The proof of the pudding

Inside our archives there are many treasures, but perhaps you wouldn’t expect business correspondence about laundry bags to fit into that category. However Christine, who works in the shop and volunteers in the archive, has found something that might just change your mind.

Myself and fellow volunteer Jean have been working together cataloguing some of the many documents that are in the Quarry Bank archive. This involves selecting boxes of papers which have been sorted into categories and delving deeper into them. We read each document and then input important information such as date created, name of sender and a general description of the contents onto a spreadsheet, with the eventual aim of making it possible for anyone to search for information in our vast archives.

Recently we started work on the business papers and were given a box marked ‘1930’s’. We knew that business had started to slow down at Quarry Bank at around this time and that they were no longer producing fabric lengths. Sorting through the various letters, invoices and orders, it appeared that Quarry Bank Mills were relying on the production and sale of dishcloths and laundry bags. Our favourite find of the day was about these laundry bags. All of the related correspondence was written by S. H. Henshall, the manager of Quarry Bank Mills, and he seemed most keen to share that,’The nets are made entirely by us from Empire grown cotton and are therefore an all British production’. This is stated in many letters, sent with samples and price lists.  Some of the companies that these samples were sent to appear to have set up orders, but one company was not happy.

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The price list for laundry bags sent to Marshall, Hunt and Partners

Letters from Marshall, Hunt & Partners, Laundry Engineers at Victoria Street in London stood out from the others because of their high quality embossed writing paper. You can imagine that S. H. Henshall would have been very keen to secure a contract with a company of such class.

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The letter from Marshall, Hunt and Partners requesting samples from Quarry Bank Mills

After sending a requested sample, he receives a letter back stating, ‘We regret to say that these bags would not be suitable for Laundry work…it is possible to draw out…threads…through which parts of the articles being washed would be liable to be…damaged by the rotary motion of the Washing Machine.’ In defence of his product and possibly in desperation to secure a contract, S. H. Henshall replies that due to demand for the product, additional machines are being installed in the mill and that  many people have started using these bags in favour of the old knotted ones which Marshall, Hunt & Partners are probably used to. As for the accusation that clothes could be damaged by using these laundry bags, ‘For actions should these to be taking place in a machine would suggest to us the immediate need of a close inspection of its interior’. Our favourite part of the correspondence is S. H. Henshall’s closing paragraph, ‘But as we say here in the North “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” so the proof of the nets is in their behaviour when in use’. An offer was made to send Marshall, Hunt & Partners further samples ‘…to make an exhaustive test…’, but this was sadly declined and there was no further correspondence between the two companies.

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S.H. Henshall’s detailed, and slightly touchy, letter giving reasons why Marshall, Hunt and Partners are wrong in their judgement of the quality of Quarry Bank’s laundry bags.

Quarry Bank doesn’t make laundry bags any more, but we do make cotton glass cloths. I have had many people tell me that they have had theirs for many years and that only now do they need to be replaced. I’m sure S. H. Henshall would have been proud. Why not pick one up next time you visit and test it for yourself, because as we say in the North, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

Christine

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