How Did Stone Posts Once Keep You 'on Tenterhooks'?

10 Tenter Posts
Marsden, New Mills, West Yorkshire

Listed: 1985
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for tenter posts

Imagine yourself on the edge of the track in Marsden, West Yorkshire, pictured below. If you had stood here in the early 19th century, you would have seen a field - known as a 'tenterfield' - completely covered with long rows of these carved stone posts, which were used in the textile industry.

Airing the linen

Large rolls of wool, cotton and linen cloth were produced in mills all over West Yorkshire. To produce top-quality fabric with an even width and no creases, the final step was to stretch and dry it in the open air.

A pair of continuous, horizontal rails were fixed to the posts and the cloth rolled out and stretched along them. It was held in place, along its two selvedges (woven edges), by rows of tenterhooks attached to the rails. Tenterhooks were produced in several areas, including the West Midlands, by nailers working in small workshops behind their houses.

This is where we get the phrase 'to be on tenterhooks', meaning to be in a state of uneasiness or suspense - from the cloth that was stretched and suspended in the open air.

Tenterhooks in context

Dating back to the 14th century, the manufacture of woollen cloth was originally a domestic industry, with spinning and weaving taking place in the workers' homes. The finishing of the cloth took place in fulling mills where the cloth was washed and treated before being put out to dry in nearby tenterfields.

The Industrial Revolution saw the invention of new machinery and the building of factories for spinning and weaving. By the early 1800s, while some factories were still drying their cloth outdoors, many were doing it indoors in long, narrow dryhouses with huge stoves. In 1835, tentering machines appeared, but they were expensive and only installed in very large factories.

Tentering continued into the early 1900s, used for certain types of cloth such as that used for blankets and only when the weather was good. Cotton and linen also continued to be dried outdoors because it benefited from being bleached by the sun.

Why do we list posts?

Today in Marsden, just 10 posts survive, tucked away behind the former Crowther Bruce Mills site. They look rather insignificant and could be easily overlooked, so why have they been listed? We believe that they represent a rare remnant of an industry that was once both integral to the region and of national importance.