Imperial Works

03/01/2017

There is often confusion as to the origins of the works. The following information has kindly been provided by Paul Murphy, who hopes it may be of interest to residents of Menston.

 

G L Murphy's was originally established in 1918, at the disused "Imperial Cinema" on Kirkstall Road, Leeds. The principal activity was producing Leather tanning machinery, both new and reconditioned. Leeds was one of the prime Leather producing areas of the UK at that time. 

In 1926 we re-located to Menston, and named it Imperial Works, as a homage to the Leeds works. Why Menston? Partly because of the six tanneries that were at that time operating in Otley, being customers on our doorstep. The mill had, unusually for this area, originally been a cotton mill, but through most of the 19th century had been a wool mill. We purchased the mill from Peates, who had a larger mill on the site of the retail park in Guiseley (Asda, Next etc).

In 1933 we then purchased the Bobbin mill opposite(which was sold to John Brotherton in 1984). The Bobbin mill was converted to an iron foundry. During the Second World War, vital war work was undertaken, primarily for the Air Ministry, though producing Leather machinery continued at a pace as leather was a strategic industry both for materials for armed forces, but just as importantly industrial leathers literally kept the wheels of industry turning in those days. 

After the war, in 1946 the site was expanded by building a new large fitting shop at the back of the works. At our peak in the 1950's we had 102 employees on the payroll. In retrospect, the expansion was a mistake, as even by that time the UK leather industry was in decline, the writing being on the wall in the 1930's, the war years merely delaying the process. Why? Because in the 19th and early 20th century Great Britain imported raw hides and skins from all over the world, and processed them into finished leather here. Inevitably, these other countries wanted to develop their own tanning industries and add value. There was no way that the huge British leather tanning industry could survive on the relatively modest domestic output of hides and skins. Also, the need for industrial leathers largely disappeared with the introduction of synthetic alternatives.

The 1950's and 60's were still very busy for us, but it became essential for us to expand our export market, to compensate for the shrinking UK market. Our exports were in any case always running at 30/40% of output, but by the 80's this had risen to 80%. Nonetheless, we continued to contract. By 1971, when I joined the firm, the payroll had dropped to 58. The decline continued until our closure in January 2007, when the total workforce numbered just four. I was the last to turn the lights out, and lock the door, the end of an era.

The new owners let the property out to small businesses, and also there are container storage units for rent. I still have a small unit there myself, to service the customers (mainly in Africa) still using the venerable Murphy tanning machines.

Paul Murphy