Housing the workers

Copley, West Yorkshire

Copley, West Yorkshire

Tucked by the river Calder, the village of terraced houses at Copley, West Yorkshire, looks a pleasant place to live.

That was exactly the intention of its builder, Edward Akroyd – always known as Colonel Akroyd – when his family firm transferred the business and employees to their new mill at Copley in 1846.

In the political conflicts of the time, Colonel Akroyd became one of the driving forces in the movement to reconcile the interests of workers and capitalists.

To house the workforce at this unpopulated spot beside the River Calder he began a small community which eventually consisted of 136 houses, accommodating by the 1870s a population of about seven hundred.

This was anything but cheap housing, but the village provided excellent facilities, including allotments, a co-operative store, an employees’ canteen-shed seating 600 and serving dinners of meat and potatoes at three-halfpence or twopence each, boys’ and girls’ schools (1849), a burial club (1849), a lending library (1850 – free until 1863), a branch of the Yorkshire Penny Savings Bank (1862) and a clothing club (1863).

Colonel Akroyd admitted he didn’t make much money out of renting houses to his workers, but he believed his business gained “from a more attached and contented population”.

It’s tempting to think of the building-society movement as a nineteenth-century workers’ enterprise, sponsored by radical politicians, but in some cases it was the product of employers’ enlightened self-interest.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

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  1. Pingback: The church across the water | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times

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