The Princess of Wales visits AW Hainsworth

On Tuesday 26th September AW Hainsworth were honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales on a visit to the mill. A keen advocate for UK textiles, the Princess was given an introductory tour of the various manufacturing processes that create Hainsworth’s famous cloth, and heard how Hainsworth is training a younger generation of workers in the craft.

Now in its 240th year, Hainsworth is renowned for creating fabric with Royal connections. In addition to manufacturing the iconic scarlet cloth worn by the Guards at Buckingham Palace, Hainsworth also holds a Royal Warrant awarded by the late Queen Elizabeth II for supplying interior fabrics to Windsor family palaces.

Her Royal Highness was welcomed to the mill by Managing Director Amanda McLaren, Technical Director Zena Al-Mausawe, and seventh-generation family member Rachel Taylor, alongside members of the city council, the Lord Lieutenant of Leeds, and assorted members of the national press.

The tour began in the Carding department of the mill, where the Princess was talked through the complex process by Carding Engineers Andy Longstaff and Nicole Hirst. Andy and Nicole explained how the gigantic Carding machine disentangles raw wool fibre to align them into a long web, showing Her Royal Highness the cones of slubbings that are produced, ready to be spun into yarn. Carding is an integral process in textile manufacturing, and the Princess’s visit provided an opportunity to showcase it to the wider world.

Next stop on the tour was the Weaving Shed, where Weavers Zeb Akhtar and Amy Widdowson demonstrated how Hainsworth’s looms weave fabric for markets as diverse as fashion, transport, leisure, and the emergency services. Her Royal Highness was said to be very inquisitive about the process, remarking that she loved the smell of the freshly woven fabric.

Zeb shared a moment of laughter with the Princess that was captured by the photographers present and shared in news publications around the world. He explained that “The Princess had noticed that the loom had not stopped for a while and was running continuously. I replied, ‘we do make high quality yarn and cloth ma’am, especially for the Royal Family. If you wish, I can snip a few ends for you.’ I took out my scissors and moved them to the strands of yarn on the warp, and she leapt forward saying, ‘No!’

“It was a great honour and a pleasure to meet the Princess in person. She was very down to earth and friendly, and we talked on a normal level. It was only after she left the Weaving Shed and moved onto the next stage of the tour that I realised how lucky I had been to be given this opportunity.”

Her Royal Highness was then introduced to Wet Finishing Assistant Managers Phil Pickard and Gemma Rudd, who explained how treatments and finishes are applied to the woven fabrics to make them suitable for their end use. This practice requires extensive skills and knowledge to ensure the fabric meets exacting specifications, and it was greatly rewarding for the Finishing team to be recognised for their skill. Phil said, “It was a really proud moment for us to showcase our history, craftsmanship and products to not only the Princess of Wales but a world audience.”

The Princess was also taken to the Dye House to see scarlet dye being applied to the Guards’ uniform cloth. The scarlet-clad soldiers outside Buckingham Palace is one of the most common images associated with Britain, and Hainsworth’s Wet Finishing team are integral to creating this iconography. Gemma said, “It was such an honour to be given the opportunity to show the Princess of Wales the Dye House and explain how we dye the Guards’ tunic cloth.”

Next stop on the tour was the Conversion department, where Her Royal Highness spoke to Production Manager Julie Hilliard and Technician Val Bangoura. In Conversion, fabrics are cut, trimmed and sewn into finished products, including Hainsworth’s own range of Atkinson Blankets. On this occasion, the Princess was shown how the Conversion team completes the iconic point blankets made for the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. It was a product familiar to the Princess – she claimed that she had been given one as a gift on a ceremonial visit.

The final stage of the tour was Hainsworth’s state-of-the-art laboratory, which last year received a quarter of a million-pound investment and brand new testing equipment. There, she spoke with members of the Technical team including Martin Haworth, Head of Technical and Innovation, and Rachael Frame, Technical Manager. She also met Oliver – a mannequin wearing a King’s Guard uniform made from Hainsworth cloth.

The laboratory allows Hainsworth to carry out a number of tests including colour fastness, durability and flammability to ensure that all its fabrics are up to standard. Her Royal Highness witnessed the team carrying out a flame test on a piece of Hainsworth’s PPE fabric for firefighter uniforms – a crucial practice to ensure the fabric can effectively keep the wearer safe.

Rachael Frame said, “It was very exciting to welcome Her Royal Highness to the lab. Her interest in our products and processes was a real motivation for us to continue striving for the highest quality, and to keep creating innovative products that improve textile performance across the industry.”

During her visit, the Princess took a keen interest in how the mill developing more sustainable manufacturing methods, and is training younger generations to help ensure the longevity of the textile industry. In addition to taking steps to reduce energy consumption and waste, Hainsworth has also invested heavily into nurturing new talent. Working closely with local communities, the mill has taken on several apprenticeships, and funded student projects to support young people pursue careers in textile manufacturing.

Managing Director Amanda McLaren said, “Her Royal Highness had been well-briefed ahead of her visit to our iconic mill, and as such she was eager to better understand our business and manufacturing processes. Like many visitors to the mill I don’t think she truly appreciated the sheer range of technical and woollen fabrics we product until seeing them for herself, and she was highly impressed by the intricacies of our operations.

“She was particularly interested in our sustainability strategies and how we are ensuring that the next generation of mill workers are supported and guided by their mentors and the experienced teams around them. All in all, it was a highly successful visit and one which our employees will recall for many years to come.”

Though Hainsworth has long-established links with the Royal Family, the Princess also learned about her own familial connection to the mill. William Lupton & Co was a textile business belonging to Her Royal Highness’ great-grandparents, Olive Lupton and Noel Middleton, that manufactured wool collar meltons. In 1958 the business was purchased by AW Hainsworth, in a series of acquisitions made by the mill as it built itself back up following a devastating factory fire. The Princess was shown a timeline of Hainsworth on the walls of the mill and was excited to notice her own family history included, as well as a picture of hers and the Prince of Wales’ wedding – as Hainsworth also made his ceremonial uniform cloth.

With the tour completed, and with a wave to the crowds gathered outside the mill’s gate, Her Royal Highness moved onto her next engagement, leaving behind proud memories for many of Hainsworth’s employees.