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The History of Moderna
Speaker: Joan Laprell

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Many who married in the 1950s and 60s will recall the pleasure of unwrapping their wedding gifts to find a luxurious Moderna blanket. Speaking to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society, Joan Laprell recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. With humour and obvious delight she recreated the pleasure of working for the family run company.


The founder was Thomas Ratcliffe, part of a local textile manufacturing family, who moved onto the Mytholmroyd site in the late nineteenth century. However it was his grandsons and great-grandsons, the Culpans who really made Moderna the top name in blankets. In the depressed years of the twenties and thirties the dynamic Norman Culpan had the energy and dynamism to completely revitalise the business, investing in buildings, reducing costs and increasing output by 500%. The unique blankets came in vibrant colours, were guaranteed not to shrink and were moth-proof.

During the war years, the factory produced fabric for naval overcoats and grey army blankets, some of which reportedly had hidden messages woven into them, and were destined to be dropped over France. It was the need to comply with government standards that led the company to build its award winning canteen, home for the many entertainments which ex-Moderna workers recall so fondly.

The firm obviously valued its workers, establishing a profit sharing scheme and arranging Christmas treats. There was great respect given to 'Mr Norman' as he was always known, because of his close knowledge of all aspects of the business, from the raw wool to the finished product. He was a charismatic character, riding in the Isle of Man TT races and taking a posse of supporters from the workforce to cheer him on. He could still be seen wearing his leathers in his old age. Joan also recalled sitting with other attractive young women outside his fish and chip shop – a device to encourage passing trade to pop in.

For the 500 workers at Moderna the factory provided a rich social life, with its own dramatic society, sports teams, galas, dances and even a visit from the famous Wilfred Pickles 'Have a Go, Joe' radio show. It was a community that in the 1970s suffered a mortal blow when the firm ended up in the hands of asset-strippers who sacked the workers and sold off the machinery. In 1986 a devastating fire destroyed what was left of the factory – except for the name, which lives on. Joan hoped that when people asked why this area has the name Moderna, the reply will be that it commemorates the home of the finest mill in Yorkshire.

On Wednesday October 23rd, following the AGM, John Billingsley will talk about Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley. Meetings are held in the Methodist Hall in Hebden Bridge, starting at 7.30.

Many thanks to Sheila Graham for this report


Local History website

Previously, on the HebWeb

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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