The story of the mill-owning Crowther family begins with Golcar clothier John Crowther (1820-1865) who started business in 1840 at Lees Mill, Golcar. He married Martha and they produced a large family of four sons and four daughters. All four sons (Joseph, William, Elon and John Edward) became very successful woollen cloth manufacturers, in addition to other businesses they owned.
The Crowther brothers moved their business to Bank Bottom Mills in Marsden in 1867 and so began a long association between the Crowther family and the village of Marsden, which continues to this day. The firm was known as John Crowther and Sons, and was run initially by Joseph, William and Elon Crowther. In 1871, William and Elon left to establish a separate firm at Fall Lane Mills, Marsden, called W. and E. Crowther Ltd. (after three years they moved their business to Crimble Mills in Slaithwaite). This left Joseph to continue the management at Bank Bottom alone. Joseph’s youngest brother John Edward (1863-1931) worked with him at Bank Bottom Mills, and in 1882 entered into partnership with him. Under this partnership, the firm of John Crowther and Sons thrived, and in 1883 they purchased Union Mills and Stanley Mills, both in Milnsbridge.
The two groups of brothers however continued to co-operate, for example all four brothers were subscribers and/or directors of the Globe Worsted Company in Slaithwaite, until the company was transferred to Illingworth, Morris and Co. in 1923.
In 1901 the partnership of Joseph Crowther and John Edward Crowther was dissolved. Joseph Crowther took charge of the two Milnsbridge mills under the name John Crowther and Sons, and took his son David Stoner Crowther and Sir Charles Sykes into partnership He also founded the Slaithwaite Cotton Spinning Company Ltd. In 1931, Union Mills in Milnsbridge set up a record, in conjunction with Prices Ltd., Tailors, Leeds, for making a suit of clothes direct from sheep to wearer. This was achieved, remarkably, within two hours ten minutes, and is recounted in Ernest Lockwood’s 1936 book Colne Valley Folk (pp.20-21).
Joseph Crowther took part in Marsden public life, being for twenty-five years a member of the Marsden Local Board. He was also was president of the Colne Valley Liberal Association, and a West Riding Magistrate. He lived at Hey Green house in Marsden from 1879 until his death which followed a motor accident at Slaithwaite on June 11th, 1905.
John Edward Crowther, left in sole control at Bank Bottom Mills, called his business Marsden Mill Co. Ltd. (later to become Messrs John Edward Crowther Ltd., and later still John Edward Crowther and Sons). Bank Bottom Mills eventually expanded to become one of the largest cloth producing mills owned by one man in the world. This is not difficult to imagine when you consider that by 1936 the floor space of Bank Bottom Mills covered 57,592 square yards, and contained forty-three sets of carding machines and 680 looms. Sadly Bank Bottom Mill closed in the summer of 2003.
John Edward Crowther was to have a major impact on the village of Marsden before his death in 1931 at the age of 68. His business interests in Marsden expanded until, in addition to Bank Bottom Mills, he owned Fall Lane Mill (previously owned by Henry Fisher and Co.) and Ready Carr Mill (originally Marsden Foundry). By the time of his death he was also in full control of the firm of Crowther, Bruce and Co. (formed in 1887 as a limited company, with directors Joseph and John Edward Crowther, and Edward James Bruce), who occupied New Mills, Marsden. In addition, outside Marsden, he founded the Colne Valley Spinning Co. Ltd., Linthwaite. By 1936, the total floor area of Bank Bottom Mills, Fall Lane Mills, Ready Carr Mills, Crowther, Bruce & Co’s Mills and Colne Valley Spinning Company was 105,660 square yards, with a total of 141 sets of carding machines and 940 looms. In 1949, Crowther Bruce and Co. merged with John Edward Crowther Ltd. to become J. E. Crowther Holdings.
In addition to providing work to Marsden, John Edward Crowther was a benefactor of the village from whom he drew his profits. He gave financial support to found the Hemplow Sports Grounds, laid out with a cricket-field, golf-links, bowling-green and tennis-courts. He also paid the full cost of the Church Lane Improvement Scheme (1929), which included the church lych gate and the creation of an extension to the church burial ground. He contributed to the erection of the new Congregational Church, and provided the site of the British Legion. Together with other mill-owners he provided the site for Marsden Park and War Memorial. He presented a motor ambulance to Marsden in 1911. He, like his brother Joseph, was a West Riding magistrate.
William Crowther also took much part in public life in the Colne Valley, especially in Golcar. He was a West Riding magistrate, a member from 1876 to 1908 of the Golcar Local Board and District Council, and a chair of Golcar School Board and later of the Colne Valley District Education Sub-Committee. He succeeded his brother Joseph as president of the Colne Valley Liberal Association, and co-founded Slaithwaite Liberal Club. He was an active member of Golcar Baptist Church, and was their organist for 31 years.
Bibliography: Colne Valley Folk, by Ernest Lockwood, Heath Cranton Ltd., 1936.