In 1930 in a time of strikes, lock-outs, mill closures and general recession in the Cotton industry, a newspaper The Daily Dispatch, ran a competition to choose the Cotton Queen of Great Britain, basically to look good wearing cotton and to boost sales and morale. Districts chose their own Queen from local Mill girls, all the gowns, and those of the Queens’ attendants at their crowning ceremonies were designed to show off cotton. There was a grand pageant in June in Blackpool, when one girl was made the overall British winner. This was an immediate big hit with the public, and became an annual event.
The first British Cotton Queen Miss Glossop, Frances Lockett, was a great attraction wherever she went, working hard to promote the cotton industry, and was indeed treated royally . On a trip to London for Cotton Week in 1930 she had tea in the House of Commons with local M.P.s, the Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. She seems to have been a very good choice, not frightened of making speeches, and at the same time keeping a level head, as she told the assembled M.P.s, when she looked at herself in the mirror at night she said to herself, “Don’t kid yourself Frances, you may be queen for a few days, but you are only a mill girl, and don’t you forget it.”
So when the time came to choose the next district Cotton Queen in 1931, it had become a really big thing, and the winner chosen from 15 finalists from Burnley, Nelson and Colne was Miss Marie Smith, 18, of 147 Lowerhouse Lane. She was a weaver of towels in a small enterprise run by her father in Fulledge Mill. Her election and photo was given equal prominence in the Express as the visit of a genuine Royal, Prince George, Duke of Kent, who at the time was rather improbably acting as an Inspector of Factories. Redmans the local grocers were also quick to capitalise on the publicity and the Express printed photos of her weaving Redmans towels to use with their “towel soap”. Unfortunately, she did not become the 1931 overall Cotton Queen of Britain.
She was a big supporter of Lowerhouse C.C., so when the ladies wanted to arrange a dance, and she said she would attend, it was moved from the club to the Mechanics, and became a big event. It involved a crowning ceremony, a cotton dress competition, and whist drive. 400 people attended. The Burnley News reported that “Regally attired in a gown of white cotton (from the Co-op drapers), with a train of blue cotton velvet trimmed with white fur, entrancingly pretty, she afforded a vision of Lancashire Loveliness”, The Queen was preceded by a little page boy, Ronald Wilkinson, and followed by “thirteen beautifully attired girls” including some of her “Lowerhouse girl friends”, one being Grace Drabble. Mr. Hargreaves, chairman of Lowerhouse C.C. presented Miss Smith with a china tea service and expressed the club’s pride. He said the Ball was intended by the ladies to raise funds for a new tea room and additional seating at the club.
Miss Smith then made a speech saying this was the highlight of her year so far, and as a Lowerhouse girl she was happy to support her club. “The Cotton Trade has been waiting for an innings, given a chance it would not take long getting “set” and reaching world wide boundaries. Lancashire provided the best in cricket and cotton. “ The crowd sang “She’s a lassie from Lancashire”. The Empress Orchestra then played for dancing, and the ball was deemed a “huge success.”
Huge success it may have been, but it didn’t make any money, and caused a huge fuss at the AGM in 1933.
By Anne Cochrane