Making Shoddy in Berlin
By Vivien Tomlinson

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MAKING SHODDY IN BERLIN: a Serendipitous Discovery.

I expect that many members will know of the prosperity brought to the Batley area by the development of the Shoddy Trade, the recycling of woollen rags by tearing them up into a material, the Shoddy, which could be processed to make new cloth.

The trade occasioned an enormous demand for rags, and by 1849 my great great grandfather, John Blackburn, was dealing in rags. During the 1860s he purchased Batley Old Mill and set up a Shoddy manufacturing business there. This was not, however, the first mill which he owned, for his obituary (Batley News; Dec 15th 1900) says, "---a little short of half a century ago Mr Blackburn founded a Shoddy manufactory at Berlin, afterwards purchasing Blakeley Bros. Mill at Coepnick, and starting the same business there."

The first mill must be the 'Manufactory, Berlin' shown on a billhead dated 185-- in my possession which also shows John's then premises in Batley, a house and warehouses on New Road Side. (now Bradford Road) In fact he does not seem to have been the founder of the mill, for J. Willans (Batley Past and Present, 1880) says:- "---the honour of first establishing Shoddy manufactories abroad in the year 1850 must be given to Mr. Josh. Pyrah of Staincliffe, a master mason (so far as Batley is concerned) He with the assistance of Mr. John Nussey, of Carlinghow Mills ---- and Mr Wharton of Heckmondwike, fitted up machinery in Berlin for the pulling of shoddies from woollen rags. Mr. John Blackburn also joined this enterprise, and eventually became the sole proprietor." Willans gives as reason for the venture that import duties were imposed on woollen rags, whereas if pulled into shoddy there were no duties. In fact according to a thesis in Batley Library (The Rise and Fall of Shoddy and Mungo manufacture at Batley 1830-1870; Rawden, 1972) these duties were abolished in 1844, but if they gave seed to the idea of such ventures other advantages may then have been perceived.

So much for the first mill, somewhere in Berlin by a waterway, and now for the best touch of serendipity in my researches so far!

With very limited German, and knowing how much of buildings and documentation had been destroyed, it had not seemed practicable to research the German end of this story. However, this summer we spent a few days of our holiday in Berlin, and on impulse went to Kšpenick (Coepnik), a suburb formerly in the Eastern Sector. After a pleasant lunch we strolled around and happened upon a small local museum. We went in and asked the lady at the entrance desk if anyone there would know about an English-owned mill in the nineteenth century. She looked skeptical but phoned through to the curator, who replied, "Were they called Blackburn?"

We were given some notes they had compiled which show that in 1852 or 1853 a Benjamin Blakeley acquired a plot of land in Kšpenick close to the junction of the rivers Spree and Dahme, and opposite the 1842 railway station. On the 10th December 1853 he submitted a planning application for a factory building, boilerhouse, and steam engine building; this was approved May 1854. In 1856 a dwellinghouse was built, and in the early 1860s there were enlargements including sheds and stables. A visit from a Factory Inspector in 1872 seems to have required some modification of procedures. At this time two machines were mentioned, presumably the rag-grinding machines, and a figure of around 125 employees was given. By the mid 1870s John Blackburn is named as owner, and a further building was added in 1879. John had poor health from about this time, and his obituary says that Charles Blackburn, (his brother) assumed control at Berlin and Kopenick. In 1896 Charles is recorded as owner and there was further rebuilding after a fire. A map of Kšpenick of that date identifies the plot. We know that Charles's son Mark was still in Berlin in 1913, but sometime after this the building was requisitioned by the state and I do not know what became of this branch of the family.

We thanked the curator and were preparing to leave when the curator suggested that we might like to look at the mill, as it was still there!

And much of it is! Although nominally in use the complex seems decrepit, and we were only able to look at it from the landward side. At first sight we saw a fairly modern looking building, but which had traces of earlier windows. Behind this was an old brick chimney. Round the side, however, it became apparent that there was a central core of nineteenth century buildings, extending back to the chimney, which the museum staff and I think are the original Blakeley mill. Opposite the main buildings on this side was a range of single storey buildings of which two sections with large doors might have been sheds for rag machines. The dwelling house was described in 1907 as encircled by the buildings and we could see no trace of this from where we were. There is a grandiose house by the entrance to the site which just could have been a later replacement but may be unconnected.

The BLAKELEY Founders
A correspondent kindly drew my attention to a Benjamin Blakeley in the 1881 census for Dewsbury, three of whose children are shown as born in Kšpenick in the late 1850s, so surely the Benjamin mentioned. Looking into the family further Benjamin was baptized at Dewsbury Parish Church 20th Sept 1829, the eldest son of George Blakeley and Elizabeth, nee Crawshaw. The 1851 census shows George living at Hirst House, Batley, with Elizabeth, Benjamin, and other children. Another interesting connection here is that George, baptized Batley 25,12,1806, was son of Joseph Blakeley and Mary, nee Sheard. This Mary Sheard was sister to Lydia and Elizabeth, wives respectively of Benjamin Law and Benjamin Parr, the developers of the Shoddy process. (also cousins to another of my own ancestors, Michael Sheard the elder.)


More Sheard Genealogy

Vivien Tomlinson was "a member of the Society of Genealogists and several Yorkshire Family History Societies, on the committee of the London Group of the Yorkshire Family History Societies, and had an Advanced Certificate in Family History." She did extensive work into several Batley familys including the Sheards. Sadly she passed away in November 2012. Her website is maintained by her sons. See Vivien Tomlinson's Family History


The Blackburns

In the spring of 2013 Charlotte Liebelt contacted me to say her ancestors were among the shoddy makers in Berlin. Mark Blackburn (1846-1924) was the son of Thomas Blackburn and the nephew of John and Charles Blackburn. Charles Blackburn hired his nephew Mark Blackburn to work in the factory in Berlin.

William Blackburn and Sarah Thomas:

Children:

  1. John Blackburn born 28 April 1821 at Batley, the son of William Blackburn and Sarah Thompson

    The ancestor of Vivien Tomlinson.

  2. Thomas Blackburn son of Sarah Blackburn and William Blackburn, 27 Jul 1823 - Batley, All Saints, Yorkshire, England
    Marriage: Elizabeth Terry
    Children:
    1. Mark (1846-1924)
      Mark Blackburn was appointed by his uncle Charles (brother of John Blackburn) to the Factory in Berlin-Koepenick. Charlotte Liebelt (March 2013)
      Marriage: Anna Lorenz (1851-1941)
      Children: 6
      The business in Berlin was boomed until WWI then the following inflation brought about its ruin. Charlotte Liebelt (March 2013)
    Thomas Blackburn went to Australia joining a gold rush and died in Melbourne. Charlotte Liebelt (March 2013)

  3. Ann Blackburn

  4. James Blackburn

  5. Martha Blackburn

  6. William Blackburn

  7. Joseph Blackburn

  8. Charles Blackburn Sarah Blackburn William Blackburn 28 Nov 1839 15 Nov 1839 - Batley, All Saints, Yorkshire, England

1841 Census: Batley, Sarah Blackburn 40, John Blackburn 20, woolen weaver, Thomas Blackburn 15, Ann Blackburn 15, James Blackburn 13, Martha Blackburn 11, William Blackburn 7, Joseph Blackburn 3, Charles Blackburn 1

1851: Sarah Blackburn 50, head, widow, Thomas Blackburn 27, son, wollen rag dealer, Martha Blackburn 21, daughter, woolen rag sorter, Elizabeth Blackburn 27, daughter in law, Wm Blackburn 16, son, Joseph Blackburn 13, son, Charles Blackburn 11, son Sarah Ann Blackburn 7, daughter, Mark Blackburn 4, "son", Mary Elizth Blackburn 11 Mo, granddaughter, Wm Blackburn 6 Mo, grandson,

1861: Elizabeth Blackburn 36, married, rag sorter, Mark Blackburn 14, worker in a rag warehouse, William Blackburn 10, errand boy.

Mark Blackburn and Anna Lorenz courtesy of Charlotte Liebelt (March 2013)

More Sheard Genealogy

Vivien Tomlinson was "a member of the Society of Genealogists and several Yorkshire Family History Societies, on the committee of the London Group of the Yorkshire Family History Societies, and had an Advanced Certificate in Family History." She did extensive work into several Batley familys including the Sheards. Sadly she passed away in November 2012. Her website is maintained by her sons. See Vivien Tomlinson's Family History


Benjamin Law

My ancestor Benjamin Law (1773-1837) is credited with the development of Shoddy in Batley, Yorkshire, England circa 1813. See. Benjamin Law


Lydia Sheard

My ancestor, Lydia Sheard (1871-1849), was the daughter of Michael Sheard and Sarah Barber, the second wife of Benjamin Law and a cousin of the Sheards who had the shoddy factories in Berlin (and elsewhere). See Michael Sheard and Sarah Barber


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