Upper Dales woollens business celebrates 40 years of trading

KNITTING BUSINESS: Former owner Kathleen Hird, new owner Ken Whitehead, staff member Jane Morris Abson and Gillian Whitehead

SWALEDALE WOLLENS: former owner Kathleen Hird, new owner Ken Whitehead, staff member Jane Morris Abson and Gillian Whitehead.

KNIT TIME: Former owner Kathleen Hird, who has been replaced by Gillian Whitehead, and staff member Jane Morris Abson.

HAT STUFF: Former owner Kathleen Hird, owners Gillian Whitehead, Ken Whitehead and staff Jane Morris Abson.

First published in News

A WOOLLENS business that provides much-needed employment to a small Yorkshire Dales village has celebrated 40 years of trading.

Swaledale Woollens was established in Muker, Upper Swaledale, by retired bank manager David Morris in May 1974 after he realised the potential of promoting the wool from Swaledale sheep.

A meeting of residents in the local pub concluded that farmers’ wives could knit garments in their own homes to sell to walkers who came to the village.

Socks and hats were displayed on the wall outside Mr and Mrs Morris’s cottage and since then the business has grown to sell jumpers, rugs, cardigans and gloves, both in store and online.

The business has recently been taken over by local farmers Ken and Gillian Whitehead, who run the village shop and manage about 35 hand-knitters.

Mrs Whitehead, 46, said: “We bought Swaledale Woollens last month from Kathleen and Kenneth Hird, who took over in 2001, and Kathleen also worked for Mr Morris for 15 years before she bought the business.

“I have worked with Kathleen for the last ten years so when she decided to retire I stepped in to run it myself.

“We have a farm and Swaledale sheep of our own but have down-sized a bit in order to run the shop as well.”

The Swaledale wool, as well as Wensleydale and Welsh Hill wool, is taken to Bradford where it is spun and dyed before being returned to Swaledale Woollens, who in turn distribute it to local knitters, who often just work on evenings or weekends.

Mrs Whitehead said: “We have quite a lot of stock in store but garments can also be made to order – we have our own designs and styles but can use different colours.

“Our knitters don't have any pressure on them, it usually takes a couple of weeks to knit a jumper but we allow for a bit longer.

“That is a real draw for people I think, they like the bespoke element and know they are getting excellent quality.”

In December 2004, the Prince of Wales visited Swaledale Woollens to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

He bought a pair of hand knitted Swaledale wool gloves, and has since ordered more pairs. Last August he was seen wearing them on BBC’s Countryfile.

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