ON THE year in which Queen Victoria came to the throne a Guiseley man founded what was to become one of the country’s leading textile manufacturers.

Abraham Moon founded the company which bears his name and which today holds an enviable position as one of the country’s leading woollen and worsted producers, creating fabrics for the fashion and furnishing industry.

Last year the firm opened a new flagship store in a 15th century building in York’s Stonegate stocks three full floors of the finest Abraham Moon wool fashion and interior products, alongside ranges from up-and-coming designers.

The firm’s unique story of Yorkshire craftsmanship is showcased throughout the shop, celebrating its180-year heritage. Its story reads like a TV mini-series: a pillar of the community, Abraham supplied many local families with yarn to weave cloth on hand looms in their homes. He would collect the woven cloth, paying the weavers for their work; it was then scoured (washed) locally and hung out to dry in the surrounding fields.

He would then transport the pieces by horse and cart to Leeds for sale at the market.

In 1868 Abraham had a three-storey mill built in Guiseley, less than 300 yards from his house . The mill had an abundant supply of local water, which was soft and ideal for scouring and other processes necessary in woollen manufacture.

The newly-constructed railway to Leeds ran behind the mill, which had its own sidings. This proved an invaluable form of transport both inward – wool for processing and coal for power, and outward, for the distribution of cloth to the expanding consumer network.

Abraham Moon’s records show exports to countries as far afield as Japan, dating back to the 1890s.

Sadly, in August 1877, Abraham Moon lost his life in a tragic accident. A report from the local newspaper at the time tells of the event: ‘Mr Moon was attending the annual Yeadon Feast in his horse-drawn carriage. When a band struck up the startled horse bolted down Henshaw Lane. Two passengers managed to jump clear and were unharmed but Mr Moon stayed in his carriage trying to calm his horse. In its panic it tried to turn into a familiar lane where there was no room for the carriage. The vehicle demolished part of a wall into which Abraham Moon was thrown. He died soon afterwards from a head injury.’

The article goes on to say that the horse survived the accident.

Following his death, Abraham’s son Isaac succeeded him in the business, which continued to flourish.

The original multi-storey mill burned to the ground in 1902. Undeterred, Isaac went on to build a far larger single storey building.

There was no shortage of skilled textile workers in Guiseley, who did not have far to walk as the new mill took up a central position in the town.

They took on jobs in the many processes - dyeing, blending, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing.

Captivating photographs from the period, kept in the firm's archives, show men in waistcoats, with fob watches hanging, and flat caps on their heads, and women in calf-length skirts, blouses and overalls.

It is this mill which stands on the same site today.

Design and pattern books dating back to the early part of the 20th century tell a story in themselves: fashion fabrics from 1900 to 1913 gradually give way to army shirting, trouser material and greatcoat cloths from 1914, which in turn are replaced by fashion of the 1920s.

Today the company’s designers still use the old pattern books for inspiration.

Isaac Moon drove the business forward until his death in 1909.

In 1920 the Moon family sold their shares in the business in order to pursue other interests. They were bought by Charles Walsh, then the mill manager and designer, for £33,000.

After his death in 1924 and the company passed on to his son Frank who was already in the business. Frank’s nephew Arthur took control in 1954, only retiring as chairman in 2010. Today Arthur’s son John Walsh is at the helm .

In the last three decades of the 20th century fashions changed: wool fabric, which used to be bought all year round, was mainly in demand during colder months, with cotton and linens replacing it.

Also during this period competition from emerging producers - initially Italy, Spain and Portugal, then Eastern Europe, Turkey and, more recently, China - hit the UK wool industry hard. Once there were seven woollen manufacturers in Guiseley, today there is one.

Against a backdrop of declining fortunes in the UK woollen and worsted sector Abraham Moon survived by moving up-market into high value sectors, as other mills tried and failed to compete against emerging producers. It continues to flourish.

*Abraham Moon, 33 Stonegate, York YO1 8AW. Also see visityork.org/York-Abraham-Moon