History of Ebley Mill

by Ian Mackintosh

A Century of Change 1800 to 1900: Clissold’s Influence

1800s The Stroud Valley mills were subjected to radical changes that transformed some and led to the closure of many. Changes included:
• The French Revolutionary Wars and the growth of empires
• The Transport Revolution
• The Industrial Revolution
• The massive development of markets with the growth of population and wealth.
• Work was transformed for many poorer people, bringing poverty for some and better living standards for others.

Ebley Mill survived this volatile century with peaks of prosperity, bankruptcy and finally decline.
Up to 1840 two individuals managed Ebley. The new owner Stephen Clissold prospered for a time and built the Long Block, the single largest mill building in the Valleys. In 1799 Stephen and John Clissold, clothiers, bought the 30 acre property. The price, £1908 0s 7 ½ d to each vendor, at today’s value would be £122,780 in total.

Clissold was already prosperous and his fortune grew. The East India Company In October 1815 ordered from Stroud Valleys alone almost £40,000 (£1,358,400 today). Clissold stood out among the beneficiaries for in 1815 he sold the Company £8094 worth of shawls, pelisses and broadcloth. He is the only one selling the first two materials. Pelisses were a very dense cloth worn by Hussars as a scarlet cloak with a fur lining. It seems Clissold was developing new markets.
To increase production he converted the corn mill to a cloth mill housing new machinery, probably including the carding machine that caused this Inquest to be held:

On view the body of David Pearce, aged about 8 years, who was killed by getting entangled in a scribbling engine, at the manufactory of S Clissold Esq at Ebley; he was wound round the shaft of the machine with such velocity that his head, legs and right arm were literally torn from his body.
Verdict Accidental death GJ 19/6/1809

Clissold complained the new canal was interfering with the mill’s water supply so in 1818 he built the Long Block but seems not to have properly brought it into production. When in 1827 he sold Ebley to London cloth merchants, Robson and Severs, for £29,000 (£1,435,210) they had to create a new millpond.
1827 John Figgins Marling leased the mill making superfine cloths and kerseymeres (a fine, heavily fulled cloth with a twill weave) before going bankrupt in 1837.

A Century of Change: Marling’s Transformation

1840 Samuel Stephens Marling and his brother Thomas bought the mill. Although this partnership was short-lived Samuel worked with several others, those with JG Strachan and Samuel’s son William Henry being the most important.

From the start he invested heavily in the mill:

He added a new block on the north end and when it was burned down in 1859 he commissioned GH Bodley to replace it.
He added the weaving shed and other buildings.
He increased the power by adding an extra waterwheel and introducing steam-power.

1851 At the Great Exhibition the firm won the gold medal for black superfine cloths enabling him to transform the mill’s fortunes by riding the wave of fashion for black cloth. He bought Stanley Mill and became the largest cloth manufacturer in Gloucestershire, perhaps in the South West.

As a result he reaped tremendous profits: for seven years in the 1860s over a million pounds a year in modern terms. The value of stock increased from £80,000 in 1842 to £210,000 in 1872 when he included Stanley Mill. One of his partners said he had been round the world three times on Marling & Co business, establishing the reputation of West of England cloth for quality materials world-wide.

By the 1860s he employed 800 at Ebley Mill and 500 at Stanley.

Opinion on his management was divided. When children in 1855 struck for a day he locked them out for a week. He was remembered as a martinet; the workmen kept an eye out for him coming, something made easier by him riding to the mill on his white horse, Sir Roger.

To others he was Mr Samuel and they remembered his generosity in opening Selsley Park for games and dinner and sharing family celebrations with his employees. On his death in 1883 the Stroud Journal witnessed the strong tradition of goodwill between the family and the employees as demonstrated when his body was reverently conveyed by a party of workmen from the counting house to Stanley Park.

Decline 1880s to 1941

New Company Control

1886 Sir Samuel’s son William Henry established Marling & Co as a Limited Company owned by shareholders. He continued for many years as Chairman before his death in 1919.
1920 Marling & Evans Ltd was founded by the merger of Marling & Co with PC Evans & Sons of Brimscombe Mills. No Marling family member has since been associated with the mills.

The Post War Depression and the 1929 Crash meant hard times. Brimscombe Mills closed. The value of shares fell to pennies and the firm was taken over by the bank.

1938 New management was installed and faced a shrunken company with outdated equipment and worn out buildings. The following year the profit for 18 months trading was a grand £11 15s 9d!

Valuation in £s Equivalent value today
1882 209,431 10,117,611
1939 188,000 5,399,360

New products, smaller markets

1880s Marling & Co was developing new lines as fickle fashion had changed. Worsteds and tweeds replaced black superfine cloth causing local mills to close.

Two major markets, the USA and Germany, introduced protection for their industries and Marlings export sales collapsed by 35%.

A shrunken, dilapidated estate

Production was divided between Stanley and Ebley Mills with management concentrated at Stanley.

The Cloth Warehouse, Weaving Shed and other buildings were leased out or empty.

Ebley Mill became the carding and spinning section for Stanley Mill.

1915 A sad description: Stone and slate mills, very old and part decaying. Carding and spinning, fullers and gigs. Boiler, 40hp engine and dynamo, 80hp beam engine with 34 foot flywheel. Weaving shed and disused and derelict buildings.

Flourish 1940s to 1980s

The Benefits of War

1941 to 1945 Marling & Evans prospered making cloth for the Government. They learned new techniques making a mix of wool and the new material nylon for military shirts and established valuable goodwill with the supplier Dupont.

While rewards increased a fund was established to re-equip and repair the mills using half the annual profits. By 1949 this stood at £62,500 (£1,423,750 today) ensuring Marling & Evans could modernise and enter a new world of Synthetic and Mixed Cloths.

Post War Rejuvenation

After the War Marling & Evans experienced a bounce in demand at home and abroad for its standard fashion goods. It could have kept with these markets but chose to reinvest and develop new products based on its experience with nylon.

New machinery was bought. At Ebley new card units were bought and high speed mules, the first ever to be built. It required the dedicated skill of Mr King, the Spinning Manager, to make these efficient and stop the squeals that blighted the lives of neighbours.

At Stanley Mill a new Weaving Shed was built to house very advanced high speed looms and weaving again became a man’s job.

The workforce was expanded to keep up with demand:

In 1945 I joined the mill when I was 14, straight from school. I got £1 12s 6d (£1.62½p) the first week. Ken Staddon

New skills were required to maintain the machinery and develop new products to high standards.

Agents were recruited to once again sell Marling & Evans products across the world.

Diversity of products

These products were quite different to the high quality superfine cloths that had made Samuel Marling’s fortune. Winterbotham, Strachan & Playne was left to maintain Stroud’s reputation in this area. By the 1960s Marling & Evans was transforming the traditional Stroud mill:
Mixes of wool and synthetic fibres developed colourful, washable materials to attract the ‘dolly bird’ generation.

Entirely new products were developed using the new synthetics.
New manufacturing techniques were developed with Marling Industrial Felts.

A new world of textiles had come to Stroud.

1982 Fall

The difficulties of the British economy in the 1970s made Marling & Evans unprofitable:

• Wages and costs were going up
• Competitors like Italy subsidised their fashion exports and long term customers like Marks & Spencers ended their Britain first buying policies.
• Exports were squeezed by the strong pound
• New investment was needed to take advantage of the growing markets in synthetics

So the firm just ran out of money and Ebley Mill closed.

Smashed mules, winding machines and the still working machinery smashed and thrown out of the windows of the mill.
A sad, sad picture!
Jack Marshall, Director

The most shattering bit was, when Ebley Mill was closed, and I had been asked to come in just once a week to fade things out, because I knew where the drains were. I had to clear Ebley Mill. One day there was machinery in there. Carding engines with rollers were the last word in those days, beautiful machinery, which cost thousands and thousands of pounds just to re-clothe, and there was all this great work, all the mules going, some new ones and some old ones, very old ones, everything was working, and they were producing yarn and then all of a sudden finished. And I had to get rid of it. It was right in the middle of the slump, and I could not sell one thing. Jack Gaskell Maintenance Manager

I was made redundant. That was the first thing … and then it was closed, which was all quite sad really. I thought it was great that I was made redundant, thought it was brilliant, but now … I know it sounds dreadful. I feel quite sad now that these types of jobs don’t exist because they’re really part of the British heritage. I mean you just don’t get jobs like this now, do you? … It’s like a world away, thinking about it. Kim Hathaway spinner