Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,335 pages of information and 235,380 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Cyril Lord

From Graces Guide

Cyril Lord (1911–1984), textile and carpet manufacturer, of Cyril Lord Ltd and Cyril Lord Carpets Ltd.

1911 Cyril Lord was born in Droylsden, Manchester, the son of Richard Lund Lord and his wife, Kate, née Hackney. His family had textile connections with Macclesfield and Saddleworth hand-loom weavers.

He defied his father, a worker in the co-operative movement, by taking an apprenticeship with a local textile firm.

Working in the expanding rayon industry, he studied at the Manchester College of Technology.

Late 1920s: Worked for Ashworth Hadwen Ltd, cotton spinners and weavers in Manchester, and attended night school classes on dyeing, printing and finishing.

1935 He moved to a London firm of wholesalers and merchant converters, Scott and Son, one of the first London firms to combine textile wholesaling with merchant converting.

Before the Second World War, he worked with Mitsubishi and Mitsui on textile technology and gained valuable expertise in the German worsted industry.

WWII. He had gone to Belfast during the War, as Technical Adviser to the Cotton Control Board, to help resolve technical problems of spinning and weaving rayon on flax machinery. Lord’s pre-war and wartime experience established his reputation as a creative technical specialist and provided him with entry into manufacturing, mercantile, financial and government networks in Belfast.

1945 Cyril Lord was established as a private limited company in Northern Ireland in June.

1947 The business was a Listed Exhibitor at the British Industries Fair. Producers of Plain and Printed Fashion Fabrics; also High Grade Furnishing Fabrics, in Rayon, Linen and Cotton. (Earls Court, Ground Floor, Stand No. 103) [1]

1951 Acquired the Lily Mills, Shaw, and its subsidiary Devon Mill, Oldham.[2]

1953 Acquired the Soudan Mills, Middleton.[3]

By 1954, the company was described as "spinners, weavers and converters of cotton, rayon and synthetic fibres". In May, Cyril Lord Ltd became a public company with an authorised capital of £2.5 million.

Lord acquired several mills in Lancashire where all his manufacturing units were located. These acquisitions were part of a merger activity that was the dominant characteristic of British textiles in the 1950s and 1960s.

Although registered as a Northern Ireland company, Cyril Lord did not begin to develop manufacturing capacity in that region until the mid-1950s. Unlike most other UK regions after 1945, Northern Ireland had failed to achieve full employment and normally had a considerable excess of male unemployment.

1955 By the spring, Lord had decided to move into carpet manufacture and he formed a new company, Cyril Lord Carpets Ltd, to undertake the business.

Lord’s diversification into carpet manufacture was decisive for his business career and for the UK carpet industry in general. It was prompted by a major technological innovation – the introduction into the UK of ‘tufted’ carpets from spun yarn (which originated in the USA) rather than manufacture by traditional weaving techniques. It revolutionised carpet manufacture and opened up the prospect of a mass market not for lower income households.

After difficult negotiations, Lord took advantage of improvements in government financial assistance and, after promising to do his best to employ 200 mainly male workers, was provided with a new factory in Donaghadee, County Down, Northern Ireland.

1957 The factory opened and had the advantage of being both new and purpose-built. This distinguished it from most UK textile mills which were old and often ill-suited to technical innovation and organisational change. Built and equipped to Lord’s specifications, the new factory formed the basis of his carpet business over the next ten years, during which period it was, for a time, the largest of its kind in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.

The factory was extended three times between 1960 and 1966, each time with Government support, and the Ministry of Commerce also provided further assistance to Lord to enable him to operate factories at Carnmoney from 1959 and Rathgael from 1966. In addition, the Ministry provided substantial capital grants towards new plant, machinery and equipment. Eventually the assistance he received totalled some £7 million.

The industry had become increasingly cartelised from the end of WWII, with two agreements, operated by the British Carpet Manufacturers and the Wholesale Floor Covering Distributors’ Association respectively, to regulate production, distribution and sales.

1958/59 The agreements were legally challenged and the court dismissed the industry’s arguments that quality and exports would decline, distribution would suffer, joint advertising would stop and promotional costs increase.

1959 Lord had suffered net losses in three of the years since 1956. There were two particular weaknesses in Lord’s expanding business operations that would damage the company’s reputation: a lack of market research and inadequate testing of new products, both of which derived from Lord’s insatiable desire to expand and innovate.

Meanwhile, the South African government began to develop industry in the ‘homelands’, so Lord decided to set up another company, Cyril Lord (S.A.) Pty Ltd, with a new factory at East London in the Transkei, for the manufacture of poplin.

1962 Closed the Devon Mill, Oldham.[4]

1963 Lord stripped out three of his mills in Lancashire and shipped all the machinery, much of it quite old, to the new factory, a move underwritten by the South African Industrial Development Corporation in its pursuit of industrial decentralisation. Some of the employees and their families went as well, in specially chartered aircraft.

The market for poplin had been exaggerated by the South African government; Lord had not given sufficient time to market research, competition from local producers or imports, and stockpiling followed. Over the next few years, despite successfully lobbying for tariff protection, Lord reduced his stake in the venture, handed more control over to the South Africans, and switched production to coarser calicoes and linen.

1963 Lord was one of 168 businessmen who took part in a goodwill visit to the Soviet Union. After this visit, he took an abrupt decision to buy two machines for the manufacture of artificial astrakhan, having apparently neither undertaken market research not having put sales organisation in place. This venture was also a failure.

1965 In March, Lord decided to offer equity to the public.

Lord’s passion for rapid innovation, his self-confidence in overcoming technical problems, and a massive appetite for publicity was a dangerous combination. After a visit to the Astrodome in Houston, he had the idea of producing his own version of Monsanto’s Astroturf. With the brand name of Cyrilawn it was made on the tufted principle, rather than woven as Astroturf was.

1967 Expecting all production problems solved, the debut was arranged at the London Hilton in April, when the entire ballroom was covered in Cyrilawn and decked out to look like Wimbledon at a cost of £6000. Insufficient time had been given to product testing - it not only turned blue, but also developed a slime which made it almost unusable. As a result the first and only 100,000 square foot of Cyrilawn had to be given away.

1967, Lord purchased the entire chain of loss making paint and wallpaper shops trading under the Kyle brand, but most of these were too small to be suitable as carpet retail outlets, since potential customers could not unroll the carpet to see what it looked like, and many of the shops were not well-sited.

There now began a period of decline from which Cyril Lord never recovered. Profit forecasting had become a hit-and-miss affair, since there was no full-time financial controller in the group until spring 1968.

By March 1968, under pressure from government, bankers and shareholders, and apparently on doctor’s advice, Lord was forced to retire as chairman and managing director, going to the Bahamas.

One important immediate result of Lord’s departure was the appointment of a full-time financial controller, something which, surprisingly, the company had never had before.

As late as April 1968, the strengthened management, together with a pre-budget consumer boom and the impact of devaluation were all seen as making the prospects of recovery good. The lack of financial control within the group had allowed costs to rise to critically high levels. It was too late to pull the company around, and the scale of the crisis at Cyril Lord became clear over the next five months.

As its difficulties increased the Cyril Lord group belatedly sought professional advice and approached Rothschilds to act as their merchant bankers and advisers, but Rothschilds declined the business. Hill Samuel did accept but only on condition that Cyril Lord himself played no further part in the group’s activities.

Lord’s two principal raw material suppliers in the region were Courtaulds and British Enkalon, who also supplied carpet manufacturers in Britain. Despite their status as competitors, both firms were initially receptive to the idea of joint intervention to keep their major customer in business.

1968 Despite the prospect of numerous rescue bids, each of which failed, by late November, there was not even enough money to maintain a share list so trading ceased and the company disappeared from the Stock Exchange List, on which it had been quoted since 1954.

The impact of Lord’s factories in Northern Ireland had been enormous, especially given that they were established in small towns - most of the male workforce now faced the prospect of unemployment.

After weeks of uncertainty, Lord’s three factories in Northern Ireland and his Lancashire mills were bought by Viyella International. Viyella did not, however, buy either the shops or the direct selling operation.

In the end, Lord’s unbridled innovation, inadequate product testing, lack of market research, and uncontrolled advertising budget contributed enormously to the firm’s collapse. Even when Cyril Lord was a large public company, Lord took all the key decisions himself, and was therefore largely responsible for its decline and failure.

1984 Cyril Lord died in Barbados.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1947 British Industries Fair p172
  2. Northern Whig, June 30, 1951
  3. Belfast Telegraph, November 7, 1953
  4. Belfast Telegraph, July 18, 1962
  • [1] XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki 2006
  • Biography of Cyril Lord, ODNB