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Courtaulds, rayon replaces cotton as Preston takes the lead

Posted on - 17th July, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Nostalgia, Preston News, Ribbleton
A worker in the Courtaulds factory, 1972 Pi: Courtaulds
A worker in the Courtaulds factory, 1972 Pic: Courtaulds

For 40 years the Courtaulds factory dominated the outskirts of Preston. At its peak over 4,000 people worked there. The factory was a pioneer of employing Muslim workers, and its location led to the development of the Ribbleton area. 

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The lost Preston to Longridge railway fed the site, which also had its own power station. Next came the M6 motorway, which opened in 1958. The factory had its own motorway junction, and the two large brick chimneys were a very noticeable landmark. These were later demolished to make way for the present Red Scar Industrial Estate.

The new rayon factory

The Preston Courtaulds factory in the 1960s Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The Preston Courtaulds factory in the 1960s Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Synthetic fibre was developed in the first half of the 20th century, and Courtaulds was a major player in the field. They had factories across the UK, with a new factory being built at Preston in 1939. This was the largest factory built by Courtaulds, and overtook cotton production, as one of the major employers in Preston.

The factory had its own power station, which was coal fired. The chimneys and large cooling towers dominated the local landscape. The boiler house stood next to the chimneys until the early 1980s.

Before the M6

Red Scar mansion, demolished in 1939
Red Scar mansion, demolished in 1939

Before the Courtaulds factory and M6 were built, this was a rural area with a few isolated farms. In fact several farms were demolished in 1936 to make way for the factory.

Longridge Road was lined with farms and the only other transport link was the Longridge Railway. Red Scar mansion was situated close by, just above the bend in the river. The mansion was demolished in 1939 to make way for the factory.

Rayon or cotton?

The main use of rayon was for tyre strengthening cord. Synthetic fibres came into their own in World War II as a cotton replacement. Rayon is actually made from wood pulp or cellulose so does not use oil, as with plastics.

Rayon was used for tyre cord Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Rayon was used for tyre cord Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Another product was known as Bright, a type of fabric. Many deniers and colours were produced. Rayon took colour dyes well and was used for many types of fabrics. In fact the colour was added before the yarn was spun making it very colour fast.

The different types of fabrics made by Courtaulds Pic: Preston Digital Archive
The different types of fabrics made by Courtaulds Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The whole Courtaulds site in Preston closed in 1979. The main reason given was that tyres were now using steel as a reinforcement not rayon. 1979 was a bad year for closures in Preston, with 2,600 jobs lost at Courtaulds and another mill closing with the loss of 800 jobs. There were also rumours that the Docks would close with the loss of another 400 jobs. In fact the docks closed in 1981.

The Courtaulds site today

The Red Scar Industrial Estate today and in 1964 Pic: Google Maps
The Red Scar Industrial Estate today and in 1964 Pic: Google Maps

However, the closures were not a complete disaster and new businesses soon moved to the area. The site of the old factory complex is now used as the Red Scar Industrial Estate. The site continues to expand and there is much new building, particularly along the edge of the motorway. This particular stretch of the M6 is one of the busiest, and has been widened several times since 1958.



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