselves: ‘weavers without looms’ as they are known.
I might add that there are many more of all three sorts than you have listed so far.
Oh, and the most common reason that any particular cloth is not what it was is because the market has generally sought a constant reduction in cloth weights. And in any particular category, although light weights might be cheaper and sell better, they perform worse and never feel ‘right’.
I speak, by the by, as someone who has been weaving woollen cloth in West Wales, West Yorkshire, and the West Country since 1976.

Anonymous

I have heard that Moxon may produce the best and most expensive cloth of the UK. The mill even products a kind of cloth at £11,000 for one meter. Could you tell me something about Moxon’s cloth?About its features and flagship products

David Slater

Hi Simon,
I have only just read your article, interesting it was thank you. I just need to point out that Herbert Roberts have always produced high class fabrics, and under its new name of Roberts Dyers and Finishers continue to do so. We would welcome a visit from you, to show that high quality and fine yarns are being finished in the Keighley area. its a shame you didn’t contact us when you were at Pennine we are in the same town
David

Anonymous

This is all very interesting. Do you know any drapier in london where an individual could buy english cloth . I would like to choose my own cloth and bring it to my tailor. Thanks a lot

Harold

Very informative article, although a good insight in the Yorkshire area. One beacon still exist in the West Country …..i.e. Fox Brothers of Wellington

David Antich

Antich & Sons Currently have 34 looms regards David

David Antich

At the time of you writing this article we would have had 40 Looms.

"GreasyPercher"

A fascinating read, and I am intrigued. It is almost all correct, but it would be unfair of me to criticise. You are obviously not a local born and bred in Huddersfield. That’s OK, no hard feelings. I was idly browsing around the internet sites related to Huddersfield Cloth reminiscing and thinking sadly about times past. Here’s wishing you every success and good fortune with your publication Permanent Style.

ayush kothari

simon,
i have a store in india, please let me know if you can suggest a good english mill , right now we are carrying vbc, looking for something in the same price range.

Bardia Davarpanah

Thanks for a great article – but have now checked all of the merchants website, and all most all of them only sells to business’. Can you recommend some places where I can buy fabric online ?

Mohamd

Dear Simon,

Please help me figure the difference between a cloth merchant and modern designers out. Prior to the industrial revolution, people used to buy textile and make their own clothes. The most lucrative kind of business was the selling of cloth to people, who would make their clothes themselves or take it to the tailor. However, today people demand ready-to-wear clothes more than ever. My question to you is: what is the modern equivalent of the middle ages cloth merchant? Are textile mills replacing the cloth merchant or a designer like Zara is?

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and please get back to me whenever is most convenient to you.
Sincerely,
Mohamd

Ali b

Hello simon

I found a website of Huddersfield Cloth.com
Was wondering if their fabrics are any good?

Are they made in England ?

Benjamin

Hi Simon, can fabric be purchased by the suit length from Bower Roebuck or would you have to buy from Scabal?

Benjamin

Simon, ignore my previous reply. So Dormeuil would be a merchant and Penine would be the mill. So when a merchant approachs a mill to make fabric, does the merchant supply the cloth? Or simply just the design and specification, then it is branded and sold by the merchant?

Benjamin

Thanks Simon, that makes sense. So if the mill is the source, why would one not just go straight to the mill and get the same great fabric without the merchant logo?

Alan

Hi Simon, who and at which stage is the fabric dyed?

Sebastien.Hurgon/E.GREEN.Paris

I am doing a research to find the mills than can make barathea like the 1880-1910s, both very heavy 16-20oz, and very soft at the same time. I have bought a vintage tailcoat from 1893, in a very, very good state, and the fabric is better than everything I have ever seen. Unfortunately nobody knows who made the fabric, and what mills still have the old machines or proper machines to perform the same quality.

Thank you, your answer could save me tens of thousands euros or more, and years of research.

Henry

Did Camps de Luca offer great advice on fabrics when you got your suit done with them?

Anonymous

Hi I just bought fabric it’s labeled as Minova England is it still exists mill or just a name.

Carl

Hi Simon,

I wonder if there is any real quality difference between most mills and brands. I am looking at two books. The Classic from Hardy Minnis and the Royal Classic from Dugdale. They are both traditional worsted in 12/13 oz. Should I only choose based on style or can I expect any quality differences?

Jesper

Hi Simon.

Thanks for a great site. We’re doing MTM in China and a supplier offered me the brand “Fitzgerald” which they claim was founded in Huddersfield in 1845. From your explanation and what the supplier said, I’d guess they’re a merchant rather than a mill.

But a Google search doesn’t lead me anywhere. Have you heard of this company?

Cheers.

Malcolm

To be honest, the mills to the end user is almost wholly irrelevant. If you choose a cloth from a Yorkshire merchant, you are not going to be disappointed.

If you want a 12oz charcoal flannel, look at books from the obvious choices; Smith, Dugdale, Lesser etc and choose the one you like best. may be marginal price differences, but nothing much in the scheme of things.

Some merchants are better at some types than others (eg Bateman are good on mohairs) but if you start o agonise over which mill the stuff comes from you risk disappearing up your own whatsit……….

Mahdi

Hi Simon, Charles Clayton and Reid and Taylor are merchant or mill?

Mahdi

Hi Simon
I repeat my question again, Charles Clayton and Reid and Taylor are a merchant or a mill?
Thanks for your interesting article

Mahdi Khaghani

Hi Simon
You didn’t answer my question. Charles Clayton is a mill or a merchant?

Ndru

Hi Simon would like to ask you mentioned in your article Dugdale uses 3 different mills for weaving of its cloths…Other than Pennine which are the other two mills which weave for Dugdale?
I understand Dugdale also distribute Cerruti cloths in UK does it mean Cerruti (The Mill) weaves for Dugdale too? If so when we commission suits using Cerruti wool we are essentially using Wool from Dugdales as well?

Ndru

Respectively Simon the mill doesn’t indicate the quality of the fabrics which it produces?How’s that possible?With the same workforce same facilities surely the mill will produce same quality for all merchants save for the designs no??Assuming it’s impossible for Pennine to weave different qualities fabrics for Dugdales and Dormeuil esp for more regular fabrics like regular worsted wools.
Separately in terms of qualities between English and Italian mills what are the differences broadly?

Ndru

Thanks Simon. So for guys like William Halstead and Standeven who are both mill and merchant it then stands to reason they are value for money when it comes to their wool worsted if I am looking for something more lasting and understated as I am assured by the quality of the mills as I’m not looking for some exotic mix?

Antonio

Hi Simon, about Huddersfield FW and Martin Sons Co fabrics, they buy also from China? Because some of their ranges are made in China. Is this important on final quality?

Gernot

It appears that Taylor & Lodge has effectively been bought by Chinese holding Shandong Ruyi, who sort of emulates LVMH and has previously aquired Aquascutum and Bally. Hope this means that the mill has an anchor investor, who let’s them work on great cloth in their niche.