Collar Factory

The Collar Factory was opened in the mid-19th century by Welsh and Clarke, to provide employment in the town, when it was very impoverished after the loss of the coaching trade when other roads between London and the West were opened up, and Langport was on the railway, on the line between Yeovil and Taunton.

 

 

 

 

 

The factory occupied the tall buildings shown in this print, just behind the lime trees recently (1865) planted for the marriage of the heir to the throne, who later became King Edward VII. The cottages to the right of the factory are still there and now occupied by our optician.  Mr Welsh lived in one of the rather grander houses on the other side of Broad Street.

The Collar Factory replaced this older shop and the cottages beside it. (Photo from Jeremy Cooke; it is thought to date from about 1880)

In those days, most men wore collarless shirts, or shirts with the necessary button holes in the collar band for detachable collars of various degrees of stiffness (and discomfort!). Office workers wore white collars and manual workers wore blue. In the far end of West Street there was a factory making fancy gift boxes for the gift trade, as well as round boxes designed to take six or a dozen starched collars each. In these the collars were despatched for London and other cities in the United Kingdom.

The factory employed at least one hundred women in the town, each with her special trade - a cutter, folder, turner, creaser, stitcher, starcher, ironer or packer. Some women also came in from surrounding villages, collected by wagon each morning. Some men were employed to look after the steam engines in the basement which provided power for the sewing machines, the cutting machines, the laundry and the irons. There were office staff who kept the books, and, no doubt, people who bought in the linen for the collars (there was no linen industry in Somerton) and others who travelled all over the country selling the collars to drapers and department stores far and wide. Many of the expert staff were Quakers brought in from the linen factories in Cheshire and Lancashire.