WITH OVER 100 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE IN THE MOVING AND INSTALLATION OF COMPLEX MACHINERY, BATLEY-BASED J EXLEY CONTINUALLY INNOVATES FOR INDUSTRY. LUCY RADLEY VISITS AN ESTABLISHED OPERATION THAT IS MOVING AHEAD OF THE TIMES.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CRAIG ECCLESTON
100 years ago Batley, a small town to the south of Leeds in West Yorkshire, was a very different place. Textiles were the thing, and numerous small businesses sprung up alongside the thriving mills to provide the industry with all the peripheral services it needed. “There were 40 mills just between Birstall and Dewsbury,” says Greg Exley, managing director of J Exley speaking in his office halfway down the Bradford Road. Exley’s great grandfather started the business over 100 years ago and the family has been both living and working in this yard since the 1930s. Greg Exley is the fourth generation to have the reins of the family business – a very different company to the one Joah Exley first built.
“They started off doing something with steam piping,” Exley tells us. “Then they were making leather belts, because obviously everything was line-shaft driven.” This in turn led to work reconditioning textile machines meaning they needed to be removed and transported, the bit the company specialises in today. “I think the reconditioning ended when textiles started to die, but at one point it was big business,” Exley adds. “They say there was one mill in Huddersfield which had 999 looms in it. In one mill!” Cheap foreign imports were what killed it all. The advent of containerisation, making shipping far easier, drove the final nail into the coffin. By the time a very young Exley started full-time work in 1994 the reconditioning side of things was basically finished, and transport had taken over as the mainstay of what was then his father's enterprise.