As with many heavy industries in the nineteenth century, the influential and wealthy owners of many large bleaching companies in the North West of England got together and formed an association to protect their interests and profits.
The Bealey collection holds a copy of the Bleachers’ Association minute book for the years 1837-1848. Here we have details of the day-to-day business matters that they dealt with, resolutions, orders, memorandums and the rules of the association.
It all seems very serious and businesslike but mixed in among the pricing and regulations there are occasional glimpses of a lighter side of the Association.
I can’t help but wonder what Mr Bridson had done to be fined two bottles of Champaign. Did he pay up and who got to drink it? We will never know but I suspect that the members’ liked to have fun.
My suspicions were confirmed when I found the receipts of the Association’s monthly meetings. Click on the image above to enlarge it and see what they managed to consume, most of it is alcohol!
There was also a more practical side to the Association though. Important business decisions were made at the monthly meetings with members voting on proposals and responding to government legislation.
The Bealey’s were also members of the Shirting Starchers’ Association who fixed prices for the trade and monitored the progress of their decisions.
Despite the efforts of the Association, there was an increasing threat to business from abroad where investment had resulted in new developments and techniques which had been stunted in the British trade due to internal competition.
In June 1900, the Bleachers’ Association became a business in its own right amalgamating around 60 businesses in bleaching and finishing of cotton goods. Between 1901 and 1910 nine works were purchased and a further 21 works were purchased after World War I.
At some time not long after this, Bealey’s became part of the newly formed Association and the good times that they had enjoyed came to an end.
The company was no longer a family business with Herbert Bealey as the Works Manager rather than the owner. The business became a “branch” of the association and was run by Managing Directors who were focussed on group profit rather than the individual companies that they amalgamated.
By the 1930’s the company was accountable to the Association and had to produce an annual report on the state of the business.
However the success of the Bleacher’s Association, in maintaining high profits on a declining volume of trade, could not last. Prices were reduced in 1928 and from then on trade was severely restricted by the long-term decline in export of British textiles.
Rising costs of production and the threat from cheaper imported goods (see the blog about International Trade) also took their toll on Bealey’s bleachworks and the profit per ton of cloth bleached started to fall.
The lavish Association dinners and Champaign enjoyed by Adam Crompton Bealey were a far cry from the hard treatment his son Herbert had to endure as a branch manager of the association – the good times were well and truly gone!