Its fabrics were worn by royalty, coveted by commoners and its frocks even featured in Vogue.
Horrockses covered a vast area of Preston and employed thousands of local residents. At one time, it was famous as the largest cotton factory in the world.
But many of its secrets are hidden in the archive – Lancashire County Archives to be precise.
And the public’s help is now needed to unlock those secrets.
The Friends of Lancashire Archives launched an ambitious appeal in 2015 to raise funds to help catalogue the precious collection of loaned documents, drawings and photographs the mills held.
So far the appeal has raised some £4,000 and there is a target of £12,000.
Friends’ Treasurer Peter Bamford said: “Horrockses was known throughout the world. This archive is absolutely of international importance.”
The Friends’ appeal leaflet stresses: “It is essential that archives are made accessible – there’s little point in having them if people cannot use and enjoy them. Producing catalogues and making these as widely available as possible is the most fundamental way of helping people engage with archives.”
A donation of £1,250 from the Textile Society helped fund initial archiving by archivist Keri Nicholson covering the period up to the 1870s.
Keri acknowledges that Horrockses’ records can be found at many different sites as the company has such far reaching connections.
But it’s known those now in the county archive contain numerous small samples of artist’s designs, business records, a photographs, newspaper and magazine cuttings, and a huge collection of pattern books full of samples of shirting materials.
Overall, these records offer insights not just into the mill’s modern heyday in the 1950s when its iconic fabric designs charmed a Britain still shaking off the deprivation of the war years, but also its origins near Bolton and its role as a truly international trader.
The Horrocks company was founded by John Horrocks in 1791, later becoming known as Horrockses, Miller & Co and later still Horrockses, Crewdson & Co.
Documents detail how the company not only sold goods but purchased opium, tea, spices and silks on its trade visits overseas. The VIP visitors making their way to the Preston company included luminaries such as Ghandi and the Sultan of Zanzibar and, in 1912, much pride was taken in a visit from the British monarch.
The record books filled with small samples of hand painted designs are as yet something of a mystery – were they turned into fabrics or just submitted for consideration?
In its 20th century heyday famous artists such as Graham Sutherland and Alastair Morton were associated with the company.
Keri says archive staff are also keen to hear from former Horrockses’ workers who can share their memories. She said: “It’s within living memory. There are people around still who worked for the company.
“It would be great if people who are still around who worked for the company and actually used these records could come in and help interpret them because we are not textile experts.
“If anyone is willing to help us, please contact the records office.”
If the Friends’ appeal is successful, the money will also cover interpretation of the material, exhibitions and vital conservation work.
l You can donate by going on line at www.flarchives.co.uk and clicking the “Donate Now” button. There is an appeal box by the search room exit at the Lancashire Archives on Bow Lane, Preston, PR1 2RE or cheques payable to “Friends of Lancashire Archives” can be sent to The Treasurer, Friends of Lancashire Archives, c/o Lancashire Archives, Bow Lane, Preston, PR1 2RE.
l If you worked at Horrockses and can share memories call the archive/record office on 01772 533039.
• John Horrocks established his Preston factory in 1791.
• The company was a pioneer of the Lancashire “factory system”.
• Within a decade the company owned seven large mills.
• In 1816 the company also employed 7,000 handloom weavers working at home.
• It did not fare well in the 1920s and 30s but its fortunes were resurrected when the company launched its Horrockses Fashions brand in 1946.
• There was a Horrockses brand relaunch in 2016.