Courtaulds was a United Kingdom-based manufacturer of fabric, clothing, artificial fibres, and chemicals. It was established in 1794 and became the world's leading man-made fibre production company before being broken up in 1990 into Courtaulds plc and Courtaulds Textiles Ltd.
|Successor||Sara Lee / Akzo Nobel|
|Defunct||2006 / 2000|
The company was founded by George Courtauld and his cousin Peter Taylor (1790–1850) in 1794 as a silk, crepe and textile business at Pebmarsh in north Essex trading as George Courtauld & Co. In 1810, his American-born son Samuel Courtauld was managing his own silk mill in Braintree, Essex.
In 1818, George Courtauld returned to America, leaving Samuel Courtauld and Taylor to expand the business – now known as Courtauld & Taylor – by building further mills in Halstead and Bocking. In 1825 Courtauld installed a steam engine at the Bocking mill, and then installed power looms at Halstead. His mills, however, remained heavily dependent on young female workers – in 1838, over 92% of his workforce was female.
By 1850, Courtauld employed over 2,000 people in his three silk mills, and he had recruited partners including (in 1828) his brother, George Courtauld II (1802–1861) and (in 1849) fellow Unitarian social reformer Peter Alfred Taylor (1819-1891 – son of Peter Taylor who died the following year). By this time, Courtauld was a wealthy man but was also suffering from deafness. He had planned to spend more time on his country estate Gosfield Hall near Halstead, but continued to play an active role in the company until just before he died in March 1881.
His great-nephew Samuel Courtauld (1876–1947) became chairman of the Courtauld company in 1921 but is chiefly remembered today as the founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. William Julien Courtauld was also a benefactor of the arts: he gave artworks to the Essex County Council chamber at Chelmsford and the town hall at Braintree in the 1930s.
Wishing to reduce their dependence on natural silk, in 1904 Courtaulds acquired the Cross and Bevan patents to the viscose process for manufacturing artificial silk or rayon from dissolving pulp. They set up the first factory to produce it in Coventry UK in 1905. The early yarns were first woven into fabrics at the Halstead Mill in Essex in March 1906, but the process remained troublesome until further inventions improved yarn strength. However, in a few years the process became highly successful and was responsible for transforming the silk weaver into the world's leading man-made fibre production company.
Courtaulds also entered the market of cellulosics (viscose and acetate) in North America with the setting up of the American Viscose Corporation (AVC) in 1909. The investment in the US was highly successful, but its sale at a knock-down price was enforced in 1941 as part of the negotiations which preceded Lend-Lease. Courtaulds was Canada's only rayon manufacturer in the 1980s, and was criticized for polluting Cornwall, Ontario. By 1989 the company was dumping "an average of 12 million litres of water a day, loaded with acids, zinc, murky solid materials and other contaminants.... Tests in 1986 showed the company's waste killed healthy trout within five minutes."
In 1927–28 Courtaulds and Vereinigte Glanzstoff-Fabriken (VGF) gained control of the Italian rayon manufacturer SNIA Viscosa from Riccardo Gualino. A German director of VGF, Karl Scherer, replaced Gualino as head of the firm and cut output drastically. The foreign intervention was seen as humiliating by the fascists. In Europe Courtaulds expanded its cellulosics business both directly and in joint ventures, including British Cellophane.
In 1945 Courtaulds remained one of the four groups which dominated the man-made fibre industry in Europe (counting the German VGF and the Dutch AKU as one group, and including also the CTA—later merged into Rhone-Poulenc~-in France, and Snia Viscose in Italy). Courtaulds' activities in continental Europe consisted in a wholly owned, one-factory viscose fibre business employing some 3,000 people in France, a 50% share in a similar business in Germany (of which the other 50% was owned by VGF, the major competitor), and a minority shareholding which controlled 20% of the voting capital in the Italian firm Snia Viscosa, also primarily a viscose fibre producer. This activity expanded until the 1960s, when these products were replaced by newer developments.
Post World War IIEdit
Courtaulds was one of the earliest companies in the UK to establish an economics department. In the three decades following World War II that department made notable contributions to the understanding of investment appraisal and the formulation of British – and later European – trade policy. The function also played a significant role in the development of Courtaulds from a rather sedate, man-made fibers producer to the world's largest textile manufacturer, a position the company attained in the mid-1970s. The economics department then influenced the early stages of the subsequent extensive restructuring of the company, a process that culminated in the demerging of its textile activities as a separately quoted company in March 1990.
By the late 1980s, the manufacture of clothing was quickly moving to South East Asia and China. Courtaulds had closed many of its UK factories and moved production to new Asian sites. Further, its main profit was coming from its fibre and chemicals businesses, which were being held back by the textiles business.
In 1990, Courtaulds plc demerged itself into two parts:
- Courtaulds plc – the fiber manufacture and chemicals businesses
- Courtaulds Textiles Ltd – the yarn and fabric manufacture and clothing businesses
The global chemicals industry was in a distinct recession, and the company faced difficult times. The company employed 23,000 and had £2 billion in annual revenue, with 30% from the United States, 40% from Europe and 15% from Asia-Pacific. CEO Sipko Huismans had focused the company on rationalisation and cost cutting: We have to cut costs. We can't count on sales growth to pay us more or to allow us to buy more of our favorite things. In 1991, the company closed its viscose plant in Calais, France, allowing its other plants to boost output to 93% capacity, compared with an industry average of 75%. This enabled the share price to double in the first three years following the demerger.
Although prices were stable, the company had a potential revenue generator in Tencel, a man-made fibre Courtaulds had spent £100 million and 10 years bringing to market. Like viscose, Tencel is made from cellulose derived from dissolved wood pulp. While rayon production generates large amounts of sulfurous waste, Tencel is made with a "closed loop" chemical process in which the solvent can be filtered and reused. The final product is far stronger than rayon or cotton, which allows a huge variety of different forms and feels – from ultrasoft yet strong denim jeans, to shirts that feel like silk, to scarves that ape the texture of cashmere.
To aid its goal of expanding its business, specifically in Asia-Pacific, Courtaulds plc delivered part of its development in joint ventures, particularly with Akzo Nobel. In 1998, Akzo-Nobel proposed a merger, which the EU approved subject to the sale of Courtauld's aerospace business.
In October 2000, PPG Industries announced it had agreed to buy Courtaulds Aerospace for $US512.5 million. Based in Glendale, California, the aerospace business has annual sales of approximately $US240 million, employs 1,200 people. In the US it manufactures sealants in Glendale, California, and Shildon, England; coatings and sealants in Mojave, California; glazing sealants at Gloucester City, New Jersey; and also coatings at Gonfreville, France. The business also operates 14 application-support centres in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
Courtaulds Textiles was Britain's largest producer of lingerie and underwear. The organization employs around 20,000 people across 16 countries in Europe, North America and Asia, and has annual turnover exceeding £1billion, 40% of which is earned by sales to Marks & Spencer. It markets its products under leading retailer labels across the world as well as its own reputed brands which include Aristoc, Berlei and Gossard and Well. Additionally, Courtaulds Textiles had an international network of lace and stretch fabric businesses. After its demerger the business sold off its retail businesses Salisbury's, Sock Shop and department store group McIlroys by 1995.
The business has moved most of its manufacturing jobs offshore, most of which is now divested in joint ventures for flexibility. Investments in Sri Lanka include joint venture partnership with MAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, a £2million investment which employs 2,000 people and manufacturers lingerie and leisurewear for retailers including Victoria's Secret, Marks & Spencer, BHS and Hanro. A second joint venture of £3.1million employs 1,100 and exclusively manufactures men's underwear and baby wear for Marks & Spencer. A £3million expansion phase is underway which will increase the 700 strong workforce to 1,100 
In 2000, Sara Lee attempted to acquire Courtaulds Textiles. A bitter battle ensued and Courtaulds issued various counter measures to survive as an independent company. However, Sara Lee's chairman announced that "the acquisition will strengthen our European presence and give us access to a range of exciting market opportunities," so they increased their offer to £150million and won.
While the name Courtaulds disappeared in the chemical merger with Akzo Nobel, the Courtaulds textile name remains as a division in Sara Lee. However, to survive it again had to slash jobs and axed many of its factories as it grappled with the high costs of manufacturing in the UK and M&S, under Stuart Rose, continuing to squeeze its suppliers. In February 2005, Brenda C. Barnes became the chairman and CEO of Sara Lee – and had a far more focussed strategy. Courtaulds was seen as basically a British-based brand and company, and did not fit with a global business. Barnes agreed sale of the business was right, and for some time tried to sell the Courtaulds business, which had a turnover in 2005 of $560m (£302m), but was hampered by Courtaulds' pension deficit. It was eventually agreed with the UK pension regulator to increase payments into the deficit from £20m to £32m a year until 2015. In May 2006, Sara Lee announced the sale of Courtaulds Textiles to PD Enterprise Limited, a major supplier of clothing to Courtaulds Textiles. No sale price was announced, but it was announced that Sara Lee would continue to hold the $483 million (£260 million) pension deficit, and Brenda Barnes commented that Sara Lee had effectively "given away" the unit.
PD Enterprise Ltd., a privately held company based in Hong Kong, operates nine facilities that produce more than 120 million garments annually. Its products include bras, underwear, nightwear, swim and beachwear, formalwear and casualwear, jackets and coats, babywear and socks.
- Berlei – ladies' underwear
- Gossard – ladies' underwear
- Aristoc – ladies' hosiery
- Pretty Polly – ladies' hosiery
- Elbeo – ladies' hosiery
- Flintshire – A subsidiary of a German company, the British Glanzstoff Manufacturing Company started an artificial silk factory in Flint in 1907. During World War I the factory closed down but was taken over by Courtaulds in 1917. In 1913, the company had started making the synthetic fibre viscose rayon, made from cellulose derived from imported wood pulp or cotton waste. Courtaulds in September 1919 bought the old Muspratt Alkali factory in Flint from United Alkali Co Ltd and called it Castle Works, where after conversion they started production in 1922 of manufactured viscose rayon yarn. Courtaulds also in December 1927 bought the Holywell Textile Mill in Flint which they called Deeside Mill and after reconstruction and alterations was used for yarn processing. At its height Courtaulds employed over 10,000 people at four sites. At Greenfield, some 5 miles (8.0 km) further down the Dee estuary, two additional large rayon production facilities existed from 1936 onwards, named Number 1 and Number 2. These mills employed over 3,000 people. Textile production declined from 1950, and Aber works shut initially in 1957, opened for rayon in 1966, and pulled down in 1984. Castle works closed in 1977 and Deeside Mill in 1989. The number 1 facility at Greenfield was mothballed in 1978, and the entire site was decommissioned in the mid 1980s.
- Chorley, Lancashire – Talbot Mill on the eastern periphery of the town was built in 1908 and consisted of separate spinning and weaving divisions. The spinning division of the mill was managed by Courtaulds from the early 1970s and closed in 1989.
- Preston – A large rayon production facility, called the Red Scar mill, existed in Preston. The main product was tyrecord. It employed around 4,000 people. It was decommissioned in 1980.
- Northern Ireland – A rayon facility existed in Carrickfergus, which was designed specifically to make a fibre suitable for the Irish linen industry. Many of the latterly held British-based jobs were based in the grant-aided infrastructure of Northern Ireland. Limavady employed 185 jobs, which were lost in May 2004.
- Wolverhampton – Dunstall Hall Works – Rayon facility.
- Coventry – Foleshill Road Works
- Courtaulds Research – developed Courtelle, Vincel, Evlan, Viloft, Galaxy, Kesp, synthetic tobacco, Tencel, lyocell, Hydrocel, Alginate.
- Courtaulds Grafil – Production of Carbon Fibre for use in sports, aerospace and automotive industries
- National Plastics – Production of specialised plastic products including British military bulletproof helmets
- Courtaulds Engineering – Design of plant, production of spinneretts.
- Derby – Spondon Works – Acetate fibre, water-soluble polymers
- Grimsby – The Grimsby 'Fibro' plant was built on the bank of the Humber West of Grimsby between 1952 and 1957 to produce viscose rayon staple fibre, known as Fibro. In 1959 a new 'Courtelle' factory was constructed to make a proprietary acrylic fibre. Both factories were substantially expanded in the 1960s and 1970s. Later the advanced form of rayon known as Tencel fibre was manufactured using a more environmentally friendly process. Acrylic dope for 'Grafil' carbon fibre was also manufactured. The site was sold in 1998 to Accordis UK Ltd; the Tencel plant sold to the Lenzing Group, whilst the acrylic fibre plant went through a number of administrations in the 2000s, with production ceasing 2013.
- Trafford Park – Manufacture of carbon disulphide, base of Cowburn & Cowpar (chemical transport)
- Worksop – Formerly known as "Bairnswear", the 36,000 m2, 205.72 m × 175 m factory first opened its doors in 1953 as Bairnswear knitwear. The site was a relativity modern mid-20th century mill which was located on Raymoth Lane and it employed over 1000 employees (1950s–1970s). In the early 1960s it was rebranded as Courtaulds when Bairnswear hit financial difficulty. In 1989 Princess Diana visited the site, at the same time as she visited to open the new Bassetlaw Hospital. Rumours of the site's closure circulated throughout the 1980s and 1990s and this happened in 2000. A small factory shop stayed open for another year selling all its goods off cheaply. During the early 2000s after the mill had ceased production the factory was still in good condition and a buyer was sought. The site deteriorated for three years until Westbury Homes bought it for residential redevelopment in July 2003. In spite of local objections including the MP John Mann to keep the 9-acre site to form another industry, planning permission was granted, asbestos was stripped and the factory demolished in September 2003 – January 2004, and the site has since been redeveloped into residential housing.
- Middlesbrough – started as factory then moved solely to warehousing and distribution closed July 2010
- Somerset (Bridgwater) British Cellophane was set up in the early 20th century to produce Cellophane, a cellulose based clear packaging. Production finally ceased in the early 1990s and the site is now to be used for housing for a new power station
- Courtaulds and its many subsidiaries had many other production sites not listed above.
- "A Brief History of Regenerated Cellulosic Fibres". nonwoven.co.uk. CWC Ltd. 4 October 2010. Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- Olson, Lynne (2013). Those Angry Days,. New York, NY: Random House. p. 284. ISBN 0679604715.
- Tom Spears (March 11, 1989). "The Dirty Dozen". The Toronto Star. p. D1 and D5.
- Cerretano, Valerio (2013). "European Cartels and Technology Transfer: The Experience of the Rayon Industry, 1920–1940". In Donzé, Pierre-Yves; Nishimura, Shigehiro (eds.). Organizing Global Technology Flows: Institutions, Actors, and Processes. Routledge. p. 100. ISBN 1135013578. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- "Periodical Titles by Alphabet | Business solutions from AllBusiness.com". Retrieved 29 May 2006.
- "God Thanked by Courtaulds For ICI Flop". Globe and Mail. Toronto. 1962-03-17. p. 29.
- "Courtaulds Textiles". UK Business Park. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006.
- "Bulletin EU 6-1998 (en): 1.3.50 | Akzo Nobel/Courtaulds". Europa. Archived from the original on 22 September 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- Ipsen, Erik (25 February 1993). "INTERNATIONAL MANAGER: Freed of Textile Business, Courtaulds Is Doing Fine". International Herald Tribune.
- "Akzo Nobel Buys Courtaulds & Columbian Firm". Adhesives Age. 1 June 1998. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
- "PPG to Acquire Former Courtaulds Aerospace Business from Akzo Nobel". PCI: Paint & Coatings Industry. 3 October 2000. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- Stevenson, Tom (3 August 1995). "Shrinkage at Courtaulds Textiles". The Independent. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
- "Courtaulds Textiles Plc". BOI. The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007.
- "Courtaulds bows to £150m takeover". BBC News. 24 March 2000. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
- "HONG KONG: PD Enterprise purchases Courtaulds". BharatTextile.com. Archived from the original on 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2006-05-24.
- Wallop, Harry (10 May 2006). "Hong Kong firm buys Courtaulds". The Telegraph.
- "Consumer goods". timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- Perfect, Vicky (6 July 2007). "Courtaulds history". BBC / Wales North East. Archived from the original on 9 April 2009. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- Collier, Andrew (8 March 1989). "Courtaulds to shut down UK mills, dyehouse. (textile manufacturer)". Daily News Record. London: highbeam.com. Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- "Courtaulds, Preston (Mill Closure)". House of Commons Hansard. UK Parliament. 28 November 1979. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- The Monopolies Commission (4 March 1968). Man-made cellulosic fibers: A report on the supply of man-made cellulosic fibers, Presented to Parliament in pursuance of section 9 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act of 1948 (PDF). Competition Commission. London: The House of Commons. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 January 2012.
- D. C. Coleman: Courtaulds: an economic and social history (Clarendon)
- Bramwell G Rudd: Courtaulds and the Hosiery & Knitwear Industry. Carnegie Publishing Ltd, 2014, ISBN 978-1-905472-06-2 (softback), ISBN 978-1-905472-18-5 (hardback)
- From Genesis to Exodus: The Development of Tencel in Courtaulds 1979-89
- Courtaulds background
- Courtaulds in Europe
- Catalogue of the Courtaulds' Senior Staff Association archives, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- Catalogue of the Courtaulds' Group One Staff Association archives, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
- Documents and clippings about Courtaulds in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW