Textile testing at Quarry Bank
The Quarry Bank collection is diverse, containing an extensive archive and collection, thousands of documents and objects from the last 250 years. Among these are a collection of machines and apparatus from the mill’s textile testing room, a small area in the office wing of the mill where yarn and cloth were tested.
The testing of incoming and outgoing yarn and cloth was important to all mills and in fact necessary due to the diversity of fibres and chemicals used in cotton processing. Quarry Bank was no exception to this and had its own testing room. Manufacturers of testing equipment responded to this need and perfected instruments that could test the properties of yarn and cloth.
A bit of background . . .
Lancashire dominated the global production and trade of cotton-textiles during the 19th and early 20th centuries and by 1860 it was home to over 2650 cotton mills, producing half the world’s cotton.
During the late 19th century, problems began being encountered as some Lancashire merchants ‘short-reeled’ cotton yarn, wherein yarn counts were deliberately and systematically misrepresented. This undermined the genuine yarn trade and therefore the cloth trade.
The Manchester Chamber of Commerce addressed this issue by establishing a Testing House in 1895 to regulate yarn quality of merchants. Methods to improve governance included the introduction of uniform contracts and establishing private standards via legally enforceable cooperative agreements. The idea behind this was that a market price could be determined that ensured accurate correspondence between price and quality of yarn.
This standardisation offered additional benefits for merchants, such as reducing costs of negotiation and inspection and lessening uncertainty. The decisions of the Testing House were accepted in the settlement of trade disputes, providing an authoritative and impartial component of the industry. As the overseas market for cloth began to grow rapidly from 1900, the Testing House was of paramount importance in testing the quality of cloth for export.
The Manchester Testing House also set agreed standards on issues such as ‘regain’ of moisture, strength of fibre, fibre counts, and other issues affecting the textile. While it was initially set up for the yarn trade, the importance of cloth was quickly realised and the house began testing cloth for material, sizing, colour and strength.