The Dobcoat

Last time around at the one-man-mill in north-east London, there was a Dobcross Loom halfway towards being assembled. A whizzing, thumping, cast-iron bruiser of a machine, the Dobcross, the likes of which the capital hasn’t seen since the Great Exhibition — if not ever.

That Dobcross, today, is now fully assembled. More than that: it is working. Not only that: it is working remarkably well. This is the culmination of almost exactly one year of the one-man-mill going to lengths ninety-nine in a hundred would physically baulk at — things like locating and lugging loom parts from mills operational and defunct in every corner of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, notching up 3,000 miles along the way; dismantling ten-tonne cast-iron frames in residential streets in the dead of night; and commandeering makeshift cranes to raise and lower those frames inside the mill.

Then, of course, there is the small matter of building the thing — from many hundreds of parts, and mostly those from one 1950 Dobcross and one 1959 Dobcross — and fathoming out how to use it. It is an uncompromising contraption on good days, and a life-threatening one on bad days, but evidence shows that the one-man-mill has it tamed.

The first cloth on the first power-loom ever assembled and operated in the capital is now available in audio format.

The Dobcross, then, is up and running and making cloth. And what cloth. The eight-shaft technology of the loom has brought the one-man-mill bang up to the mid-50s, and, when operated by a man drunk on its potential, it is capable of clever, intricate, and many-textured cloth; cloth with warp and weft doing things above and below and between and around one another, and which can keep the eye occupied for a long while.

It is, all told, hugely impressive stuff. Historic stuff, too, for it will be the first cloth ever woven on a proper power-loom in London. It is the first few metres of this landmark cloth that will be used for a woollen overcoat — a full-length, one-piece-sleeve mac, which is currently taking shape, somewhere in North London — sometime next Year.