Wednesday, October 20, 2021
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: From Sheep’s Back to Man’s Back

Notes from the Sticks: From Sheep’s Back to Man’s Back

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THE picture below shows one of my most treasured possessions. It is a memento of an event which took place almost exactly 90 years ago – the anniversary is on Thursday.

In 1931 there was a craze among woollen mills competing to set the world record for creating a man’s tailored suit from scratch, ‘From Sheep’s Back to Man’s Back’. A Bradford man who had moved to Pennsylvania first achieved the feat – shearing the sheep, processing the wool, weaving it into cloth, cutting and sewing it – in 1898 in a time of 6 hours, 4 minutes. In 1931 Sir Malcolm Campbell, the land and water speed record holder (and father of Donald Campell), challenged British mills to beat the American record. On June 23, 1931, the Batley firm of J T and T Taylor, working with tailors Price of Leeds, set a time of 3 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds. 

The next day an attempt on the record was made by John Crowther and Sons of Milnsbridge, a district of Huddersfield, and the same firm of tailors. This is where my connection comes in. The event was covered by a 22-year-old reporter on the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, an evening paper. His name was Gordon Lang. This is the page from the paper (these were the days when papers really were full of news):

And this is a blow-up of the story, which gives every detail, including the new record time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 46 seconds. (You will find this easier to read if you zoom in to the image.) Among the scrutineers was Campbell’s wife Dorothy. The suit was made for J H Thomas, Labour MP for Derby and Secretary of State for the Dominions (remembered as Colonial Secretary at the time of the 1932/33 cricket Bodyline affair). He was supposed to wear the suit on tour in Canada and at trade fairs in the UK, but sadly I cannot find any pictures.  

The connection does not end here. Mementos of the event were made (adding half a second to the record time) and given to senior staff at the mill. Among them was George Scarf, the company secretary, who had a son and four daughters, the youngest named Marjorie. Two years after the record-breaking event, she met Gordon Lang at a bridge evening and in 1936 they married. Thirteen years after that they became my parents. 

The record attempts went on, moving to Australia. Crowther’s record was beaten in Sydney on October 31 by the Target Woollen Mills of Mascot with a time of 1 hour 53 minutes.

This was followed up with a tart comment from Crowther’s.

I found the memento in a suitcase when we were clearing out the house of one of my aunts. The strand of yarn was already displaced and I have not attempted to fix it in case I make it worse. It needs an expert to restore it. 

I would like to thank Huddersfield historian Christopher Marsden who kindly supplied all the newspaper cuttings (I have my father’s report somewhere but after several house moves I cannot lay my hands on it). 

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Two weeks ago I featured the wonderful bee orchid pictures sent to me by our commenter Quartus, who lives on the Kent coast. He has now counted 85 stems in his garden and has sent a further picture of one stem bearing a seed pod plus 12 flowers and buds.

This is a close up of the seed pod: 

Quartus writes: ‘The seed pod will dry and one day will split explosively and spray the flour-like seeds away. The ridges down the seed pod will be the ribs which uncoil for that purpose.’ Thanks to him again.

This week I also saw my first ‘ordinary’ orchid of the year, on the bank of the Ribble. It is a common spotted-orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) which the Natural History Museum’s excellent guide says is ‘the most common and widespread orchid in the UK’ (naturally). It’s still pretty special to me.

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While the orchids are spectacular, it is hard to beat the wild rose for simple beauty. They are out in force round us at the moment and here are a couple of pictures.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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