Honest Bill’s Mill

As far as I know, W.T.Taylor (my great grandfather) was posthumously dubbed “Honest Bill” by the author of this article, Barbara J. Balshaw, and wasn’t known by that name during his lifetime, though he was obviously a man of honesty and integrity.

An article from ‘Lancashire Life’, June 1976

Unable to get on with the boss, at fifty-five most managers might put security before pride and soldier on to retirement. But one man didn’t. The result was Honest Bill’s Mill.

Go along Chorley New Road, Bolton, continuing some way into Horwich, and you will come to a monument to the courage of one man. It is not the usual sort of monument. It is a pleasant office block of pale red brick and Portland stone, backed by weaving sheds and other buildings of an extensive industrial complex. This is the Victoria Mill of W.T.Taylor and Co.

In 1903 Mr W.T.Taylor was the inside manager at a local towel mill, and he had problems. Unable to see eye to eye with the firm’s owner, he decided he could no longer work with him.

Taylor was fifty-five, and it could not have been an easy decision. With the backing of friends and relatives, he proposed to start a towel mill in Horwich, providing himself with a living and employment for local women. So he set himself the task of raising £10,000 for the mill to be built.

Little by little the money came in, a number of people entrusting all their savings to Taylor, so strong was their belief in him. True, all who subscribed to the venture ultimately got their money back several times over, but at the time their investment was an act of faith.

The original building was completed during 1904 and started up with 100 looms. But Taylor’s troubles were by no means over. He fully understood everything to do with the technical side of the work and indeed had taught weaving at the Harris Institute in Preston. What he had overlooked was that the majority of towels he had been making in his former post had been for the Indian market. They just would not sell in this country.

At first, business was so bad that he would pace his room at night, unable to sleep. There was even one terrible week when he had no money to pay the wages. He turned to an accountant he knew for a loan of £3,000. It was given readily, with the comment “Come back if you want any more.”

The tide was finally turned when Taylor introduced a process for weaving waste yarn – a technique that had never been used before. This produced Terry (Turkish) towelling much cheaper than by the normal process and the product sold so well that the success of the mill was assured.

Several times he was invited to become a deacon at the Congregationalists’ New Chapel in Horwich. He declined the honour because he did not think he was good enough – he drank the occasional half-pint of beer, you see, and played bridge for a stake of one penny…

By the Thirties, Taylor’s had become the largest towel manufacturers in the British Empire, running 1,200 looms with 700 employees, and with the registered name Wavecrest becoming familiar to shoppers in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

Right from the start, William Taylor had been assisted by his salesman son, John. Later, William’s elder son, Harry, left his job with a bank to become the company secretary – swapping bank hours for a six o’clock start in the mornings. In time, the founder’s grandsons, granddaughter and great grandson joined the firm, and whole families of employees spent their entire working lives at Victoria Mill.

It would be nice to be able to record that Victoria Mill still continues as a family concern but, as Wells’s Mr Polly put it: “This ‘ere Progress, it do keep on.” Now Taylor’s is part of the Spirella Group, but John’s two sons are still with the firm.

Barbara J. Balshaw