An emergency dash to Launceston found us in the historic red brick building that was built as a canteen for a large mill that once employed thousands of Tasmanians, first to build the factories and then to provide staff to spin the wool and cotton.
The mill commenced production in August 1923, with 50–60 skilled workers brought out from Britain. Over time it provided employment to thousands of locals. The reason we were in this building is that is now the headquarters for the Launceston Eye Clinic. I was sitting in the waiting room with time on my hands and noticed a cabinet filled with wool and cotton production memorabilia so I decided to delve into this area of Launceston’s past.
James Paton set up a weaving business in 1802 in Paisley Scotland. After he passed away, his sons James and Peter formed a new business in 1830 under the name J & P Coats. This business continued to prosper and in 1952, J & P Coats and the Clark Thread Co merge. Another merger occurs so it becomes Patons Baldwins Ltd and then Coats Patons is formed in 1969.
If you are from the mainland and your knowledge of Tasmania is as sketchy as mine was growing up in Western Australia, Launceston was once a major centre of production for textiles. Some 2000 women were employed in the factories that covered four and a half acres with a floor space of over 18,500 metres. Last year I bought some towels in Hobart and was told that they were made in the last textile factory in Tasmania.
The Door of Hope Christian Church occupies some of the buildings and has this information on its website. ‘By 1933 the factory had increased its area by over 50% and had added two extra stories to the warehouse block. During World War II the plant ran almost non-stop, working on government and military contracts seven days a week.
Very little development occurred for twenty years. But in 1955 a program commenced which saw the factory increase in size by another 50%, the buildings covering an area of ten acres. Baldwin’s eventually changed its name following a merger with Central Agency. The now “Coats Patons” continued the two main brand identity products: Coats sewing threads and Patons knitting yarns.’
The Coats & Baldwins mill was responsible for consuming massive power derived from the hydro-electric stations set up in Tasmania firstly for gold mining operations. Tasmania’s availability of a labour force, free from industrial unrest was another, unstated, consideration in setting up in Australia. The mill would be responsible for consuming one-sixth of the Council’s power block from the state hydro-electric scheme.
In the late 1980’s there was a downturn in pure wool due to inexpensive synthetic imports that ultimately contributed to the decline and popularity of hand knitting. The parent company decided to move its Launceston operations to New Zealand and the mill closed on 31 July 1997.
Having a facial yesterday I discovered my beauty therapist and her sisters worked here as their first job out of school. It was Heather the therapist who told me the building I had been inside was the canteen.