To my amazement and joy, I recently sourced some fabulous deadstock fabric that had been produced at the now demolished Gannex Mill in Greater Elland, Yorkshire. Always one to love a bit of research to uncover the stories behind the vintage fabrics that we upcycle, I discovered that this unique textile is a surviving piece of social history and one that’s intertwined with my own personal history- let me tell you the story…….
Gannex is the brand name for the iconic British textile invented and produced by Kagan Textiles Ltd in Greater Elland, Yorkshire in the 1950’s.
Joseph Kagan, later Lord Kagan, was a colourful character. A Jewish immigrant who survived the Nazi conquest of Lithuania, he built a textiles business in Yorkshire and developed a new type of cloth which combined the warming properties of wool with the waterproofing of polyester which he named ‘Gannex’.
Lord Kagan displaying his Gannex textile invention. (Photo: paphotos.co.uk)
Gannex raincoats sold across the world with the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson being the staunchest supporter, rarely seen without his. Both men pursued their vision of putting British manufacturing firmly back on the map and reviving the fortunes of the Yorkshire textile industry with Kagan Textiles being the leading employer in Elland for a time.
Harold Wilson in his Gannex overcoat. (Photo: Ernest G Bilko via Flickr)
Ever the entrepreneur, Kagan persuaded the Duke of Edinburgh to order a Gannex raincoat from Harrods thus securing the Royal Warrant and leading to the provision of raincoats for the Queen and even her Corgis to wear.
Lord Kagan is also known for his spectacular fall from grace, doing time inside for ‘tax evasion’ in 1976 after stealing 23 barrels of indigo dye from his former factory, going on the run in Spain and finally being captured and extradited on a visit to Paris when a disgruntled former mistress betrayed him. He was also rumoured to have been a spy. Although jailed and fined he did make a return to the House of Lords and eventually passed away in 1995. (You can read more about the fascinating life of Lord Kagan here
The Gannex Mill in Elland, Yorkshire, closed in the 1990s and was eventually and controversially demolished in 2010.
Gannex Mill in 2010 before being demolished.
(Photo: Tim Patterson, Greater Elland Historical Society)
Inside the abandoned Gannex Mill before it’s demolition in 2010.
(Photo: Rookinella 28DaysLater.org)
So with all of that history and pedigree and Hunted and Stuffed’s love of a good back story, imagine how thrilled I was to hunt down some original vintage rolls of Gannex fabric from this famous, and now long gone, Mill. Enough, in fact, to create two very special Limited Editions…
A strictly limited edition of 25.
Each piece is handmade, fully lined and over-locked with a hidden zip in the base and has it’s own hand-stamped label with the origin of the vintage textile and the individual edition number.
Similar to The Harold but in Grey wool rather than Navy.
Also a strictly limited edition of 25.
All are 43cm x 43cm and include the feather pad filling.
Also available just as the cover if you prefer.
These limited edition cushions really are the last parts of the story and once they are gone, they are gone.
Here a lovely customer bought some to go back into a home that was once owned by Lord Kagan himself!!
So what’s all that got to do with my Granny? Well, researching the history of the Gannex Mill in Yorkshire got me thinking about my maternal grandmother, Lily.
She used to work as a Worsted Weaver in Leeds in the 1940’s and 50’s at the Bean Ing Mill until it too was closed and eventually demolished. After doing some further family research I discovered that her father and also her grandmother both worked in the textile industry too. There is some comfort in discovering that something you have chosen to do is actually in the blood and I was amazed to discover that I’m actually the fifth generation of my family to work in textiles – that I have discovered so far.
My Gran Lily (3rd from left) and other Mill Girls down the local.
This is the interior courtyard of Bean Ing Mill in Leeds at the time Lily worked there in 1948.
Built over a 40 year period by Benjamin Gott, it was the world’s first factory for woollen manufacture. This whole area was demolished in the 1960s and the Yorkshire Post Newspapers building erected on the site.
This is a loom found at the site and the kind that Lily would have operated, perhaps even the same one. She was quite deaf in old age and this was probably the culprit.
So Lily, these cushions are made in your memory.
By the way, the feather cushion pads inside were made in Yorkshire too. 100% Yorkshire made – just like you.
I hope you like them.
Do you remember the Gannex or Bean Ing Mills? Let me know in the comments below!
Update: Through researching the story of Gannex I have had the pleasure of meeting the wonderful Noel Moroney who has been a public speaker for over 20 years and involved with the trade for 60 years and is a local to the former Gannex site. His talks 'The Past Times in West Yorkshire', 'A Celebration of Yorkshire' and ''Yarns' From The Textile Trade' include details of the Gannex story and are delivered over the North of England.
You can email him to find out more here.
I worked in the Sales Office, at the time Bill Atack was the MD, his Secretary was Betty Pickles and Raymond Kennedy was the Main Company Sec, I think. Started there in 69/70 when left school. There was Mona Berry, Audrey Atkinson, Sylvia Benton now Gamble and myself Lillian Bilski now Lowe. There were a few that came and went. Thoroughly enjoyed working there (4 years), left for pastures new. Mrs. Kagan and Sir Joe would always speak to you and called you by your name. Very good and kind people. Sir Joe once gave me a cigar at an Xmas lunch, to which I said I would give it to my dad, he said in that case then give him 2 for Xmas. My dad was chuffed to bits. Those were really good days, miss not seeing the Kagan chimney when coming down Ailey top. I think most of Elland folk must have worked there over the years.
My Father, Alec Brougham, used to work at Gannex – he was the Chief designer and knew Joe Kagan and his wife Margaret very well. I remember the many Gannex coats he had and some weird and wonderful designs as they developed the range. Apparently he used to take me to Joe’s house in Fixby and we played in the garden but I must have been very young and don’t recall. It was sad to see the demise of the mill in Elland – I so loved to drive home with him and at the top of the hill look down on the mill as we approached.
My Mum, Rosemary, and my Dad, Bryan, both worked at Gannex mills. My Mum (91) is a seamstress repaired returned coats. My Dad, who passed away some years ago, was the print room manager. It wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t some old litho plates in Mums attic.
My dad told me that if anyone who had survived the camps applied for a job at Gannex Joe Kagan automatically gave them the job.
Joe would walk through the factory and anyone he saw standing around chatting he would shout ’You’re fired!’ Whether actually were or not I don’t know. There was also a lady called Peggy Rushton who worked there possibly in sales, and her son Alan Rushton who brought the tour de France to Britain.
I have just found a original leather suitcase made by Gannex, it is believed to have belonged to my great auntie that worked at the factory
My father worked for Lord Kagan in the 1970’s. He worked on a denim dye range. He was given a company car because he commuted. I think it was a Russian car, which I never understood.