Shoddy -

New Fabric From Recycled Wool

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Benjamin Law and the Development of Shoddy

Circa 1813 in Batley, England, Benjamin Law developed a process using recycled woolen rag combined with virgin wool to make a material called shoddy.

Benjamin Law is listed as the developer of this process in several books on the woolen industry in Yorkshire and is recognized by the city of Batley in a commemorative plaque.

A Guide to Batley at A Guide To Batley states:

"Batley's heritage can be traced back to the start of the Industrial revolution when Benjamin Law, a local man, decided to mix finely shredded rags with virgin wool to produce woven cloth known as "Shoddy", which had a revolutionary effect on the textile industry."
Occasionally Benjamin's brother-in-law, Benjamin Parr, and/or his son, also Benjamin Parr, are given credit. The consensus seems to be that the first mill to produce shoddy was in an area of Batley called Benny Parr Woods. It is unclear if the area was named for Benny Parr senior or junior.

The area south west of Leeds had been a major center of woolen cloth production for centuries. Several types of cloth were woven from wool. "Woolens" were heavy felted cloths of the type used for coats and blankets.

The cloth trade in England suffered during the the Napoleonic War because of trade embargoes. However, the woolen trade in West Yorkshire remained relatively strong. One of the major problems in the woolen trade in the early 1800's was the lack of sufficient yarn to meet the demands of all the weavers. England did not produce enough wool itself and the war restricted the amounts of importable wool.

In the time before the Industrial Revelation much more time and many more people were needed to prepare and spin the yarn than were needed to weave the cloth. Spinning was a time consuming activity. On the other hand the weaving went relatively quickly. The word "spinster" (to denote someone who never married) is a reflection of the need to have people who had virtually no life except spinning in order to provide the family with enough yarn to keep the family clothed. Spinning wheels greatly speeded up this process, but it still required more spinners than weavers. With the advent of carding and spinning machines the process was accelerated to the point that spinning could more than keep up with weaving. The cloth industry grew at a rapid rate after the introduction of carding and spinning machines. The increased demands for cloth created a need for more raw materials and out of this need shoddy was born.

Benjamin Law developed a process of turning recycled old rags mixed with some virgin wool into shoddy around 1813. He was unable at the time to figure out a way of incorperating taylors clippings into the process. This was figured out by his nephews several years later and was called "mungo". By 1855, 35,000,000 pounds of rag were being sorted and processed into yarn to make "mungo" and "shoddy". The making of shoddy and mungo is a similar process to the making of woolen and worsted, once the rags had been ground up and processed into yarn.

Batley and Dewsbury were the major centers for the rag collecting and sorting business, as well as the manufacturer of shoddy and mungo. Rags were collected from two sources.

  1. Old rags from old clothes were collected by ragmen for a price. The ragmen would then sell them to the rag merchant.
  2. New rags were bought by the rag merchant as scrap from clothing manufacturers and tailors.

Old rags were not as valuable, as they were dirty and needed more processing to turn into yarn. New rag was used for mungo, which was a finer cloth than shoddy. Mungo was developed by Benjamin Law's nephews, who were the sons of his partner, Benjamin Parr, and Parr's wife, Elizabeth Sheard (The sister of Benjamin Law's wife, Lydia Sheard.)

The sorting of the rag was done at the rag merchant's establishment. The work was mostly done by girls and women. The sorting was done in large well-lit rooms over tables with "riddles" (basically a wire mesh to allow the dirt and dust to fall through). Baskets were placed all around the worker, who sorted the rag to the baskets by quality and color. Sorting was skilled labor. Rag sorters had to recognize the difference in quality of the rag in mixed lots both accurately and quickly. A smart rag sorter could sort about one cubic weight of old rags in one hour. New rag took longer, because it required greater care due to its higher value. Only woolen and worsted were used to make shoddy and mungo. Cotton rag was used to make paper.

Sir George Head wrote:

"The trade or occupation of the late owner, his life and habits, or the filthiness and antiquity of the garment itself, oppose no bar to this wonderful regeneration; whether from the scarecrow or the gibbet, it makes no difference; so that, according to the change of human affairs, it no doubt frequently does happen, without figure of speech or metaphor, that the identical garment to-day exposed to the sun and rain of a Kentish cherry orchard or saturated with tobacco smoke on the back of a beggar in a pothouse, is doomed in its turn to grace the swelling collar, or add dignified proportion to the chest of the dandy".

Yorkshire Scenes Lore and Legends, M Tait, 1888

And again from Mr Taits book:
"Hither are brought tatters from pediculous Poland, from the Gipsies of Hungary, from the beggars and scarecrows of Germany, from the frowsy peasants of Muscovy; to say nothing of snips and sherds from monks' gowns and lawyers' robes, from postillions' jackets and soldiers' uniforms, from maidens' bodices and noblemens' cloaks" A heterogenous collection truly, to be shredded by "devils" into mungo fibre, re-spun and re-woven, and thus resurrectioned into new material for the backs of people who little dream of the various vicissitudes through which their garments have previously gone."

Yorkshire Scenes Lore and Legends, M Tait, 1888

Shoddy has come to mean something made with inferior material. However, the development of shoddy in 1813 was of financial significance in the woolen trade in Yorkshire in the 1800's and later. Batley became the center of shoddy manufacturing in England and was still the center of the shoddy trade as late as World War I.

Shoddy Grinding Mill, 1862

John Hewitt in the History and Topography of the Parish of Wakefield and its environs published 1862 gives a description of the Shoddy Grinding Mill as follows:

"About the years 1829 and 1830, I recollected a man of the name Pearson, who was a manufacturer of flocks, at East-Moor, Wakefield. He had a grinding machine which was worked by hand labour, and with this machine he ground woolen rags, commonly called "hard woolens" (old cloth garments) into flocks. This grinding mill was very much like the apparatus fixed at the head of a draw well, for the purpose of drawing up water, with the exception that the roller, instead of having a rope attached to it, had many iron-spikes or teeth well sharpened fixed in it; and, in lieu of the well, there was a large wooden box, into which dropped the rags which had been speedily rent or torn into flocks by the iron teeth of the roller, when motion was given to the latter by means of turning round the crank attached to it. Flocks thus ground much resemble wool, the originals fabric of which woolen cloth is made, but being of course the "worse for wear" and in consequence of the pulling to pieces by the mill, are of a much shorter nature, or fibre, than the new wool is; but notwithstanding this drawback, woollen rags disentangled in this manner by mills, similar in principle to the one I have mentioned, have become a famous article of traffic in Dewsbury, Ossett, Daw-Green, Horbury, Wakefield, and a few adjacent places westward from Wakefield. With the admixture of a little new wool, the flocks (called "shoddy") produced by grinding "soft woolens" (old stuff garments, flannels, etc.) have become extensively used at Dewsbury and a few neighboring places, and are manufactured into "new cloth" and other kinds of new woollen goods, suitable to be made into new wearing apparel! Invention and the skill of man are always progressing; and in course of time it was discovered that cloth rags (hard woolens) when properly separated from sewing thread and cotton linings, were much superior than soft woolens in being made up into new cloth, and this caused them to much exceed the latter in price as 3d. and 4d. per stone of 16lbs*, whilst, since their improved value, I have known old cloth rages devoid of seams, and likewise new cloth "clippings" (tailors rags) sold at as much per lb.. There is one fact with regard to woollen rags, which, more than any other is calculated to make a person smile who is unacquainted with their history in this part of the West-Riding. This fact is that woolen rags, especially hard woolens, have frequently in large quantities, used as manure for potatoes, and when the new potatoes were gathered; and, after the latter's going through the process of grinding by the shoddy mill , (laconically, humorously, and justly styled "the Devil"!) they have been re-manufactured into "bran-new cloth". I can vouch for this; for I have seen potatoes manured with woolen rags in Wakefield, and which same rags were afterwards sold at a good price for manufacturing purposes to the shoddy manufactures of Dewsbury!

Besides woollen cloth, other goods, such as druggets (used as carpets) horse-rugs, floor-cloths, etc, are made of shoddy. "Mungo" is a term much applied to shoddy, and I have often seen painted in large letters on a shoddy mill's walls at Horbury- the mill occupier's name preceding the trade,- "Grinder of Mungo." It is not my intention in this Chapter to give definitions of the words, "Mungo" and "Shoddy"; but I cannot refrain from noticing what I consider to be the correct derivation and undoubted origin of the cognomen of "Dewsbury Devil", as applied to the Shoddy Grinding Mill, or Machine."

*In May 2010 David Pimplett expresed suprise at the "stone of 16 lbs" and wondered if this was a mistake or were the normally parsimonious members of the waste trade being generous. Since I known nothing of stones and English pounds I asked for more information on what was so surprising about this particular "16 pound stone". David replied: The old British weight system had 16 ounces in a pound ( 16oz per lb) and 14 lbs in a stone and 8 stones in a hundred weight (cwt ) a cwt was actually 112lbs, and 20 cwts in a ton (2240 lbs. I know that it was complicated but it worked for 1000 years."

The problem is I am not sure if that was what was written or if I made a typo. I am pretty sure that I found this book on microfilm at a library that is now closed. I was not able to find The history and topography of the parish of Wakefield and its environs By John Hewitt on line as of August 2014.

Shoddy Manufacturers in Batley

In 1822, nine years after Benjamin's invention, the Baine's Directory (like a phone book before telephones) for the town of Batley listed Benjamin Law as a "Flushing Manufacturer" under the heading "Professions and Trades". (Information about the Baine's Directory was taken from BATLEY in Baines's Directory and Gazetteer Directory of 1822) Flushing and shoddy may have been the same thing because the only definition of flushing I could find described it as "a course heavy woolen fabric" and noted that it was the type used in military uniforms.

Baine's Directory lists 118 people, including four women, involved a trade or profession in Batley. There are 25 people listed under "Miscellany of Trades" including the schoolmaster, the parish clerk, a mill owner, a "bone setter", and the four women. Two of the women are listed as "vict." (This may stand of victualer) at what appear to be taverns or pubs. The other two women are listed by their names only, no occupation or trade is listed. There are separate categories listing, 30 blanket makers, 4 butchers, 4 carpenters, 4 cattle dealers, four coverlet manufactures, the 21 flushing Manufacturers, 3 grocers, 2 maltsters, 3 stone masons, 2 surgeons, and 16 woolen manufacturers. There were two Michael Sheards, both flushing manufacturers. The Sheards were shoddy manufacturers for many years. Michael Sheard and sons are listed in all the directories as shoddy manufactures through the 1870s. Benjamin Law's second wife was Lydia Sheard, the daughter of Michael Sheard. It was the sons and grandsons of Michael Sheard's brother, George Sheard, who made their furtunes in shoddy.

Many people made a lot of money on shoddy. However, Benjamin Law and his children did not seem to turn Benjamin's invention into the financially successful venture that other did. Leeds directories for 1830, 1834, 1842, 1861,1863 and 1863 included very few listings for the Law family:

  1. 1830. Benjamin Law was not listed in the 1830 Directory of Leeds, which included a section for the township of Batley. There were no Laws listed in Batley although Benjamin was still alive in 1832, and his sons, George, Joseph, and William were all adults by 1830. There were three Sheards, George, Michael, "sen.", and Michl. "Jun." listed under the heading, "Flushing, Padng. and Drugget Mfrs." He may have moved to Stockport by this time.
  2. 1834. No Laws listed. At this point the Laws were living in Stockport in Cheshire.
  3. 1842. No Laws listed. Some of Benjamin's son's were back in Batley.
  4. 1861. The Leed's Directory listed four Laws in Batley:
    • Thomas Law, Plumber. Thomas was the son of Benjamin's son Joseph.
    • John Law and Joseph Law, Shoddy and Rag Grinders. John and Joseph were the sons of George Law and the grandsons of Benjamin Law.
    • Joseph Law, Flushing, Padding, Drugget, Pilot Cloth etc.
  5. 1863. No Laws listed
  6. 1866. Samuel Law at the White Hart Inn.

The censuses in Batley indicate that the descendants of Benjamin were not among the manufacturers of shoddy. Benjamin's children, George, Joseph, William, Abraham and Isaak were listed in the censuses in Batley

  1. George (born 1792) was listed in the 1841 as a Rag Dealer, in 1851 as a clothweaver, and in the 1861 census as a "hawker of house cloth".
  2. Joseph was listed in the censuses as a bookkeeper
  3. William was listed in the censuses as a woolen weaver. Lydia Law (age 15) and her, sister, Emma (age 13), the daughters of William Law and the granddaughters of Benjamin Law were listed in the 1851 census as rag sorters.
  4. Abraham (born 1817) was listed on the baptisms of his children in 1845 and 1849 as a Leith rag merchant and in 1855 as a Batley rag merchant and in the 1861 census as a commercial traveler (salesman)

Another family member who were involved with the shoddy trade was Robert Walker Sykes, the brother of Elizabeth Sykes who was listed in the 1881 census as a rag grinder. His father-in-law, James Hepworth, was listed as a rag merchant.


Shoddy did not meet with universal approval. There were those who feared the demise of the English woolen trade because of the adulteration of virgin wool. Some claimed that shoddy did not make a better fiber only a cheaper one. Others complained that the manufacturer could substitute shoddy for real woolen fabric thus cheating the customer. It was called a wolf in sheep's clothing. Some like William Busfield Ferrand (1809-1889), called it the Devils Dust because it was claimed that the process produced enormous amounts of dust using a machine called a devil.

William Busfield Ferrand M. P., a conservative politician, demonstrated his contempt for shoddy on March 12, 1842 by tearing a piece of the material to shreds in front of the entire House of Parliament.

The History of the Shoddy Trade: Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition By Samuel JUBB stated:

"In the year 1840........

About the same time that we are speaking of, a great clamour was raised against the shoddy manufacture - the principal character in the play being the rather notorious Mr. Busfield Ferrand. This gentleman appears to have had a perfect horror of the system, and, certainly, laboured with an earnestness, if not a disinterestedness, worthy of a better cause, to destroy it; he applied the most degrading epithets to the persons and things connected with it, amongst the rest, that of "devils dust," as a name for shoddy, will be well remembered, for the term took root, and has been often quoted since. It was presumed at the time, that Mr. Ferrand, then M.P., received communications from persons in this neighbourhood, ill affected to the trade ; and that these were the foundation of his obviously malignant attacks. "Mungo, thy days are numbered," was the falsely prophetic declaration, (in the sense in which it was made,) of Stephens, who figured as an agitator and declaimer, during the exciting and perilous times, we have but just attempted briefly to describe. All this opposition, however, (though, perhaps, temporarily injurious to the trade,) ceased; and it is not unlikely that persecution in this case, as it has in many others, promoted the interests assailed, ultimately, by directing attention and enquiry to the subject; but be this as it may, the inherent strength of the system supported it in the trying hour; and it has now attained colossal proportions, and triumphed over every obstacle."


Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Volume 22

The place where shoddy was first used in this manner was Batley, by Mr. Benjamin Law, and the first machines for tearing up the rags were set up by Messrs. Joseph Jubb and J. and P. Fox. The manufacture has forced its way, and made Batley, Dewsbury, and the neighbourhood the most prosperous parts of the woollen district. There are now in Batley alone fifty rag-engines in thirty-five mills, producing no less than 12,000,000 lbs. of rag-wool per annum (after deducting for loss of weight in the manufacture); and I am assured, on good authority, that three times this quantity is made in the district. The rags are gathered from all parts of the kingdom, as well as imported regularly from the continent, America, and Australia. There is now a considerable manufacture of the shoddy, or rag-wool, in Germany, and it is believed that no less than 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 lbs. weight was imported last year.

How profitable this trade is to the workmen may be inferred from evidence which has been obtained, to the effect that 5,408 operatives in Batley received, 812[pounds] of weekly wages, or an average of 14s. 1d. each.


Report of the Annual Meeting, Volume 45, Part 1874 By British Association for the Advancement of Science. Meeting

On the Shoddy Trade. By Samuel Jubb.

The shoddy manufacture was commencod at Batley, Yorkshire, in the year 1813, being introduced by Mr. Benjamin Law, of tho same place. The produce thereof are heavy woollen cloths chiefly, and they are used for coatings and other purposes. The essential raw materials used in the fabrication of shoddy cloths are shoddy and mungo, in combination with wool and noils.

Shoddy is produced from soft rags, such as cast-off stockings, flannels, carpets, &c.; and mungo from hard rags, such as worn-out dress-coats, tailors' cuttings, disused fine tablecloths, &c. Both these kinds of rags, which formerly were nearly valueless, are torn or ground up by a machine, the principal feature of which is a cylinder set with sharp iron teeth, and which revolves at a rapid rate; this machine is known locally by the name of "devil." The effect is, that the rags are converted into a kind of wool or flock, and hence capable of being mixed with sheep's wool.

Tho supplies of rags are drawn partly from the large cities and towns of tho United Kingdom, and also from various foreign countries. London is the principal market. Shoddy and mungo, viz. the rags in the prepared state, are largely imported from the continent of Europe.

Shoddy varies from Id. to Is. per lb., mungo from l£rf. to 20d. per lb., according to quality, colour, staple, &c. The wool used together with shoddy varies from GrA per lb. to l&d. per lb., and with mungo from Is, to 2s. Od. or 3?. per lb. There is a large quantity of fine Australian wool consumed in the shoddy manufacture.

Shoddy cloths vary from about la. 2d. to 12s. per yard, 54 inches wide, and always appear cheap, whilst as a fact they are an economical fabric, and as such extensively patronized, by the working and poorer classes at home; at the same time a large export trade is done in them to our colonies and the principal markets of the world.

Shoddy cloths are of course scribbled and carded, spun, woven, milled, raised, dyed, and finished much in the same way as cloths made of all sheep's wool.

The shoddy manufacture has its centre at Batley and the adjoining borough of Dewsbury, where large mills are in operation, employing thousands of workpeople. Batley is the principal seat of the trade, and at this time (1873) contains from fifty to sixty mills engaged in this business.

A considerable number of other places in the district, and at a distance, are more or less occupied in the heavy woollen manufacture, which have radiated from Batley as from a common centre. There are no statistics showing the extent of the trade in the aggregate, though it is desirable there were; it may, however, be stated that there ore without doubt 3000 power-looms used in this trade at Batley. Speaking of power-looms (that is to say looms driven by steam-power, in contradistinction to hand-looms, which were worked manually) they (power-looms) have been used on a large and increasing scale for some twenty years back; females are chiefly engaged in tending power-looms, intermixed with a few young and adult men. Female labour has been in great demand in tho heavy woollen district since the introduction of power-looms; and the result is that this kind of labour now receives about twice the remuneration it formerly did. Men's wages, though advanced, have not progressed in any thing like a corresponding ratio; females who are proficient at the power-loom can earn in full employ eighteen shillings per week. The employment in. the woollen manufacture is, generally speaking, healthy; tho oil, which is put upon the wool before scribbling, keeps down any dust, and is wholesome to the operative.

In conclusion, the trade seems destined to expand in futuro years as it has done in the past, and to become, large as it is, much larger still. In its first initiation, and for some time afterwards, the trade was not without detractors; but it has outlived all opposition, and has become firmly established as one of the leading manufactures of the kingdom.

In his 1858 book on the History of Batley Samuel Jubb did not acknowledge Benjamin Law as the person who developed shoddy.

See Batley

Great industries of Great Britain By Great Britain, 1884

"So far as we know, there is no direct evidence as to the person who first ground or tore up woollen rags, and it is equally unknown at what precise date the operation was first undertaken. Probably many enterprising persons tried what they could make out of woollen rags, and not having succeeded, ceased further endeavours. What we do know is, if meagre, at least authentic. Some few furniture manufacturers-chiefly makers of bedding, mattresses, and stuffed furniture, in and around London, the chief seat of the paper manufacture of this country-and a few saddlers in the metropolis itself, used larger or smaller quantities of woollen "flocks" to mix with hair and other materials in their business. But up to the year 1813, nobody ever thought of applying the product to the cloth trade, until a Yorkshire manufacturer, merely by accident, saw a saddler employing it to stuff a piece of harness. The manufacturer referred to was Mr. Benjamin Law, who carried on business in Batley. Having occasion while in London to call upon a sadoJer, he saw one of the workmen using a material, totally new to him, of a long, woolly fibre resembling the material with which he was so familiar. On taking a handful from the heap to examine it, he found it really was wool, and he was led to ask a few questions as to where it came from and who manufactured it. He learned to his surprise that it was the outcome of old stockings, hosiery, or blankets. He thought it was capable of being spun, and, with the view of trying the experiment, sent an order to the person who sold it, and upon mixing it with a small percentage of new wool, wove it into a piece of cloth. This was in the year 1813. Mr. Law found a ready sale for his new product, at once invested the whole of his capital in the enterprise to which he had been led by a chance visit, and became the founder of the shoddy trade. Mr. Law was a native of Great Gomersal, a village near Bradford, and was born in the year 1772. Finding that he could produce more than he could dispose of in the English market, he sent his son John with a large consignment of goods to America, where he met with a ready sale at a good profit. A second venture in the same direction was agreed upon, and into this the original shoddy manufacturer put all his energy and all his money. His son started, no doubt with high hopes of success, and Mr. Law himself, in all likelihood, looked forward to securing the means of extending his business. Weeks passed away, but Mr. Law heard nothing of his son; and at length, fearing that he had died, or that some accident had happened which prevented his writing, determined to go out in search of the young man and his precious freight. He went to America, sought high and low, but no trace of his son or the goods could be found, and he returned home comparatively a ruined man. He died in Stockport in 1837, and was buried in the churchyard of Batley. But the trade once started, many were willing to carry it on, and the result is that a large and continually increasing population has been drawn to Batley and the neighbouring villages, which are chiefly engaged in the shoddy manufacture."

Spons' encyclopaeia of the industrial arts, manufactures, and commercial ... By Edward Spon, Francis N. Spon, 1882

"Shoddy. - This includes those recovered wools obtained by pulling into their original fibrous condition all descriptions of worsted and woollen fabrics known amongst dealers as "softs ": that is, unmilled fabrics, such as old blankets, flannels, worn-out hosiery. It is difficult to decide to which amongst the several claimants to the invention of this system the credit is justly due. In Yorkshire, it is usually divided between, or rather claimed for, two persons, Benjamin Purr, of Batley, and Benjamin Law. An enthusiastic inquirer, who has devoted considerable time to the investigation, has, however, been led to the conclusion that the world is indebted to a Jew secondhand-clothes dealer in London, during the Peninsular War, when the stoppage of the supply of Spanish wool, and the brisk demand for army goods for the contemplated expedition to Spain (wool from Spain being then used for making them), drove wool to a great price. This man conceived that it would be a paying speculation to tear up old blankets and white flannels by curry-combs, and mix the product with the genuine wool that could be bought in the London market. This was done, and these "doctored" or adulterated bales were sold in Yorkshire for full prices, yielding a handsome profit to the operator. When this outlet for disposing of the product was closed by the decline in the value of wool, the maker offered it in competition with genuine wool for saddlery and upholstery purposes. This inventor's name is not satisfactorily known, but is conjectured to be Davis. The second progressive step in the utilization of this material (its adaptation to the manufacture of cloth) belongs to the above-named Benjamin Law, a small farmer and weaver of Batley, then an inconsiderable moorland village in Yorkshire. Not satisfied with the prices realized for his webs in Leeds, he extended his ventures to London. Being in the city on one occasion, he observed in a saddler's window some material apparently like white wool, but which differed in several respects from any with which he was acquainted. Getting permission to examine it, he found by testing its staple that it would fully answer his requirements. He found the manufacturer and purchased a parcel for himself, which he sent down to Batley, and fully satisfied himself that it was capable of being transformed into useful fabrics. He carefully guarded his secret, admitting only his brother-in-law, the Benjamin Parr before named, to a knowledge of Ids discovery. These two, having developed the manufacture to some extent, commenced to make the raw material themselves. From this small beginning, after struggling through many difficulties, its use has spread into almost every portion of the woollen manufacture of this and other countries."

Mungo.- The extensive adoption of shoddy as a raw material for cloth manufacture in a few years had the natural effect of rendering all the descriptions of rags from which it was manufactured considerably dearer, and of bringing the price of the product approximately near that of wool. To those who had experience of the originally low cost of both the rags and the product obtained from them, this change was not altogether of a satisfactory nature. There still remained open another source of supply, if only means of rendering it available could be discovered or invented. This was in the rags of milled cloths, both worn-out garments and new snippings from bailors' establishments. Theso were practically valueless, in most cases being thrown upon tho manure heap, whilst from the London tailoring establishments the latter descriptions were obtained at a cost of about $d. a lb., and were usually sold for the purpose of manuring the hop gardens in Kent and Surrey. After Law and Parr had been engaged in the manufacture of shoddy for about 10-12 years, they made an effort to utilize these " hard" rags, as they have since come to be called, as opposed to the "softs" previously described. New snips were procured from London, in order that, if successfully treated, the secret as before might be preserved. The first effort was, however, an entire failure, the machinery which was effectual for " softs" being quite unequal to tho task of grinding " hards" into wool. Repeated trials were made, all ending in disappointment, tho snips were thrown upon the manure heap, and afterwards carted away to tho fields. The idea, though abandoned for the time, was not lost sight of. It is stated that it often occupied tho thoughts of, and was the theme of frequent conversation between, Law and Parr. Somo few years subsequent to tho failure of the above trial, George Parr, a son of Benjamin Parr, observed at a neighbouring flock-manufacturers' workshop (Perrit & Co., Batley Carr), a description of flocks entirely new to him. Upon inquiry, ho was informed that the firm were making a new kind of stuffing flocks by grinding up old coats. The young man saw that the grinding process was much more successfully accomplished than had been the case in their own efforts. Purchasing two bags, he sent them home, and made an effort to spin them, but found the cards of the Batley district too coarse for the necessary preliminary operations. Nothing daunted, he had them transported to Morley, to the establishment of John Watson, a manufacturer of fine broad-cloths. Here the efforts were renowed successfully, so far as the production of a thread was concerned; but it was pronounced to be quite useless, owing to tho large admixture of cotton threads and linen linings that had been torn up with tho cloth. Watson suggested that theso should be picked out, and another trial made. This was done, and a more satisfactory result achieved, thought yet far from being such as would justify hopes of a commercial success. The trials were, however, continued by several manufacturers to whom the Parrs offered the materials freely. Successive improvements were made, but in spite of these, progress was slow. Finally the perseverance of the brothers Parr vanquished all difficulties. The article, called "mungo" from an ejaculation of one of the brothers tliat " it mun go," has since become an important source of supply of raw material to the union woollen manufacture, and to several other branches as well. Fig. 1440 is an illustration of the rag-grinding machine as at present constructed.

All the year round: a weekly journal, Volume 5; Volume 25 By Charles Dickens THE CITY OF HONEST IMPOSTURE. [April 8,1871.] 441


Although the word "shoddy" has now taken a recognised place in the English language, and is received as applicable to, and expressive of, anything which is falsely pretentious, there are comparatively few persons who understand what it means, fewer still who know that shoddy is in itself an honest article of trade, openly manufactured, employing Its hundreds of " hands," having its quoted price-list and its recognised head-quarters. These head-quarters are to be found at Batley-a town situate between Leeds and Dewsbury, at a junction where the railway branches off to Birstall. Having recently visited this place, and gone over two of the largest mills, we purpose, from the result of our own observation, and by the aid of an excellent local history, published some rears since by Mr. Samuel Jubb, himself one of the largest manufacturers, to give some description of the shoddy trade.

The town of Batley is, like most other manufacturing towns in the district, straggling, bare, blank, uninviting. The few shops are mean and poor, and the eye grows weary of the interminable blank walls of the factories, and the tall chimneys vomiting forth the blackest of smoke, while the ear is assailed by the never-ceasing clatter of the steam-engines. Save at the times when the "hands" are trooping to business or to their homes, the streets are almost deserted. There do not seem to be many private or public conveyances, asd the only vehicles in the roadway are the long waggons or trucks used for the conveyance of goods to and from the railway. Let Batley claims to belong to antiquity, and has documentary evidence of its parish church having been in existence for almost eight hundred years. It was not, however, until the eighteenth century that it attained even local renown, when it became known as a place engaged in the woollen manufacture, for which it was specially suited, both from its position being centrally situated in the immediate neighbourhood of the great markets cf Leeds, Bradford, Hnddersfield, Halifax, Wakeheld, etc., and from its possession of a vast reservoir of water, which is necessary for dyeing, scouring, and other purposes, and which is obtainable by pumping from a level some fifty feet below the surface. At that time the principal employment of the inhabitants of Batley consisted in scribbling and carding wool by manual labour; but the name of the person who first produced rag-wool or shoddy, now the staple of its trade, and the date of its introduction, are neither of them properly authenticated. The first shoddy is, however, supposed to have been produced, in the year 1813, by Mr. Benjamin Law.

On our arrival at Batley, we learned from the station-master the names and addresses of two of the principal millowners, and after we had satisfied these gentlemen that we were not secret emissaries of trade rivals anxious to pry into the mysteries of their manufacture, but simply in search of reproducible information, we were received with great courtesy, and conducted through their respective establishments. And the first piece of information afforded us was that the outside world is wrong in its general acceptation of the word "shoddy," and of its entire ignorance of the word "mungo." It may be broadly stated that the preparation made from rags is called shoddy, while that pulled out of old cloth and woollen goods is called mungo. Before the breaking out of the recent war, the principal supply of rags and pieces for the preparation of shoddy and mungo came from Germany and Denmark, in which latter country manufactories for the production of rag-wool have existed for the last forty years. At one time America was a great source of supply to the Batley market; but a prohibitory import tariff has caused the demand almost entirely to cease. Batley is now principally supplied with rags, etc., from the ragmerchants in London and other large English towns, who are themselves the customers of the rag and bottle shops and the marine stores, frequented by the poorest of the population. There is also an immense importation of Australian rags, which are looked upon with great favour, and, by some, preferred to any other. The principal rags sent down by the London dealers are "mixed softs," stockings, white flannels, carpets, and a large quantity of army cuttings, namely, serge, flannel, cloth, clippings of various colours, which being new, sound, of good colour and quality, are highly esteemed. From Scotland come old stockings and old rags, from Germany knitted stockings in grey and white, while Austria, Italy, Turkey, and Russia swell the large list. It is scarcely necessary to remark that Ireland is a very rare and small contributor, as her natives generally keep their rags, and wear them at home. Home and foreign rags all arriving in large bundles, are easily distinguishable by those accustomed to dealing with them from the manner in which they are packed. The prices of these rags vary greatly, ranging from five shillings to one hundred and eighty shillings per hundredweight.

The first process that the rags undergo is that of classification and sorting. This is a far more extensive process than would at first be imagined, as they are classified into a variety of colours and qualities, and yield a great number of distinct sorts, "mixed softs" being, it is said, assorted by some dealers into upwards of twenty different kinds. This sorting, in the mill which we first visited, was carried on in a room nearly sixty yards long; those engaged in the process being principally girls and boys. After sorting, the rags are packed in sacks, which are suspended by ropes to the rafters to the ceiling, while their contents are compressed by the simple process of the boys getting into the sacks and treading the rags down with their feet. 'The rags are then taken direct to a machine, which in bygone days was known as a "devil," but is now called a " swift,"' a revolving cylinder containing from ten to fourteen thousand teeth, according as it is coarse or fine, the coarser set swifts being used for the manufacture of what are called "soft" rags-stockings, flannels, carpets, etc. into shoddy; the finer set for tearing cloth into mungo. These swifts, which perform from six to seven hundred revolutions per minute, are fed by boys, whose business it is to heap with rags the travelling web, which brings layer by layer continually up to the teeth, by which they are at once torn to pieces and ground up. All this is speedily vomited forth in thick fluffy flock, soft, textile, and free from knots. In the rooms in which these revolving cylinders are at work, the air is laden with light fibrous floating particles, which would bring tears into Professor Tyndall's eyes, and which no doubt tend to the propagation of asthma, which is to a certain extent a common disease among the operatives, who otherwise enjoy average health. The refuse of these rags, after lying to rot, is used for the purpose of manuring the hopproducing districts in Kent and Surrey. Some of it is also re-manufactured into coarser flock for the stuffing of mattresses, conches, etc. while from another portion of the refuse is obtained a chemical substance called prussiate of potash, which has been found to be a valuable agent for dyeing purposes.

The flocks are then gathered together and taken to the mixing house, where, after having been sprinkled with oil, the long fibre and the short fibre are mixed together with a small quantity of wool, according to the quality required. Here a large quantity of shoddy, mixed with a small quantity of wool, forms the stuff which army contractors sell as blankets for the soldiers, and here we were shown a thin sleezy kind of lightish brown stuff, which was under order for exportation to the French and German armies, the Batley manufacturers maintaining a strict impartiality in the execution of the orders given by the contending nations. The oil used in this process is generally olive, rape, and Price's patent.

The wool, as it may now be termed, is next taken to the scribbling machine, whence, passing through a series of rollers, it issues in long thick bands, which are then taken to the carding machine, then to the spindles, in which what we originally saw as short, thick, frizzy flock, is spun into long strong yarn. The yarn is then woven' into cloth in power-looms, which are mostly attended to by women.

The next process is called milling, or pulling the goods, an important item, in the manufacture, and one for the success of which much skill and care are requisite, its object being to pull the cloth to the required substance, and also to cleanse it. Under this process the cloth is damped, and thumped with huge mallets, and is then taken away to undergo what is known as "raising," which is really the bringing forth of the pile, and which is performed either by machinery known as a raising "gig," or by hand.

In the raising gig the natural production known in the country as "teazles," which look like overgrown acorns covered with sharp, strong bristles, are largely used. These teazles principally come from the East Riding of Yorkshire and from France, the band-raising being performed with small instruments full of fine steel wire teeth. The pile is raised sometimes on one, sometimes on both sides of the cloth; then the goods are all taken to the dye-house, where we saw them, some steeped in enormous vats, some hanging on rollers, while the liquor ran through them. After it has been duly dried, the cloth goes through the next and final process of finishing or dressing; its surface is clipped, and brushed, and hot-pressed by machinery, after which it is ready for the consumer.

It is not too much to say, that no cloth is made without some infusion of shoddy: they will tell you at Batley it would not "work" so well, look so well, or be so much thought of. A great deal of the celebrated West of England cloth is manufactured within ten miles of Bradford, in Yorkshire; and an Ulster coat which we were wearing at the time of our visit, and which we fondly believed to be made of Irish frieze, was inspected and handled by one of our entertainers, who, with a grin, declared it to contain a certain proportion of mungo. Apropos of this word, Mr. Jnbb gives us a comic derivation. He declares that one of the dealers of the newly discovered material was endeavouring to push the sale of a small quantity, when a doubt being expressed by the bystanders as to the likelihood of his getting rid of it, the purchaser shouted with emphasis, "It mun go, it mun go," and these words are the origin of the name which it has retained ever since. From the same authority we learn that nrungo fluctuates in value more than shoddy ; its present price being about fourfold what it was at one period. In the early days of its history the price of London mungo ranged over nine or ten pounds per ton, while about ten years ago, the time of Mr. Jubb's writing, it was thirty-eight pounds per ton; the highest price it had ever reached having been forty-three pounds per ton. The first shoddy sales by public auction commenced about twenty years ago, and were then held at the Dewsbury and Batley railway station, but are now conducted in auction-rooms at Dewsbury. There are usually two sales a week, and the quantity falling under the hammer at each is, on an average, about forty thousand pounds, varying in price from one penny to two shillings and sixpence per pound. The war has been of immense service to the Batley manufacturers, and they used up all the stock they had on hand, and have been even glad to take back and re-work goods which they had previously returned as condemned.

Wages are good throughout the district. Women and boys engaged in sorting, packing, &c., get ten shillings a week, while in the manufacturing departments the earnings vary from one pound to forty-five shillings. The hands are well spoken of by their employers, and are said to be of the most part thrifty, industrious, and intelligent. There is a local newspaper, and a mechanics' institute. Concerts and entertainments are neither rare nor ill-attended. The manual adulteration in which they are constantly employed does not appear to have affected their moral nature, and a life-long residence in the city of honest imposture seems to have had no ill effects on its inhabitants.

1880 Article about Benjamin Law written by his grandson, Edwin Law

Wendy Rose transcribed the 1880 article by Edwin Law and the letters related to it. For the complete transcription of the Batley Reporter Articles of 1880 go to Wendy Rose

Benny Parr Wood and the Howley Mill

Photo by E Ineson Batley from Views and Reviews , 1896 courtesy of the Batley Community Archives, May 2006

Benny Parr Wood

"Benny" Parr was the brother-in-law and partner of of Benjamin Law. Benjamin Law's second wife was Lydia Sheard. Lydia's sister, Elizabeth, married Benjamin Parr. Benjamin Parr and Elizabeth sheard also had a son named Benjamin Parr. I do not know who the woods were named after - the father or the son.

1912 postcard

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Canadian Textile Journal vol 37 published in 1920 stated:

"Howley Ruins mark the place where tradition say that shoddy first was made, and that a small place in the immediate vicinity is still called "Benny Parr Wood". This is supposed to commemorate the name of the man, Mr. Benjamin Parr, who first succeeded in reducing cloth to fibre." From the very beginning the opposition to the new trade was fierce and long continued. At one time shoddy was widely known as "Devil's Dust," the name invented by a person who laboured with much zeal, much ignorance, and, fortunately, with entire futility, to destroy the growing trade of Batley and its neighbourhood. Economic laws were working then, as they are now, and in spite of Mr. Ferrand, the Batley district is now being supplied with rags from every part of the civilized world - and from some parts we regard as uncivilised."
See Images Batley

Collection Maggie Land Blanck

Frank Townend and Sons Shoddy Mill, Batley

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Geo. Gerry & Son, Athol, Mass is still listed in Athol, Mass. as a machine shop.

1874 Shoddy and Mungo Mill - Dewsbury, Yorkshire - image shared by Iain Hill, October 2015

The Machall Brothers, Robert Fletcher Macahll and William, established their business in 1856.

A Shoddy Town is Reborn

Robert Machell was married by the 1861 census. His brother, William age 22 was living with the family Under the Hill, Earlsheaton, in Soothill. They were listed as rag merchants.

In 1871 Robert Fletcher Machell still in Soot Hill as a shoddy merchant employing 38 hands

Robert F. Machell age 47 was listed in the 1881 census in Dewsbury as a shoddy manufacturer employing 108 hands. Robert and his wife, Emma lived at 33 Springfield Terrace with their 4 daughters daughters, Mary A. age 23, Ann age 19, Louisa age 16, Gertrude age 9 and son, Robert H age 5 plus a servant. In 1881 William Machell age 45, widower was listed as a manufacturer and mayor and alderman of Dewsbury. William was mayor from 1880 to 1882.

Shoddy Manufacturing in the United States

As the trade progressed several Batley shoddy makers moved to the United States and opened shoddy mills.

Thanks to Elizabeth Gardiner for sharing a very interesting 1906 article on shoddy manufacturing in the US. Go to The Technology Quarterly, Volume XIX MIT, 1906

Shoddy mills were also in operation in Germany.

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Benjamin Law

Photos of Batley

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