WHEN the history of Fustianopolis – alias Hebden Bridge – comes to be written, it will be recorded that it died of apathy. I have now been waiting in vain for a month for somebody hereabouts to protest about the East Anglian train operator, One, banning cab drivers from wearing corduroy.
Under new licence conditions, cabbies at Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth stations must wear black trousers and black shoes with a collared or polo shirt. For women the regulations require a black skirt and blouse with a collar. No corduroy, not even black corduroy.
The company says: “Cords were included in the list of unacceptable clothing as they can look quite scruffy when they get faded. When the guidelines were being clarified, it was noticed that several drivers were wearing light coloured cords which had frayed and looked quite nasty at the knees”.
This is a bit lame. Are they objecting to corduroy or to fraying corduroy? If the latter, then they could simply have prescribed smart corduroy instead of banning it outright.
This is – or should be – of serious concern to Hebden Bridge. Nowhere has more corduroy been woven per head of population than in this town. My parents and several aunts wove miles of it on Hangingroyd at the CWS and Ashworth’s below where Foster Lane chapel once stood. My father went deaf in the service of corduroy and my aunts emerged from kissing shuttles in the CWS with a halo of cotton fuzz collected in their hair.
Corduroy was the life’s work of so many of my parents’ generation, and to think it has come to this: banned by the transport industry for being scruffy. Of course, anything can look scruffy if it is worn long enough. But that is no reason to ban corduroy that retains its rib (with musical consequences when you walk) and its sheen. Perhaps the problem is that it takes long periods of hard duty to wear thin.
Corduroy in many exotic colours – notably yellow and claret - is on sale in snooty men’s shops in Jermyn Street in the West End. It is the top of their best seller list, according to Hackett, the tailors. Below a check jacket with a colourful hankie twirling in the breast pocket, corduroy trousers are the badge of the smart, country set and young military bloods.
What on earth, I wonder, will Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, think of the ban since he gets his corduroy suits (not just trousers), all set off with a bow tie, from Hebden Cord?
Corduroy has, in fact, gone up in the world since it was the uniform of the academic, the Leftie intelligentsia, if that is not a contradiction in terms, and the wild and woolly end of the sandal-shod Liberal Democrats. It has, indeed, been on a long upward social march since it clothed the navvy and hard working man and had the likes of George Orwell, author of 1984, the Road to Wigan Pier etc, dressing, according to Malcolm Muggeridge, in the manner of the class into which he wished he had been born.
The fact that I have three pairs of corduroy trousers – the latest in a long line going back to my childhood - is no guide to the fabric’s social standing. I believe in supporting home industries and regard jeans, with their marked tendency for the backside to sag alarmingly, as thoroughly sloppy.
Which brings me back to the shameful apathy of Hebden Bridge in the face of East Anglian provocation. Corduroy is not some foreign-produced relic of Hebden Bridge’s once central position in the fustian trade. It is part of the 1m metres – otherwise 621,504 yards or 353 miles - of cloth that Brisbane Moss weaves, dyes and finishes every year at Bridgeroyd Works, Eastwood.
It is still a jobs provider, a wealth creator and an export earner. It helps to keep the Hebden Bridge economy afloat.
But has anybody risen up in defence of the different varieties – from Genoa to Needlecord and Thicksett to Calico Back – against the singular snobbery of the One railway company?
Hang it all, corduroy is part of our heritage. Since the middle of the 19thC, Moss Brothers – now Brisbane Moss – has been producing it along with moleskins. This company became part of the English Fustian Manufacturing Co when the local trade re-organised to meet the competition from another amalgamation of clothing and dyeing companies called the English Velvet Cord Dyeing Company.
Moss Brothers Brunswick Mill in Hebden Bridge may now be a Co-op superstore. But Bridgeroyd Works remain our link with the Industrial Revolution. And I for one do not intend to allow some obscure railway company on the Broads to disparage its Pennine products. Wear corduroy with pride – and in protest.