Ode to Coats Patons

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.’

Art deco staircase in beautiful Tasmanian wood

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.

External railings with initials P & B worked into the pattern

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.

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  1. #1 by Mary-Anne on November 29, 2011 - 4:26 am

    Door of Hope,,,i hope so too!! Mary-Anne f

  2. #2 by Debra Kolkka on November 29, 2011 - 7:58 am

    I have used Coats Patons products all my life. I remember when the factory closed down. Interestingly, there is a Coats factory near here – also closed.

    • #3 by tastetravel on November 29, 2011 - 8:52 am

      Coats also produced Viyella. I recall that material fondly.

  3. #4 by Kay Thomson on June 13, 2012 - 9:08 pm

    This has been so interesting. I live in Alloa, Scotland, where the Paton family set up their woollen mill. My Great-Uncle was one of many, who at the age of about 12yrs, moved to Tasmania under the Paton’s £10 scheme in the 1920’s. I stumbled across this whilst looking for information on him and others like him. Paton & Baldwin’s Alloa eventually closed in the early 1990’s and is mostly demolished, however part of it is now council buildings. thanks very much.

    • #5 by tastetravel on June 13, 2012 - 9:31 pm

      Dear Kay, thank you for your comment, I too find that most interesting. Did he move with parents – could be that he was set to work at 12 yrs too.
      Any other information you have I would be grateful for as I do not think there is enough on the history of those migrants in print. My grandmother came out from Scotland also on another assisted passage to Margaret River in WA. Her and her husband (not my grandfather – she married again) were given a plot of land and had never been farmers, lived in a shack they had to erect and ended up walking off the land. My Gran was a flax weaver so that did not equip her for anything other than having babies and being poor…. Roz

  4. #6 by Kay Thomson on June 13, 2012 - 11:11 pm

    Thanks Roz, I know very little unfortunately, as you say, there doesn’t seem to be much documented. Having checked the dates,I realise now he was either 14 or 15. 14 was the school leaving age, even in my mother’s day(she was born 1942). He went completely alone, which must have been hugely daunting. From what I understand, he was living in very poor conditions at first. He returned to the uk only once, during WWII, really sad though because it was when my grandfather(his brother) was posted overseas, so they didn’t get the chance to meet. I hope to try and trace his descendants. Paton’s was a huge employer, they owned much of the town of Alloa, even had their own school. Reading the story of your grandmother, it sounds as though they must have imagined they were going on to a new wonderful life, I think they have had to struggle just as much as they would in Scotland but in a warmer climate. Good wishes to you and blessings from your homeland! xx

  5. #7 by Prince de la Mincé (@4Boat) on November 27, 2012 - 8:05 am

    My grandfather Elliott Rees was the factory accountant in the 40s, 50s and 60s. I had only ever seen the place from a distance until last week, when we stayed in the caravan park next door. I realise now how huge the place must have been when it was going full tilt. Amazing.

    • #8 by tastetravel on November 27, 2012 - 8:31 pm

      Good to get news on this post and it eventually helps to piece together more history.

  6. #9 by tastetravel on January 17, 2014 - 5:27 pm

    To Kay Thomson of Alloa… very interesting comments onP & B Alloa Scotlnd, and Launceston, Tas. My wife’s paremts were employed by the Tasmanian concern; she was adopted, born in Launceston, and came to Scotland when she was five yrs old We emigrated to Brampton Ontario in 1954, then to Colchester, Vermont , in 1976. In Canada we met several Scots who were employed by P & B in Toronto. I’m an Alloa-onian ! ROY DAVIE

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