1850s Lustrous Orleans : natural or dyed alpaca worsted?

Copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2015 All rights reserved. (see sidebar right →)

Ripley Ville was the last of the Victorian industrial model villages to be built in the old West Riding of Yorkshire. Built between 1866 and 1881, it contained; Workmens Dwellings, a schools building and a school master’s house, an Anglican church, vicarage and alms houses. It was built across two sites to the north and south of Bowling Dyeworks in Bowling to the south of Bradford near what later became Bowling Park.

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This post looks again at the relationship between Bowling Dyeworks and Salts Mill in the mid-Victorian period. This is a largely unexplored relationship but what went on between the two businesses may help us understand why the industrial model villages of Ripley Ville and Saltaire were built, how they compare and how they were paid for. Because you are probably in holiday mood or even on holiday, the post also includes some photographs of alpacas. Most of these are of one being sheared. The more serious aim of the post is to set up a sequence of questions about how the mixed worsted cloths called ‘lustrous Orleans’ were finished. Three questions in that sequence are:-

In the mid 1840s,

  • Would the lustrous Orleans that used alpaca fibre have been dyed or not?
  • Would the dye for lustrous Orleans or other alpaca worsteds be applied to the fibres before weaving, or to the woven cloth?
  • Were Bowling Dyeworks and Messrs Ripley in Bowling likely to have done the dyeing for Salts Mill?
close up colour photograph of head of aplaca

Copyright R L Walker 2014

1840s Lustrous worsteds : natural or dyed alpaca fibre?

Salts Mill, Bowling Dyeworks and lustrous worsteds

Salts and lustrous Worsteds

Lustrous mixed worsted cloths of the mid-19th century that were produced in the Worsted District of Yorkshire used a lustrous fibre in the weft. This was commonly mohair and more famously, at Salts Mill, alpaca but could be angora, vicuna or other fibres. The lustrous weft was usually combined with a cotton warp to give a cloth strength. Aided by the fictionalised description given by Charles Dickens in ‘Household Words’, Titus Salt’s role in buying alpaca fibre at Liverpool Docks from ‘C W & F Foozle & Co’ and working out how to spin it are a staple of the Salts Mill story and part of the folklore of the industrial model village of Saltaire  – just as they were in Worstedopolis (mid to late Victorian Bradford) a century and a half ago. (see Holroyd A, 1973,  pages 9-12)

Alpaca fibre has properties that make it attractive for many reasons. In the mid-nineteenth century it was its lustrous quality and ‘shades and tints’, that led demand in womenswear and fashion cloths.

One of the best contemporary accounts, from Abraham Holroyd, makes this clear. (Holroyd A 1873 page 29)

From page 29, 'Saltaire and its Founder' Abraham Holroyd orig 1873, republished June 2000

From page 29, ‘Saltaire and its Founder’ Abraham Holroyd orig 1873

 Bowling Dyeworks and lustrous worsteds

The Bowling Dyeworks story and its mid century dominance in worsted dyeing was achieved in two-stages;

circa 1830s : achievement of speed, colour fastness and matching in dyeing worsteds black and most particularly for bombazine and cloths of the range that mixed cotton warps and silk in the weft. (1)

circa 1840s : the dyeing of mixed worsteds in the piece (after weaving) across an increasing range of colours. This included the new lustrous Orleans cloths as they were developed and became fashionable.

It is clear that by the early 1880s Bowling Dyeworks was majoring in dyeing mohair fibre and cloths. But what were Edward Ripley & Son doing from the mid 1840s either within their own works or premises available to them?

Missing Colour Supplement

I have argued, elsewhere, that Bradford’s Heritage offer is missing its ‘colour supplement’. In spite of the presence of the Colour Experience, the Society of Colourists and Dyers and the excellent recent work of the Heritage Lottery funded ‘Fabric of Bradford’ project in the city, the role of dyeing (and the worsted merchants) in the success of Bradford’s mid-19th century worsted industry is probably not much understood. Their role can seem woefully under-represented in District exhibits, exhibitions, heritage events and museums.

The challenge is to reconstruct the Worstedopolis story from ‘fleece to draper’ rather than, as is done now, from fleece to woven cloth. There is also a need to re-link Saltaire and Salts Mill to Worstedopolis (Victorian Bradford) and the wider Worsted District. This post, originally published in August 2014 and now updated is part of that attempt.

Some part of what follows is speculative. Comment and information that adds to understanding of how and where lustrous worsteds including alpaca Orleans from Salts were dyed 1840s to 1860s are welcome.

Natural shades or white alpaca dyed

As indicated earlier, a quality of alpaca fibre is the variety of its natural shades. Different definitions lead to claims for 16 or 22 natural shades and these are described as ranging through white to light grey, dark rose grey, dark brown and black – but no blue. In consequence of this range of natural colours and other natural qualities the arguement is made that alpaca does not need dyeing or does not benefit from it. On the other hand it can be dyed and both natural and artificial dyes can be used to dye it. Twenty-first century commercial users tend to dye alpaca and craft workers to prefer the natural fibre, undyed. If dyed it is usually the white fibre that is used, though white alpaca could feature undyed. The caption to a fashion plate of 1862 reproduced  in ‘Titus Salt and Saltaire : Industry and Virtue (Styles J, 1994, page 15) notes that one of the women’s dresses is of ‘cinnamon coloured alpaca and the child’s dress of white alpaca’.

So the questions for mid-19th century Bradford and for the relationship between Salts Mill and Bowling Dyeworks revolve around whether lustrous Orleans cloth and alpaca Orleans – as the pre-eminent example – were dyed?  From there the questioning leads on to two additional question: –

  • Whether alpaca worsteds were dyed in the piece – or the spun fibres dyed separately prior to weaving?


  • Did Bowling Dyeworks do any of the dyeing for Salts Mill?

Edward Ripley & Son : Bowling Dyeworks & the New Dyehouse

In the early 1840s, Edward Ripley & Son had an exclusive capability for dyeing mixed worsteds in the piece, So if this was what was needed, the woven cloth would need to taken to them at one of their/or Dyeworks for this to be done. Their pre-eminence in worsted dyeing lasted at least into the mid-1860s and was based in this capability and a growing capacity to do so. At the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Bradford worsteds manufacturers found themselves being outperformed in some categories by continental firms. Afterwards dissatisfaction was expressed locally within the worsted trade and the Bradford papers about how Bradford’s dyers had performed and the service they provided.

The role in increasing the Ripleys’ capacity for dyeing mixed worsteds, in the early 1850s, of the ‘New Dyehouse’ built off Spring Mill Street (see map bottom of page) and nearer to Bradford’s town centre is unclear. Ibbetson’s Bradford General & Classified Directory of 1850 (page 174) shows the New Dyehouse as a place of work for a William Sutcliffe. The entry is marked to denote the premise’s use as ‘Stuff Dyers & Finishers’. While this indicates its having a capability to dye and finish worsteds after weaving or dye fibre prior to weaving, there is map evidence suggesting that at least part of the premises were initially under the direction and ownership of a different firm, or let to them. In the map, the building is identified as ‘Kirks Dyeworks’. Two deeds registered on the 30th December 1853 show transactions in land with varying parties involved. Both transactions involved Edward and Henry Ripley and a Joseph Moxon Kirk, of Old Lane, Halifax. The deeds need further examination as do the entries in Ibbetson’s 1850 Directory for both William Sutcliffe, ‘general dyer, Bowling New Dyehouse; house Little Horton’ and Wilson Sutcliffe, ‘manager (Bowling Old Dyhouse) Hall Lane, Bowling’. These also need to be tallied with planning submissions for the building of the new Dyeworks. For now the degree to which the Old Dyehouse and the New Dyehouse were separately run or run in collaboration remains undetermined. What follows must be read with this in mind.

Other options for dyeing

Other dye-works in Bradford would be capable of dyeing spun alpaca yarn. William Denby and Sons in Shipley advertised themselves from the 1820s as ‘Manufacturers from the raw wool to the finished products’, so will have had access to dyeing. By the 1840s they were one of the principal employers in Shipley and in 1851 rebuilt their Well Croft on Hall Lane in Shipley. Other mills in Shipley may have have a capability to dye worsted cloth or fibre. In contribution to worsted manufacture, Ashley Mills spun cotton warps for lustrous worsteds. (see Sheeran G, 1984, pages 20-36)

Composite of three colour images of shearing an alpaca; First pick up your alpaca, Just starting and Almost done
Images and composite copyright R L Walker 2014

Transport Links Salts Mill to Bowling Dyeworks

The demands made in getting cloth across and uphill to south Bradford from Saltaire varied during the period 1846 to 1850 with the additions of rail routes to the north and south of Bradford. This started with the Leeds-Aire Valley (1846) and Skipton via Shipley (1847) lines to the north and then came the opening of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway line south and out of Bradford (see also Richardson C, 1977 pages 58-59). The routes continued to change over the next 25 years, so how demands for the transfers of goods could be met similarly changed through the mid-to-late Victorian period.

Central Bradford 1852 canal and rail termini

Based on OS map 1862


Salts complex of Mills and buildings in Saltaire did not include a dyeworks until 1868.

Transport along the Leeds-Liverpool and then the Bradford canal could take worsted goods into the centre of Bradford cheaply if not quickly.  In weight to volume ratios and weight to value terms canal transport would be more efficient where woven cloth was taken.  There would then be the need to transfer goods for the onward journey up to Bowling Dyeworks (see below).

Interestingly, the building of the dyeworks as part of the New Mill complex at Saltaire coincides with the problems leading to the eventual closure of the Bradford canal in 1866/7. The closure would have impacted on costs, scheduling and management of transfers of cloth including those right up to Bowling Dyeworks, or on the lesser journey to the New Dyehouse. There may also have been additional risks of damage where a chosen option increased the number of transfers in taking cloth for dyeing off-site. Changes did occur in warehousing canalside in Shipley with new buildings added in 1875. These were built to cope with increase in the Shipley trade and the off-loading necessary as a result of the Bradford canal’s closure. Much of the older warehousing had been built nearer to the junction of the Leeds-Liverpool canal with the Bradford canal (see Firth 2007, photographs, pages 26-30).

Rail, road or waggonways

South Bradford rail & waggonways 1850s

OS Map surveyed in 1849. The line of Bowling curve already shown.

Rail would involve a train into Bradford but the onward journey would be problematic. It would most probably involve unloading to horse-drawn wagons and if the New Dyehouse was to be used for transfer to there. The Lancashire and Yorkshire line, opened in 1851, ran past the older Dyeworks of Edward Ripley & Son, not into it. At the point where it passed the works it was in a cutting. It seems improbable that it would be used during the early 1850s. This would make horse-drawn wagons the fall-back solution at least until the development of Bowling curve (Leeds Central Bowling Junction route, opened September 1854) and still later of Ripley’s siding. Though these would make the journey from Saltaire possible, they would still not make transport by rail practical.

So, more speculatively, was another route available? Could textile goods be brought up to the older Dyeworks on the Bowling Ironworks waggonway that left staithes down nearer the centre of Bradford and ran through Bowling Dyeworks?  Or, whatever the separation that might be achievable, were cloth and coal (and other minerals) too risky a mix?

Alternatively was the stimulus, in the mid-1840s, for the building of the New Dye House nearer to the town centre and nearer the bottom of the bowl-end of Bradford Dale that it could provide a timely, practical and profitable solution to dyeing lustrous worsteds from the north of Bradford, including the huge volumes produced at Salts Mill?



(1)   It makes some sense to believe that Bowling Dyeworks achieved the dyeing of bombazines ‘in the piece’ towards the end of the 1830s, with other colours being added over time. This remains to be established. The existence of a new innovation did not mean it was then applied to all such cloths. It may be that warp and weft were still dyed separately:-

  • where a different finish was required
  • for different cloths within the silk/cotton worsted range

The need either for different mordants and dyes for warp and weft or for achieving identical colour and fastness in warp and weft would be other considerations.

Similar considerations would apply in the dyeing of lustrous Orleans. While mixed worsteds, mixing animal and vegetable fibres, are understood to date from around 1837, lustrous Orleans was first offered on the market in the early 1840s

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The photographs in this post were taken in Roberts Park in Saltaire. A film/video was being made for later showing on ITV – mention was made of a ‘Mills and Canals’ series, “Barging around Britain with John Sergeant”. The programme will feature an interview with Jamie Roberts. He is the grandson of Sir James Roberts, who as subsequent owner of Salts Mill and Estate gave the park of Saltaire to Bradford Corporation in 1920. The alpaca were sheared by Lister Shearing.


Firth G, 2011, ‘The Leeds-Liverpool Canal in Yorkshire‘, History Press, Stroud

Ibbetson J,  2009 (orig 1850), ‘Ibbetson’s General & Classified Directory : Bradford 1850’, Bank House Books, New Romney

Richardson C, 1977,  ‘A Geography of Bradford‘, University of Bradford

copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2014 & 2015

last updated 2015/09/23


One response

  1. Love the alpaca pictures

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