Patons and Baldwins began as two separate companies: J & J Baldwin and Partners, founded in the late 1770s by James Baldwin of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England, and John Paton Son and Co., founded in 1814 by John Paton of Alloa, Scotland. The two companies merged in 1920.
In the early 1920s, two of its directors visited Launceston and the company settled on the Tasmanian city as the site for its Australian mill. A big tract of land was purchased at Glen Dhu in South Launceston in 1922. The factory cost £100,000 to build and would become the biggest of the UK mills in Launceston. Between 50 and 60 British workers were brought out from the UK to form the core of the workforce who produced woollen yarn for hand and machine knitting.
By the mid-1930s, the company had establishments across Scotland and Northern England, as well as in Canada and New Zealand. It was around this time, in 1939, that the company decided to expand the Launceston mill:
‘Notwithstanding the unsettled conditions caused by the outbreak of war, Patons and Baldwins Ltd., manufacturers of knitting wools, will proceed immediately with the substantial extension to their premises at Launceston, as recently decided upon. It was learnt today from the Launceston manager of the firm, Mr. H. H. Gray, that arrangements for the extension have been completed, and the building contract has been signed. The work will begin on Monday and is expected to occupy about six months.’ Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1980 – 1954) Wed 20 Sep 1939 / Page 8.
The workforce at Patons and Baldwins rose to 2000 between 1939 and 1945 as production was directed to the war effort. The Patons and Baldwins factory had large government and military contracts, producing yarn for the manufacture of military clothing. The shortage of woollen products for the domestic market during World War II set the stage for a post-war boom for the textile industry.
The workforce reached 2,200 at its peak, but by 1970 it also was in decline. Competition from synthetic knitting yarns and a move away from hand knitting was the beginning of the end for the mill.
The business sold in the late 1980s, and by 1982 the factory employed just 604 people. It passed through several owners until 1995 when it produced its last bail of yarn. The factory closed on 31 July 1997 when the parent company decided to move its Launceston operations to New Zealand.
Patons and Baldwins, later Coats Patons, was once Tasmania’s biggest employer of women. Sports days, dances and work Christmas parties were enjoyed by employees, with the mill playing an important role in contributing to the social fabric of Launceston.