John Crossley & Sons
John Crossley & Sons – carpets
I've been invited by Rupert Crossley to visit John Crossley and Sons, who are fine Brussels Wilton carpet manufacturers in Halifax. Rupert is the ninth generation Crossley to be involved in the carpet business; up here everyone knows Crossley Carpets.
Rupert meets me at Leeds railway station and tells me about the business during the drive over to Halifax. He was studying Architecture at the RCA when he inherited the family business last year. Since then he's been trying to decide the best way forward. He is now in the process of passing the bespoke side of the business on to his colleague Rachel Tighe, and will retain capacity in the factory for the production of his own collection of rugs and carpets. Effectively, this means that Rachel will look after the traditional orders leaving Rupert to work on a contemporary range. 'The rug for Real Craft will be one of my first designs,' Rupert tells me, 'we're making it especially for the show. The plan going forward is to collaborate with other designers.'
The factory is a normal-looking place in an light industrial area, not the huge Victorian mill that I imagined. As we enter the building large quantities of raw wool and worsted are waiting to be processed. Every process takes place here from raw material to finished carpet. Further inside are the massive industrial looms, fourteen in all. Some of the larger looms have five or seven 'frames' for the dyed yarns, plus two beams underneath which make up the backing. The complicated process is explained to me by Jason Hunt, one of the four skilled weavers. 'I just love working here,' he tells me. Another dozen or so people are working here as dyers, winders, finishers, and office staff; many have been here since leaving school. There's a friendly atmosphere in the place, with everyone keen to show me what they're doing. 'How do they see themselves?' I ask Rupert. 'Well they understand that their roles are unique and special,' he says.
Many of the looms are Victorian and it's impossible to get spare parts. But the mindset is make-do-and-mend and Rupert shows me a large store crammed full of what look likes scrap metal; actually it's carefully dismantled parts from redundant machinery, all neatly kept and labelled for future use. We stop and speak to Craig Sloan (job title : 'loom tuner') who is coaxing one of the ancient looms back into action.
Upstairs are the offices and sample storerooms. In one room thousands of woven samples (or 'slips' as they are called) are hanging from the walls: 'We have a slip from every carpet we've ever woven here,' Rupert tells me, 'over 13,500.' In another room is a library of thousands of small cardboard boxes each containing a colour sample of dyed wool. In the office I'm introduced to Rachel Tighe, a no-nonsense Yorkshire-woman who is more than capable of dealing with the high-end stately-home owners who require this type of carpet. 'We're dealing with the luxury market, here,' she tells me. I thank her and Rupert for showing me round.
On the journey back I feel sure that Rupert Crossley's designs for handwoven rugs will take the company into new areas of the market, and once again it seems to me that the way forward is for designers and craftsmen to work together.