T. F. Firths Carpet Makers
T. F. Firths Bailiff Bridge
It all started when in 1860 Thomas Freeman Firth 1829-1909 (son of Edwin Firth of Heckmondwike) & his wife’s (Hannah Maria Willans) brother J. W. Willans formed a partnership called Firth Willans & Company of Heckmondwike, building a successful carpet mill in Heckmondwike in 1867 they decided to expanded their carpet weaving empire from nearby Heckmondwike to include several mills in Bailiff Bridge, Clifton Mills a former Worsted mill becoming their main mill, in the early years that Firth & Willans took over mills in Bailiff Bridge they Purchased the disused former Toll House (for the princely sum of £70) that stood on the opposite corner of Birkby Lane to their main factory Clifton Mills along with a former Working Men’s Institute.
Not only did they demolish these properties but build a huge multi storey office block Clifton House with an overhead enclosed bridge across the Birkby Lane so the bosses could walk to the mill without the need to go outside, (although a second reason was they could assess the upper floors of the mill and a nearby flight of stairs enabled them to go to any floor without their worker’s aware of their presence before they were more or less standing by their side, imaging the shock especially if they were slacking). Willan for some unknown reason left the partnership in 1875 and the new name became T. F. Firth & Company and went from strength to strength specialising in unique heavy duty carpets mainly for transport sector supplying fine woven carpets for Trains, Ships, Cars and Hotels along with special one off carpets for some of the richest people in the World, including the QE2, several casinos in Las Vegas they also opened a factory in Firthcliffe NY America in 1888 although not much details on this factory or how long they had it for? (although it may have lasted until 1961/2).
Firths also had an underground tunnel built from the main mill basement right under the main road to the Victoria Road Sheds so the workers could push the newly spun bobbin reels from one mill across to the other without the bobbins getting wet. (when the main mill was pulled down hundreds if not thousands of Rats ran across the road from the basement to the Clifton Beck on Victoria Road).
At one time Firths also built most of the houses in the village for their workers to rent from the company another way to entice workers to join them, they built a big mill dam off Victoria Road and every year they held a swimming contest for the works as well as fishing competitions.
There are some old newspaper clips showing it been prosecuted for employing 24 illegal people and its violation of the contract labour laws and fined $4,410 in 1908.
Firth’s Bailiff Bridge acquired more and more land and old building to expand and build more sheds and buildings or convert for their use including the old St. Aidan’s Mission Church at one point and for years used it as a storage room (this is a listed building and still stands on the corner of Bradford Road with Wyke Old Lane/Lower Wyke Lane and is currently used as a car sales site) T. F. Firth & Company were known throughout the world and at one point had one of the largest Carpet Factories in the USA.
The company was taken over in 1909 by his son who had taken the title in Lightcliffe of Sir Algernon Firth along with his wife Lady Janet Firth who were very generous to both the people of Bailiff Bridge and Heckmondwike but also to the surrounding areas, following the first world war they built a special Memorial Garden and Cenotaph in 1920 Bailiff Bridge as a respect and to remember former employees of both Heckmondwike and Bailiff Bridge mills who gave their lives in world war one for their country, Lady Firth also gave a large stone fountain and horse drinking trough about 15 foot tall with a light on the top for the people of Bailiff Bridge to enjoy in 1911 and it was proudly sited in the middle of the road opposite Firth’s offices and outside the Punch Bowl Hotel, she even left £100 with the then ruling council Hipperholme Council for its future upkeep (quite a lot of money in those days but I cannot see much upkeep these days with £100). She also had a special recreation park built just over into the Lightcliffe border opposite The Sun Inn off Wakefield Road complete with a sunken playing field, flower and shrub gardens around the edges. children’s play area and a covered building on the far side, while the park itself is still there today although due to the modern day vandals the buildings, play area and the sunken gardens no longer stand.
There are many stories of Sir Algernon Travelling all over the world to promote his empire and having meetings with the rich and famous to secure large contracts for his factories, there are stories of him sending his butler to Bailiff Bridge Railway Station to get him to ask the London train to wait until he could get there. Whether it was Sir Algernon or his sales team but they did get some very large orders supplying carpets for Trains, Ships, Hotels and in later times many more large orders came from the Heckmondwike factory that started to make made special moulded carpets for the British Motor Trade including Ford Escorts and Cortina’s. Years later Bailiff Bridge Factories even produced artificial grass for sports centres and had a special loom made which was capable of producing the largest width artificial grass in the world.
Sir William Henry Akroyd 1856-1947 took over the chairman of T. F. Firth & Company from his uncle when Sir Algernon retired in the 1921 ending the run of owners with the firth family name, he continued to run this now famous and profitable company for many years, his eldest son Major Sir Alfred Hammond Aykroyd 1894-1965 took over the chairman of T. F. Firth & Company on his retirement who continued to run the company until he retired and transferred the chairmanship to his younger brother in 1962 Harold Hammond Aykroyd 1896-1974.
The Company was bought out in 1968 by the Readicut Group then in 1997 became part of the Interface Group who finally in 2000 closed the Bailiff Bridge Carpet Factory of T. F. Firth & Company Forever.