A Short History of Clutsom & Kemp

Charles Clutsom
A Clutsom weaving head.
An Alley of Clutsom looms in the 1950s.
Clutsom' workforce in 1917. Charles Clutsom is far left.
The planning department, mid 1960s.
The Childrens' Christmas party in 1955.

On the 28th April 1908 five individuals mortgaged, as tenants, 3 parcels of land from a Henry Geary Cotton, described as a gentleman of Shepshed. There is a building shown on the 1901 map of the Highfield Street area described as a ‘boot and hosiery manufactory’ this was the forerunner of Clutsom & Kemp.

  • Henry Geary Cotton. The son of William Cotton who founded Cotton’s of Loughborough.
    In the Leicestershire records office there is a 12 year lease from 1908 which mentions Cotton and a relative. The lease is for a lower main or roaster seam of coal with the associated “four foot” seam of coal and the upper main seam of coal under lands in Stanton under Bardon. Also mentioned in the lease is Walter and Albert Ellis, colliery proprietors of Ellistown. It seems that the Ellis’s were leasing mineral rights from Cotton.

The parcels of land formed part of an estate recently built on Highfield Street and on them was the manufactory. The mortgage included machinery and engines.
The five mortgagees were:
William Frederick Jones a boot and shoe manufacturer from Coalville
Thomas Frith a boot and shoe manufacturer from Coalville
William Geary a schoolmaster from Sharnford
William Harper a blacksmith from Bedford
Josiah Kemp a grocer and baker from Coalville.
The business traded under the unregistered name of Jones, Kemp, Woolerton and Co. There is no mention of who Woolerton was.

On the 20th of July 1909 a new business was registered, The Highfields Weaving & Manufacturing Company Ltd. This company had two shareholders, being the previously mentioned William Frederick Jones and Josiah Kemp, a director but not a shareholder was Thomas Frith. William Geary and William Harper seemed to have gone out of the picture when the new company was formed. The articles of association were witnessed by a Thomas Bonser, a miner from Ravenstone Road, Coalville. On the 28th August 1909 Jones, Kemp, Woolerton and Co. was sold to the Highfields Weaving and Manufacturing Company Ltd.

  • Josiah Kemp. (No image of Kemp has been found.) He was a successful grocer with a shop on Belvoir Road in Coalville. He was an astute businessman & had interests in several other areas besides the provision trade. There’s no evidence, however, that he had any experience of manufacturing elastic webbing. The expertise in that area may have been supplied by the previously mentioned William Harper. On the mortgage he was described as a blacksmith, however, on the sale agreement of Jones, Kemp, Woolerton & Co. a William Harper is again mentioned this time as being from Aylesbury Web Fancy Weavers. This may be another William Harper, however.
  • Charles Clutsom. Began his career at Wright’s Weaving Mill at Quorn. He quickly realised that there were many ways that the manufacturing equipment could be improved and frequently put these ideas to his employers. Wright’s, however, were ‘doing all right thank you’ and so tended to ignore Clutsom’s suggestions. He became increasingly frustrated by this attitude and in 1916 left the Quorn company looking for a similar business to join which is when his association with the Highfields company began, initially as manager.

By October of 1916, according to the share transfer certificates, Charles Clutsom and Josiah Kemp between them jointly owned 1552 of the preference shares in the Highfields Weaving and Manufacturing Company Ltd. This is slightly odd as the last auditor’s certificate and report for that company indicated that only 1500 preference shares had been issued.

On the 25th of October 1916 a special resolution of the company was passed changing the name to Clutsom & Kemp Ltd. Which from now on I’ll refer to as C & K. The trade mark that was adopted was a flamingo and legend has it that about the time that C & K was born, on the opposite side of the road a tree was being felled. The wood inside the tree was rotten and one of the chippings from it resembled a flamingo in shape. The lumberjack gave it to Clutsom as a good luck token & the trade mark was born. How true this is I have no idea.

​Early Days
It seems that Josiah Kemp was a sleeping partner in the company as he doesn’t seem to have taken an active part in the business, however, his son was employed as a photo from late 1916 or early 1917 shows.

The type of goods manufactured before the outbreak of WW1 had been a variety of elasticated webbing mainly used in women’s underwear, suspenders etc. During the war production was predominantly rigid webbings for military use. By the end of 1918, however, manufacture of elasticated webbing had once more commenced.

Product quality together with keen price, good management & adoption of new technology ensured that the business prospered. Factories were opened in Long Eaton and Ibstock both of which eventually specialised in broad fabrics. By this time the workforce numbered several hundred people, mostly women. An article in the Coalville Times from November 1931 announced that double shift working had been introduced at Coalville & Ibstock. By the 1930s C & K was well on its way to being the largest manufacturer of narrow fabrics in the world, a position that it would hold until the 1960s and this is a worthy achievement in its own right for Charles Clutsom.

​The shuttleless loom.
Charles Clutsom was to have an even bigger impact on the narrow fabrics industry than just being the head of a successful weaving company. Clutsom was now in a position to put into practice the revolutionary ideas that he had been formulating during his years at Wrights of Quorn.
His achievement was to do away with the shuttle and produce the first practicable shuttleless loom. The shuttleless loom was not a new idea nor was it his personal brainchild, what Clutsom did was to produce the first efficient, workable shuttleless loom and this virtually sounded the death knell for the shuttle in most areas of narrow fabric manufacture.
Traditional weaving takes place using a shuttle containing a bobbin of weft which is passed through the opened shed of warp threads the weft is then beaten up against the previous weft thread by a reed or sley, the warp threads are then opened in a different order and the shuttle then moves through the shed again. The order that the warp threads are opened in determines the pattern of the web. The shuttle loom had to stop work every time one of the shuttle’s spools was empty, and as they did not hold a great length of thread there were constant stoppages.
It was widely understood that if the shuttle could be dispensed with this would lead to significantly faster machine speeds, greater productivity, less work for the weaver and a great saving of weft wastage. Clutsom disposed of the shuttle and replaced it with a pivoted arm. This had an eye at the end through which the weft thread is passed. The arm inserts the weft through the opened warp threads. On the opposite edge a needle (actually a latched hook) catches the weft and knits it into the fabric as the warp threads close. This system allowed, amongst other benefits, faster machine speeds, reduced work for the weaver and less weft wastage. Though not practicable for broad fabrics, the Clutsom Loom proved revolutionary in narrow fabrics manufacture. A subsidiary of Clutsom & Kemp, K.C.Engineering, was formed to produce the machines that were soon in demand from every part of the world. A factory was opened at Market Bosworth to produce the machine with some construction done at Coalville. The idea, once patents had lapsed, was taken up by every other manufacturer of narrow fabric looms and this has led to the virtual demise of the shuttled narrow fabric loom.

​Heyday and Site development.
The twenties, thirties and forties saw a massive expansion of Clutsom & Kemp and the small plot on Highfield Street expanded until it met Belvoir Road on the opposite side of the town covering, eventually, some 8 acres with weaving sheds, engineering workshops and a cluster of ancillary buildings.

Let’s just go back and look at the expansion from the days when it belonged to Cotton.
The initial workshop shown on the 1908 map was 3570 square feet in total. By 1927 with Clutsom now running the company it had expanded to about 4 times the size. Obviously the company was doing well because within ten years the site had doubled in size yet again. The progress and expansion continued rapidly for within another ten years the site had expanded once more. The actual factory floor area was now 150,000 square feet.

The Company at its height employed in excess of a thousand people and was a major industry in Coalville, for a time second only to coal mining. After the Second World War, development of the Clutsom Loom continued. The late fifties and early sixties saw the end of production of the original loom which was replaced by several new, high speed, versions still retaining the Clutsom principle. The looms had mixed fortunes and eventually the production of looms ceased and the manufacturing rights were sold to the Italian company O.M.M.

On the weaving side C & K were always eager to adopt the latest business practices, these included a highly detailed planning system & laboratory testing of all products. They were ahead of their time with their testing methods and made much of this in their advertising. I have come across several examples of their advertising regarding the elastic web side of the business but have not seen one example of advertising for the Clutsom loom. I have it on good authority from several of the engineers who worked on the manufacture of the looms that demand always seemed to outstrip supply so perhaps they never needed to advertise this side of the business.

In the early 1990s some original Clutsom looms were found to be still operating in Bialystock in Poland and Clutsom & Kemp together with Leicestershire Museums formulated a project to return one of the looms to Coalville, however, for several reasons nothing came of this; so unless there are still Clutsom looms in some obscure place in the world, sadly it seems likely that no examples remain.

Social Scene
The company always placed great importance on the welfare of its employees. Wages were good as were working conditions. There was always a very active social and sports club having its own football and cricket teams together with their own sports ground and tennis courts. In the 1950s one of the highlights of the Christmas season for employees’ children was the annual Christmas party held in the canteen. Proceedings began with a slap-up tea followed by entertainment and a film show or maybe a magician and then the grand finale of Santa Claus arriving with presents for all.

Christmas too was when the annual dinner and dance took place, always at the Grand Ballroom and always with top flight entertainment from famous dance bands. In 1963 the then entertainments secretary tried to book the Beatles but with the price tag of £1000 (over £16,000 in today’s money) for a five minute spot the idea was abandoned in favour of Cyril Stapleton and his band. Every year there was a big demand for tickets, apparently tickets (strictly limited to employees) had been known to change hands on the black market to non-employees.

Charles Clutsom retired in the early 1960s and by 1968 Charles Clutsom he had died. Through mergers and take-overs, Clutsom-Penn (Kemp having been dropped after the merger with Penn Elastics) had become the world’s largest producers of elastic fabrics. There were factories in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany and the USA. An organisation of this size could not be ignored and, without Charles Clutsom to oppose it, Clutsom-Penn was taken over by the Courtauld Group.

The late 1960s and the early 1970s saw a downturn in the fortunes of the Coalville site, Courtaulds were in the midst of an asset stripping operation that did not include narrow fabrics. This culminated in the early seventies with a series of redundancies.

Until the late seventies Clutsom-Penn had been based at Highfields Street. Courtaulds eventually closed the Highfields offices and moved the Clutsom- Penn headquarters elsewhere. The manufacturing operation at Coalville had been renamed Tubbs-Lewis, another company that had been taken over by Courtaulds. Further reductions in the work-force and plant left Coalville, by the early eighties, partially derelict and with only about 120 employees. In 1984 a management buyout realised independence from Courtaulds and a restoration of the name of Clutsom & Kemp. Nineteen eighty-eight saw Clutsom & Kemp become part of the Nottingham based Sherwood Group. In 1993 the weaving section of the company was sold to a rival narrow fabric manufacturer, ironically the Tubbs company that, through a management buyout had themselves become independent from Courtaulds. All that was left was a small operation covering rubber and elastane fibres with yarn and employing only 22 people. This operation moved to a new site in the summer of 1993 and after several takeovers was finally closed in the late 1990s. The whole Highfield Street site has been demolished and a housing estate now stands in its place.

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