Ossett Pictures - Rag picking at Victoria Mills

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Rag picking at Victoria Mills

Before 1970, many Ossett women were employed in the local mills to sort out rags, which were graded according to the material they were manufactured from. Bales of rags like the ones on the J.F. Burrows wagons shown in the previous page were brought to Victoria Mills and teams of ladies like the ones shown above picked through the rags and sorted them for re-processing. Ossett was famous for the mungo and shoddy trade, which was basically new material made from old rags.

Rags were collected from two sources:

  • Old rags from old clothes were collected by ragmen for a price. The ragmen would then sell them to the rag merchant.
  • New rags were bought by the rag merchant as scrap from clothing manufacturers and tailors.

Old rags were not as valuable, since they were dirty and needed more processing to turn into yarn. New rags were used for mungo, which was a finer cloth than shoddy.

The sorting of the rags was mostly done by girls and women. The sorting was done in large well-lit rooms over tables with "riddles" (basically a wire mesh to allow the dirt and dust to fall through). Baskets were placed all around the worker, who sorted the rags to the baskets by quality and colour.

Sorting was skilled work. Rag sorters had to recognize the difference in quality of the rag in mixed lots both accurately and quickly. A smart rag sorter could sort about one cubic weight of old rags in one hour. New rags took longer, because it required greater care due to its higher value. Only woollen and worsted were used to make shoddy and mungo. Cotton rags were used to make paper.