The inaugural Festival of Thrift is held this weekend in Darlington. It is billed as a celebration of everything “fabulously frugal” and so its venue, Lingfield Point, could not be more fitting.

LINGFIELD Point is itself an exercise in recycling, in finding a new use for an old building. Lingfield Point was the “perfect factory”

when it was built in the late 1940s, putting 3,000 people to work on a factory floor that covered 1.7 million square feet.

But today, in Britain’s post industrial economy, factories are no longer in fashion. So over the past ten years, the vast mid-20th Century sheds have been turned into 21st Century office space.

So perhaps the best part of this weekend’s free festival is the chance to nose around one of Darlington’s most unique industrial quarters. Here’s the thread of history by which it all hangs together:


In Halifax, wool washer and spinner James Baldwin was one of the first to introduce new-fangled spinning machines to his mill. About the same time, in Alloa, Scotland, wool dyer and spinner John Paton introduced similar technology to his concern.

Separately, for more than a century, the two businesses spun their way to success.

Baldwin’s developed a beehive logo to show how industrious it was; Paton’s designed a rose logo to emphasise the style of its output.


Patons and Baldwins merge. As well as in their home towns, they had mills in Leicester, Wakefield, Melton Mowbray and Canada and New Zealand.


P&B found itself operating from out-dated mills scattered around the country. It asked the government for a large, flat site, with a plentiful supply of water and women workers, on which to build the perfect wool factory. The government suggested that Darlington ticked all the boxes, and there would be grants available as it was a “distressed area” – if a suitable site could be found.


The big announcement was made on September 28. “Patons and Baldwins to leave Yorkshire: ‘Catastrophe’, says Halifax civic leader,” said the headline in the Yorkshire Observer.

One town’s catastrophe was another town’s great fortune. Several thousand mill workers were to be made redundant in one place as P&B had found 140 acres of pastures new on the edge of Darlington – “a blaze of golden wheat”, said the Halifax Courier jealously.


In December, production started at the new Darlington factory, and there was much satisfaction when 4ft of snow fell that winter onto the 12.5 acres of glass roof – and there was a deflection, or sag, of less than half-an-inch.

Only a couple of hundred key workers had relocated from Halifax, and houses were built for them in The Broadway and Estoril Road.

The Northern Echo: echo memories

GARDEN FEATURES: P&B workers amid the water feature of the ornamental Italianate gardens

The rest of the 2,000 employees – 75 per cent of whom were women – were local. P&B built more houses for them, and Heathfield School for their children.

Thirty per cent of Darlington school leavers found work at the factory in its first decade.


The Evening Despatch hailed the £7m factory as “the largest in the Empire”.

The News Chronicle called it “a wonder factory…the world’s biggest knitting wool factory”.


P&B was fully operational, producing 250,000lbs of wool a week. “Darlington gains world fame for textiles”, said a headline in the Darlington and Stockton Times as 60 per cent of P&B’s output was exported.

The factory had its own power station, and the most up-to-date air-conditioning system which kept the enormous floorspace at a uniform temperature and humidity.

It used 350,000 gallons of water a day, and 700 tons of coal a week. The office corridor alone was 540ft long.

Inside, the 2.5 miles of conveyor belt travelled at a speed of one mile every two hours and 56 minutes.

Outside, P&B had its own fireless steam engine, shunting raw materials and completed products along the 2.5 mile private branchline to the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

The Lingfield site had two canteens that together seated 2,000 diners. It had 12 tennis courts, two bowling greens, football and cricket pitches and an ornamental Italianate garden.

In 1951, the site’s two best known buildings opened.

The Beehive ballroom – built in the shape of P&B’s logo – was by day a canteen, but by night became a dance hall and concert venue. The annual Miss Spinning Wheel beauty competition was held there.

Lingfield House was the factory’s headquarters, and is perhaps the best example of 1950s modernist architecture in the North- East, with its twin sweeping staircases, its glass and bronze chandeliers and its distinctive tall windows.


P&B merged with J&R Coats of Glasgow to form an enormous wool, thread and embroidery company. This was the heyday.


The wool story was beginning to unravel. Lowwage countries such as Czechoslovakia had opened spinning mills in direct competition, and new manmade fibres like nylon became popular. As the 1960s generation of kids found money in their pockets to buy clothes, they didn’t bother with knitting, the penny-pinching fuddyduddyish pursuit of their grandparents. In this year alone, the price of wool dropped by 40 per cent.

The Northern Echo: echo memories

MILL RACE: Interior of the P&B mill, including the conveyor belt which travelled a mile in three hours


P&B had slimmed down its operation so much that a third of the Lingfield site was empty. Rothmans, the tobacco company, took it over.


On April 17, the Evening Despatch newspaper carried the inevitable announcement on its front page: “350 jobs are axed.

Darlington factory to stop production.” All manufacture of wool and thread was transferred to Alloa and Wakefield, leaving Lingfield as a warehouse and distribution centre. It still employed 550, but now large tracts of the site lay empty and the visionary nature of the 1940s enterprise was gone.


Developers Marchday acquire the site, with a vision for a 21st Century, environmentally-friendly work, residential and leisure complex.


On June 30, Rothmans produced the last cigarette on the site. At its peak in the late 1970s, it employed 1,000 people, who produced 100 billion cigarettes in a decade. When it closed, 497 jobs disappeared – the last of the old-style industrial manufacturers at Lingfield.

The Northern Echo: echo memories

TIMES CHANGE: A model wearing an early P&B saucy knitted number


After £35m of investment, Lingfield Point is now home to scores of businesses – Student Loans Company, Amec, Four Seasons Health Care, Capita, Recognition PR, and FaulknerBrowns architects to name but a few – who employ getting on for 2,500 people. Among the companies is Coats Threads UK Ltd, which is the surviving arm of P&B. It employs more than 100 people who supply more than 25,000 items of sewing cottons, handicraft threads, haberdashery and handknitting yarns across the UK and to 20 other countries.

Today and tomorrow, from 10.30am to 5pm, the site hosts the inaugural Festival of Thrift – a turnback to the post-war days of austerity when the P&B factory was born, only with a very modern feel. The thread is still running…

The Northern Echo: echo memories

In September 1967, a convoy of P&B lorries set off for an Iron Curtain country with a consignment of 170 tonnes of machine knitting yarn