IT was back in 1920 when the roots of Patons & Baldwin's huge Darlington operation really began.

Two textile firms, John Paton Son and Company, from Alloa, and J&J Baldwin and Partners, founded in Halifax, joined forces to create Patons & Baldwin.

John Paton, a wool dyer and spinner in the Scottish town of Alloa, formed his company in 1814.

He died in 1848, but the company continued in family hands and would later grow to be valued at more than £1.7m.

J&J Baldwin and Partners was the brainchild of James Baldwin, who saw his wool washing and spinning venture, begun in a back yard, grow rapidly with a series of mergers.

The two parent companies, merged into one as Patons & Baldwins, quickly continued their expansion, buying wool manufacturing mills in Canada and New Zealand.

Factories were also established in England and Scotland, including two more in the North-East, at Billingham and Jarrow.

The company's standing in the knitting, rug and tapestry wool market continued to improve.

Then, after the Second World War, it was decided that to aid increased production and efficiency, a move to a fresh site at Darlington was required.

Directors of Patons & Baldwin found a 140-acre site in McMullen Road to be flat with good rail connections, and deemed it "quite suitable".

The land at Lingfield Point was bought in August 1945 and newly-erected factory buildings were already engaged in limited knitting wool production by December 1947.

By 1951, at a total cost of £7.5m, the entire production site was complete and became the company's largest manufacturing unit.

Through the next three decades, Patons & Baldwin became a household word in the hand-knitting wool trade.

It was also in the forefront of development of various types of yarn, including man-made fibres such as nylon and Terylene.

The Darlington headquarters spawned sports and social clubs, with 4,000 workers employed at the peak of the company's operations. It also became a tourist attraction.

Trips would be organised for groups, including Women's Institutes, which were guided around the various departments.

Visitors could take wool straight from the fleece and turn it into 1oz balls for hand knitting, The Northern Echo reported in March 1964.

A total of 4,787 visitors toured the factory in one eight-month period.

Gradually, staff numbers dwindled as various parts of the company were broken up over the years.

The Lingfield Point site changed for ever when, in the early 1980s, a decision was taken to transfer all of the company's yarn production to Alloa.

In 1991, Patons & Baldwin merged with the Coats Leisure Group, of Glasgow, to become Coats Patons Crafts.

It eventually became a sales and distribution business, distributing crafts, haberdashery and hand-knitted products.

Now called Coats Crafts UK, the company still retains a presence at the Lingfield Point complex, which is home to some of its offices and its national distribution centre