Just in time for Hallowe’en, Hebden Bridge Local History Society will hear about “witchcraft in the upper Calder Valley” at their meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, October 23).
John Billingsley will give the talk after the society’s annual meeting.
Meetings are held in the Methodist Hall in Hebden Bridge, starting at 7.30pm.
At the previous meeting Joan Laprell spoke on The History of Moderna.
Many who married in the 1950s and ‘60s will recall the pleasure of unwrapping their wedding gifts to find a luxurious Moderna blanket. Joan recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for 10 years. With humour and obvious delight she recreated the pleasure of working for the family run company.
The founder was Thomas Ratcliffe, part of a local textile manufacturing family, who moved on to the Mytholmroyd site in the late 19th century. However it was his grandsons and great-grandsons, the Culpans, who really made Moderna the top name in blankets. In the depressed years of the ‘20s and ‘30s the dynamic Norman Culpan had the energy and dynamism to completely revitalise the business, investing in buildings, reducing costs and increasing output by 500 per cent. The unique blankets came in vibrant colours, were guaranteed not to shrink and were moth-proof.
During the war years, the factory produced fabric for naval overcoats and grey army blankets, some of which reportedly had hidden messages woven into them, and were destined to be dropped over France. It was the need to comply with government standards that led the company to build its award-winning canteen, home for the many entertainments which ex-Moderna workers recall so fondly.
The firm obviously valued its workers, establishing a profit sharing scheme and arranging Christmas treats. There was great respect given to ‘Mr Norman’ as he was always known, because of his close knowledge of all aspects of the business, from the raw wool to the finished product. He was a charismatic character, riding in the Isle of Man TT races and taking a posse of supporters from the workforce to cheer him on. He could still be seen wearing his leathers in his old age. Joan also recalled sitting with other attractive young women outside his fish and chip shop – a device to encourage passing trade to pop in.
For the 500 workers at Moderna the factory provided a rich social life, with its own dramatic society, sports teams, galas, dances and even a visit from the famous Wilfred Pickles ‘Have a Go, Joe’ radio show. It was a community that in the 1970s suffered a mortal blow when the firm ended up in the hands of asset-strippers who sacked the workers and sold off the machinery. In 1986 a devastating fire destroyed what was left of the factory – except for the name, which lives on. Joan hoped that when people asked why this area has the name Moderna, the reply will be that it commemorates the home of the finest mill in Yorkshire.