Horsfield and Austin’s were important to area

It made me realise just how much manufacturing went on in times gone past, and how varied it was.

Friday, 10th December 2010, 11:50 am

The textile industry was the most important one, but there were many other thriving businesses supporting it.

One of them was J&J Horsfield Ltd boiler makers, on Vulcan Road, which made boilers for mills all over the country.

It closed down in the late 1960s at a time when the textile industry itself was ebbing fast.

My childhood memories of Horsfield was of a dark, depressing place, noisy and very dirty. The blaze from the furnace lit up the sky and the men who worked there always seemed covered in soot.

There was a lot of banging and hammering going on, sometimes throughout the night, and how the people in Vulcan Road got any sleep I’ll never know.

Horsfield was one of the oldest established firms in Dewsbury but it became a casualty of the demise of the textile industry and closed in 1969.

It joined the Clayton group of companies in Leeds, and the work previously carried on at the Vulcan Iron Works, was done there.

At the time of its closure, 30 people were working at Horsfield, which had been begun as a boiler works 140 years earlier.

Its founder was a man called John Horsfield, and the Horsfield name continued through six generations.

The original works had been for the making of boilers, and whilst these were supplied to various parts of the country, the main trade was to the textile mills and collieries of the Dewsbury district.

The transporting of these boilers in the early days was done by teams of horses, and the stables were still there when the firm finally closed down.

Large teams of horses, sometimes as many as 30, were often required to transport the boilers, which could weigh as much as 30 tons.

The boilers were sometimes so big and cumbersome, it could take up to a week to get one clear of the town. What a spectacle that must have been.

ANOTHER large firm, which Dewsbury thought would never close, was James Austin steelworks in Forge Lane, Thornhill Lees.

This once flourishing business, which employed hundreds, was founded at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

It started small and grew rapidly, and during the Second World War was awarded many Government contracts.

Austin’s supplied the materials for the building of Bailey Bridges, RAF hangers and watch towers which gave advanced warning of enemy aircraft.

Austin’s contribution to the war effort was considerable, and afterwards they continued to win large contracts, including doing most of the major work on the building of Gatwick Airport and Euston Station in London.

But their success, was not to last, and in 1993, by which time were part of Trumann’s Steel, it was closed down and business transferred to Manchester.

One of the workers made redundant at the time was Jeff Kellet, who had started working there as an apprentice 18 years earlier.

He wrote to me some time ago describing his time there and his feelings when he first went there.

“I was immediately in awe of this vast building which then housed over 100 men on the shop floor alone,” he recalled.

“Being one of the largest employers in Dewsbury, most of the men of Thornhill Lees, and during the war a lot of women too, had worked there.

“But there were also the old timers who had spent their entire working lives at Austin’s.

“I was placed under the wing of a man called Jeff Lister, who had amassed 30 years’ service, and enjoyed passing on his vast experience to anyone willing to learn.

“There was an active social aspect to the shop floor and a sick pay scheme which paid out a weekly amount to unfortunate colleagues who were off ill.

“The scheme was entirely funded and administered by the men, as was the social club that organised day trips and events, including an annual trip to Blackpool, and a Christmas dinner and dance.

Mr Kellet added: “Despite being filthy and heavy work, I loved my job owing to the comradeship of the men, always exchanging banter, having a laugh and rarely exchanging cross words.

“But despite the light-hearted atmosphere, each man took great pride in his work which went a long way to giving Austin’s a first class reputation for quality.

“My time at James Austin was an era of traditional engineering, the likes of which has been decimated, and the element of cameraderie has sadly disappeared from many walks of life.”

JEFF never forgot what he had learned at Austin’s and some years later, after suffering two further redundancies, he set up his own business with a former colleague.

The new business became a miniature version of James Austin and three of his nine workers were former employees of Austin’s, a testament to the quality of staff there.

I hope in the new year to write more about the places where we worked.

If you have memories or photographs, ring the Reporter on 01924 468282 and leave your detais to be passed on to me, or email [email protected]