It’s gone...well almost. By February Gannex Mill should be demolished. Another Elland landmark bites the dust.
There was always something synonymous about Gannex and Elland. The world famous waterproof fabric popularised by Harold Wilson and manufactured in our town. Broad Lea Mill, the site of Gannex Mill, was purchased by Kagan Textiles in 1959 for £14,000. The distinctive appearance dated from 1967 when the window surrounds, doors and roof were picked out with white paint. Today’s Health & Safety would go mad if they heard that a chap sat in a bosun’s chair with a heavy weight suspended at the other end whilst he painted a mill! (Please take a look at our website to see some eerie photos of the interior before demolition).
Production of Gannex, an outer layer of nylon and an inner layer of wool with trapped air between these two layers, which created a lightweight fabric that was both warm and waterproof, began at a nearby site in 1951. Through the business acumen of Joseph Kagan and his workforce Kagan Textiles grew into a global multi-million pound success. And it wasn’t just raincoats...hats, slippers, luggage and pioneering ways of developing new fabrics. There are numerous newspaper articles from 60s and early 70s praising Joseph Kagan and the versatility and stylishness of his fabrics. (At least one of the Kagan companies won a Queen’s Award to Industry). The original workforce of 8 increased to almost 1000. Opportunities were provided for hundreds of local people. The advert in the Elland Handbook from the late 1960s announced:-
‘Require fully experienced machinists and school leavers to be taught in our special training department. Nursery facilities available (one child per employee).’
We’re probably all aware of the outcome of Kagan Textiles and the fall from grace of Joseph Kagan. There are rumours aplenty but any colourful figure will attract rumours. Better to remember the success and good times for Elland.
Broad Lea Mill does have a longer history. It was built in the late 19th century and before Gannex the mill was owned by the Crossley family, who extended the property for worsted spinning. The original Crossley’s Mill (Woollens) was burnt down on 7th June 1860. According to the local press:-
‘An extensive conflagration occurred on Thursday at a woollen mill of Mr. Luke Crossley, at Elland, which was burnt to the ground. The mill was 21 yards long by 16 wide, and five storeys high. The fire originated in a dule. It spread exceedingly fast. A rather sharp breeze was blowing at the time, and this had the effect of fanning the flames, which, in about an hour, enveloped the whole mill. The Elland Unity, the West Vale Company, and Mr. Fox’s engines and the fire brigades were on the spot in less than half an hour, but only in time to save the steam engine, the boiler-house, and adjoining property. The damage may be reasonably be set down at £10,000.’
David J. Glanfield
Greater Elland Historical Society