A landmark anniversary year for Haworth company flying…

A landmark anniversary year for Haworth company flying the flag for Yorkshire

What threads could possibly link the British Army, the Canadian Mounties, Sean Bean, James Bond and The Mummy?

The answer is a Haworth-based company which is “flying the flag for Yorkshire” in its highly successful specialist business.

By Annette McIntyre

Fourth-generation family firm Wyedean is a manufacturer of military uniforms, braid, insignia, regalia and accoutrement. And as it enters its 60th anniversary year it has a lot to celebrate with a prestigious £5 million contract and a £200,000 upgrade of the mill it operates from.

The company, which was set up in 1964, has built a strong reputation and its main customers are the British Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. It also supplies the Metropolitan Police Force and many other armed and uniformed services around the world – including the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian Armed Forces, the Oman Police and the Canadian Mounties.

Its expertise has also led to orders from the world of film and theatre – in period dramas such as Sharpe, starring Sean Bean, and even in the action-adventure film The Mummy.

The story of Wyedean’s success began when the company was founded in Haworth by David Wright who ran the business with his father Frank Wright, a former textile machine designer who was awarded an MBE in recognition of his invention of a new yarn spinning technique called centrifugal spinning.

The business remains chaired by David’s wife Norma (99), with her son and Managing Director Robin, his wife and Sales Director Debra and their daughters Business Development Director Rosie and Systems Project Manager Susannah.

There have been many successes over the years, but an undoubted historic highpoint came last year with a contract to manufacture the British Armed Forces’ new regimental flags following King Charles III’s coronation. The £5 million seven-year contract involves replacing all British Armed Forces’ Standards and Colours (military flags) with the King’s insignia and the Tudor Crown.

Susannah Walbank and Robin Wright outside the refurbished Bridgehouse Mill in Haworth

The skills of Wyedean’s specialist embroiderers, metalworkers and braiders were on display during the Coronation last May, as four new Standards and Colours created by the team for the Royal Navy, the Life Guards and the Royal Air Force, alongside a Sovereign Standard for the Kings Company of the Grenadier Guards, made their first appearance at the royal procession.

The fifth Standard manufactured by Wyedean for the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons) was on show in King Charles’ first Trooping The Colour as monarch.

Speaking ahead of the event Robin said: “The true honour we feel to be creating such historic and symbolic regimental Standards and Colours is absolutely incredible. It really is a business high for us all.

“Typically, regimental Standards and Colours are renewed every 10-12 years but following the passing of the late Queen, all military regalia requires updating with King Charles III’s insignia and the Tudor Crown. As it takes three of our skilled people one year to create just four Colours, there are thousands of hours of craftsmanship from appliqué ornamental needlework to hand embroidery needed to complete the high standard of elaborate fabrics ready to present to the armed forces in the years ahead.”

He added: “Our family was honoured to visit Buckingham Palace in April to see our very own manufactured Standards and Colours being consecrated and presented by His Majesty the King to the Royal Navy, The Life Guards, the King’s Company, Grenadier Guards and Royal Air Force.”

Around 20 of the Wyedean team were given tickets to see the company’s handcrafted Blues and Royals Sovereign Standard in the first King’s Birthday Parade at the Trooping the Colour.

Robin said: “We’re proud to be, quite literally, flying the flag for Yorkshire manufacturing at another historic, momentous occasion and are looking forward to applying our specialist skills to honour the tradition of renewing the military insignia until all are representative of our new monarch.”

A Regimental Standard or Colour is a flag depicting the colour of the regiment’s uniform facings, trimmed with gold threaded tassels and displaying the King’s insignia. Handmade by Wyedean’s specialist embroiderers using silks, silver and gilt threads, they are used on a regiment’s most important occasions and bear elaborate symbols and battle honours gained through the centuries.

The expertise that helped win such a prestigious contract for Wyedean is also valued by the world of theatre and film – and the Haworth company has supplied numerous blockbuster movies seen around the world.

From army uniform regalia in Gulliver’s Travels, to thousands of metres of binding tape and bandages for The Mummy, to tunic buttons for Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Not to mention uniform braids and sashes in The Last Samurai to special luminous and reflective cord and thread in Bond movie Die Another Day – there can’t be many people who haven’t seen a Wyedean product on the big screen or their TV screen.

As he looked forward to the landmark anniversary this year Robin said: “Throughout our 60 years of trading, a small part of our business has been in supporting film and theatre costumiers with their requirements for braids and uniform accessories mainly for period dramas especially those with a military theme, some of the more famous productions are listed on our website. Costume departments tend to seek us out with their often strange specialist requirements, from webbing binding for The Mummy, jacket braiding for Sharpe (Sean Bean) or Cap Tallies for Challenge Anneka.

“While this business line is less consistent, it is very interesting when it comes along and incredibly rewarding when we see our products on the big screen. We have even had mill trips to the cinema for the team to view these films together and a common theme is a ‘groan’ from our staffs’ partners when they hear that all too familiar phrase while watching TV, ‘I made that!’. 

“This has never been so rewarding as when we watched the coverage last May of the Coronation of Their Majesties.”

He added: “The company has come a long way over its sixty years operating from our premises in Haworth. At the onset everything was made in-house and was purely textile narrow fabric based, whereas today we operate a global supply chain providing a full head to heel – plumes to spurs uniform service. Many of our staff have well over 25 years of service and the company’s success is undoubtedly down to their excellent teamwork – it’s a team which I’m very proud to lead.”

Now as the company prepares to celebrate its anniversary it is also looking to the future – and its 150-year-old Grade II listed mill in Haworth has just a £200,000 facelift.

Bridgehouse Mill was among the first water powered textile mills on the River Worth 1 and was pivotal in Haworth’s role in the industrialisation of the textile industry. Now home to Wyedean Weaving’s production of ceremonial military uniform accoutrement for armed and uniformed services at home and abroad, the mill has been future proofed for “the next 100 years”.

The family firm has occupied Bridgehouse Mill since 1964 and has just invested £160,000 in essential modernisation including the installation of solar panels which are expected to generate around 90 per cent of the building’s total electrical energy consumption.

Robin said: “This has been a two-year project, supported by £42,000 of grant funding from the Keighley Towns Fund. As a local family, we have operated out of Bridgehouse Mill for almost 60 years and are committed to maintaining its important role in this community by continuing its 150-year legacy as a manufacturer and an employer.”

The improvement works include solar panel installation, roof insulation, new lighting – including replacing some original lights which were first used to provide good natural light for the final inspection process of newly woven cloth – replacing 60% of external windows, double glazing, blast cleaning of stonework, external paintwork and the replacement of the original finial at the highest point of the mill.

Robin added: “This is stage one of our two-tier refurbishment plan to give our business more usable space in a historic building, by making it fit for growth and service in the 21st century. Our main roof refurbishment and insulation means we now have additional useable space at the very top of our building and at the start of 2024 we have exciting plans to revitalise our office area by blending the original pine vaulted ceilings and exposed red brick with modern glass balustrades, internal partitions and by maximising natural light.

“My father rented space within the mill from 1964 when he recognised the potential demand for manufacturing military uniform and narrow fabrics such as medal ribbon, rank braid, stripes and sashes. He went on to buy the mill in 1973. Today we continue to realise my father’s vision with long term Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces contracts and have recently secured several large scale manufacturing contracts including to manufacture the British Armed Forces’ new regimental Colours and squadron Standards following King Charles III’s Coronation.

“In six decades of operating out of Haworth, this is the first time we have undertaken such extensive improvement works and in doing so, we hope to protect and preserve the building and our industry for the next 100 years to come.”

Bradford Council’s Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Transport and Planning Alex Ross-Shaw, said the council was delighted to be able to support businesses in the area with grants which enable firms to make crucial investment for growth.

He added: “It’s a huge boost for the future of the local economy as well as our heritage to support the refurbishment of such an important historical building.”

Keighley Towns Fund Chairman Ian Hayfield continued: “Wyedean Weaving is a unique business which is going from strength to strength. Its work is so specialised and so significant, and investing in this way will ensure it thrives for many more decades to come. We wish them every continued success.”

Wyedean has a strong history of revolutionising its manufacturing processes. When sashes and other items of insignia traditionally made using silk and pure gold thread became unsustainable in modern manufacturing, Wyedean developed a synthetic version in the 1990s.

Wyedean’s annual outputs are – two million ‘badges’, 175,000 metres of Canadian Mounted Police trouser stripe ribbon, 1.5million ceremonial uniform regalia and insignia items, 500,000m of ceremonial uniform braiding, 80,000m of medal ribbon, 57 campaign medal ribbons using approximately 100 shades of silk, and 500,000 insignia badges.