Bluemel’s Factory in Wolston

Artificial silk mill and cycle/motor accessories

Bluemel's Factory Wolston, 2007
Anne Langley

When Wolston Business Park was developed by Wimpey for housing, an interesting set of buildings was demolished. The main building on the site was originally a large artificial silk factory, set up by Cash’s at the end of the 19th century. The building was of red brick with decorative roundels and 10 bays with roof lights (providing lighting from the NE). It originally had cast iron windows; the roof was slated and there were iron downspouts. There was one large chimney and this factory site appears on some old post-cards of Wolston.

Silk spinning factory

The first mention I can find of this ‘Silk Spinning Factory’ was in March 1899 when the Wolston Baptism Register records Samuel Moss as ‘Manager of Silk Spinning Factory’ (he and his wife Maria had a child called Reginald). The 1900 Kelly’s Trade Directory for Warwickshire states that the ‘New Artificial Silk Company’ had ‘extensive mills’ situated in Wolston with Albert Edward Layzell as Secretary of the company. The artificial silk mill was recruiting staff in June 1900 when the Stretton on Dunsmore school logbook records children asking the schoolmaster, Mr William J. Hassall, for certificates to go to work there. The 1901 census for Wolston is difficult to read (which does not help!) but there is surprisingly little sign of workers at the artificial silk factory. I could only find a ‘Timekeeper at Factory’ Arthur Turner who lived in Meadow Cottages with his wife Lizzie and new baby Arthur.

There were also two ‘Out of Work/Employ’ Silk Factory Hands: 19 year-old Lizzie Wallace of Brook Street and Annie Ash. S O P was written beside both (perhaps paupers ‘Signing On Parish’). So it is possible that the new factory was already in difficulties in 1901. There were also ‘labourers’ who could possibly have been working in the factory, though this seems unlikely as the census clerk has not written ‘MAN[ufacturing]’ beside them. In April 1903 Arthur Turner was recorded as a ‘caretaker at factory’ when his son, Harry, was baptized. The artificial silk company had disappeared by the time Kelly’s 1904 trade directory was compiled. This must have been one of the first artificial-silk factories in Britain, but sadly it only lasted a few years (much more successful artificial-silk factories were set up by both Cash’s and Courtauld’s in Coventry shortly afterwards).

Cycle accessories

Messrs C.W. Bluemel and Bros took over the Wolston site to manufacture cycle accessories in 1904, and the 1905 Ordnance Survey 25” map showed their ‘Celluloid Factory’. Members of the Bluemel family lived in Hillmorton Road, Rugby for some years. In the Baptism Records for December 1904 we find Milford Osborn ‘Cyclist Repairer (New Works)’ with his wife Susy and child Ivy; on the same day is recorded a baptism for the daughter of Albert Charles Allkin (wife Louisa and child Louisa Doris) with the same occupation, which confirms the activities of the new factory. Later on Bluemel’s started producing motor accessories; they added more buildings including a fine office block (now a listed building that fortunately has been retained and turned into flats). The firm appeared in trade directories from 1904 onwards; they also had a London office and continued operation in Wolston until the 1980s. More recently the buildings have been used by a variety of small businesses.

I took some photographs of the older factory buildings just before they were demolished, and deposited one set (plus the negatives) with the Warwickshire County Record Office, and one with Rugby Library. The photographs include a map of the site with a list of the small firms operating there.

More from Wolston