THE huge, monolithic industries which employed thousands of men are well commemorated: there are pit wheels, railway museums and steel-making monuments all over the place.

So this week, Darlington library is commemorating a company which employed thousands of women: Patons & Baldwins.

Immediately after the Second World War, P&B relocated its wool-spinning business from five out-of-date mills in the West Riding to 140 acres of flat farmland on the eastern fringe of Darlington. At Lingfield Point, the company built a model factory – “a wonder factory” – which by the mid-1950s was the world’s largest wool factory.

At its peak, it employed 3,500 women. Darlington’s trolleybus network was specially extended along McMullen Road to get the women to work, and a fleet of at least 20 buses (run by Gardeners?) bussed in hundreds of women every morning from at least a 20 mile radius: from Peterlee, Shildon, the Trimdons, Bishop Auckland and Stockton.

When it couldn’t find enough women to travel to work, in 1966 P&B opened a satellite operation at Spennymoor to tap up the women there – about 300 of them were employed there.

Perhaps the most staggering statistic is that 30 per cent of all of Darlington’s female school leavers in the 1950s started their working lives at P&B – it was to Darlington women what the local pit had been to previous generations of Durham miners.

But it only lasted a generation. P&B started yarn production in 1951 and ceased in 1980. Its demise signalled the start of a painful 20 years for the County Durham textile industry. Nylon manufacturer Advance Throwing Mills of Crook and St Helen Auckland closed in 1980, with the loss of 650 jobs; Astraka, the Shildon fake fur manufacturer, closed in 1988 with the loss of 270 jobs; Ramar at Crook closed in 1991 with the loss of 450 jobs. And textiles died completely in the first 18 months of the 21st Century when Courtaulds, Barbour, Coats, Dewhirst, Claremont and Varahwear all went – more than 4,000 jobs disappeared.

So next week’s exhibition, which runs from Tuesday to Friday, shows off Darlington library’s excellent collection of P&B memorabilia: photos, staff magazines, knitting patterns…

It is part of the library’s Local History Month programme of activities which includes a separate exhibition entitled Elegance and Grandeur: Darlington’s Mansions and Villas, which runs until the end of May.

Chris Lloyd, who compiles Memories, will be giving his talk, P&B: Wonder Factory, on Thursday, May 23, at 2pm in the library. Tickets are £2 and need to be booked by calling 01325-349630. At the end of the talk, the winner of the Elegance and Grandeur quiz will be announced.