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  • Historic Yorkshire textile archive wins coveted status

    The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive, one of the most significant and substantial woven textile archives in the UK, has been honoured with a prestigious award.

    The Archive, an integral part of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, near Leeds, has been granted Community Archives Accreditation status by the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS).

    The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William.

    The Gaunts set up the Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive at Sunny Bank Mills and the Archive has gone from strength to strength since then. It is curated by Rachel Moaby.

    John Gaunt explained: “When Rachel joined in 2014, we had already made the Archive physically secure by relocating it within a 3,000 sq ft warping shed at Sunny Bank Mills. However, it has been Rachel’s hard work that has resulted in achieving the coveted and hard-won Community Archives Accreditation status.

    “All the best practice procedures, which are now in place as part of this accreditation, will help to ensure that Sunny Bank Mills Archive is safe and available for future generations. The substantial textile archive here is essentially the company records from the mill and the contents of all the departments from 1829 until production ceased in 2008,” said Mr Gaunt.

    The nationally important archive consists of: Fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; over 60,000 lengths of fabric; over 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving Looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.

    On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip. Therefore, sadly, 99% of West Yorkshire’s textile archives have been lost. The Gaunt family, however, were adamant that Sunny Bank Mill’s heritage should be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.

    Rachel Moaby commented: “Getting the community accreditation from West Yorkshire Archive Service was really hard work, but also a great achievement. I am really proud of my volunteer team whose dedication and support have helped to secure this honour.

    “The Accreditation recognises our dedication and commitment to creating a high level of care and access to our unique textile collection, which is still in the Mill where it was made.  In a difficult world it is great to take some positives; onwards and upwards. “

    William Gaunt added: “It is important to John and I that the archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for future generations, so this accreditation means a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the archive here is absolutely crucial.”

    Stefanie Davidson, the Records Management, Collections & Digital Archives Coordinator for WYAS explained: “The Sunny Bank Mills Archive is a key part of West Yorkshire’s textile history, containing records of both national and international significance with the power to inform, educate and inspire people from all walks of life. It is an amazing collection.

    “We are so pleased that the team at the archive, many of whom are dedicated volunteers, have worked so hard to make sure that they are caring for this amazing part of their community’s heritage to such a high standard. Their hard work will ensure that this fascinating resource is available to the public and to researchers far into the future,” she said.

    Meanwhile Emeritus Professor Patsy Cullen, director of Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, commented: “The Mill, its products and its people were central to the community for two centuries and the Archive preserves and celebrates this historic relationship.

    “The core physical collection of cloth samples, pattern cards, dye recipes is complemented by an extensive range of original materials such as order books, bills of sale, accounts and photographs which document the extensive global reach of the Mill’s trade. However, everything in the Archive is physically fragile and at risk from dust, light, damp and insect infestation and Rachel Moaby with her team of volunteers have put huge effort into cleaning, packaging and protecting the delicate artefacts to ensure their survival.

    “The Archive is much more than a collection of things: it is actively involved in the community through the recording of oral histories from former mill workers, school talks, visits and trail, student placements, academic research and innovative creative interpretations including drama and soundscapes.

    “Sunny Bank Mills Archive provides a portrait of an industry through time; not just its manufacturing processes and output but also its social context, rooted in the village of Farsley. This is what makes it historically important. Its contemporary value is being developed through public engagement which provides new insights and perspectives on the past,” said Prof Cullen.

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