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The Cartledge Knitting Mill: Training Ground for Joseph S. Cartledge, Founder of Guelph Elastic Hosiery

Guelph has been home to various textile factories. Carter’s Royal Knitting Company, Zephyr Looms and Cartledge’s Knitting Company are a few examples. The Cartledge Knitting Company appeared at about the same time as Carter’s. It, too, began as a small cottage industry, located in the back of what was one of the oldest houses in the city when it was torn down in 1956.

John Cartledge

John Cartledge had worked in mills since he was a child. Born in Shelland, Darbyshire, England in around 1826, he moved to the United States. There, he married an American, Mary Jane Adams (1835). He had met her when he lived and worked in mills in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Five of his children, including the driving force behind Guelph Elastic Hosiery – John Samuel Cartledge, had been born during this period.

John Samuel first made his appearance on December 10, 1859, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His younger brother, Nathan, was also born there. 

John Cartledge left the United States to settle in Ancaster, Ontario in around 1870. His son, John (most frequently referred to as Joseph) Samuel, age 12, began working with his father in the Ancaster Mills. Two siblings, Sarah and Edith were probably in Ancaster.

The Ancaster Mill was not the only mill venture John Cartledge was involved in. He set up a mill in Arkell in partnership with John Davenport in around 1883.  The Cartledge & Davenport Woolen Mill, as it was known, lasted five successful years. The relationship ended when Davenport amicably left, dissolving the partnership.  John remained and continued to operate the business for another five years before removing to Guelph ca 1893.

The Quebec Street Knitting Mill

In Guelph, the first thing John Cartledge did was to establish a hand-knitting shop on 27 Quebec Street. The new cottage industry was located in a shed behind the Cartledge residence.

This family business was producing cardigans, jackets, gloves and mitts in 1891. Employees included the following family members:

  • Sarah Cartledge – knitter
  • Theresa M. Cartledge – knitter
  • Nathaniel (Nathan) Cartledge – knitter
  • Wright B. Cartledge – knitter
  • Joseph S. Cartledge

In addition, Cartledge supplied work for other Guelphites. James Lawson worked there as a knitter in 1885/1886. Miss Minnie Bard and John Holley later found work in their expanded operations in 1901.

The location was sufficient for the mill’s production needs for about 10 years. However, the growing demand for their product required expansion.  Although the family continued to live on Quebec Street the business relocated to Gow’s Bridge.

Gow’s Bridge

The new location of the Cartledge Woolen or Hosiery Mill was the site of the old Gailbraith and Company knitting mill situated near Gow’s Bridge – not too far from Grundy’s Stove Foundry.

At this point, Joseph S. Cartledge began to assume greater control of the operations of the mill. He was joined by his younger brother, Nathan. This heralded both physical and administrative changes.

In March 1903, the company was improving the existing facilities by installing a “new 80 hp boiler,” as well as a 60-foot smokestack. The office management team now included John Cartledge’s two daughters, Sarah and Edith. They left knitting behind to act as clerks for the company.

Disaster Strikes

The Cartledge Knitting Company may have intended to remain at Gow’s Bridge but this was not to be. A fire burnt the mill to the ground on August 6, 1906. This was, as the local paper reported: a “devastating blow,” particularly as the company was “doing well” and employing between 25 and 35 hands.

The fire brought a temporary hiatus to the business. Joseph S. Cartledge said goodbye to his father and visited the United States. It was there he was to receive the training, experience and knowledge to raise the family business from a general hosiery/knitting business into a specialty industry – the Guelph Elastic Hosiery. In deciding to head in this direction, J. S. Cartledge was to carve a new path for his family and bring new life to an old business.

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