William Baxter and Denton Waring – Rag Magnates

If the image you get in your head when you think of a rag merchant is of a raggedy man with a cart then think again. By the mid nineteenth century rags were big business. In Bradford the trade was characterised by a significant number of small independent businesses in fierce competition with each other. Many of these entrepreneurs were not educated men and it did not require vast capital to set up as a rag merchant.  To succeed in this environment they had to be naturally astute businessmen, well connected and resilient and ready to strike a deal whenever the opportunity arose.

One business of Waste (Scrap) Dealers, Rag Merchants, Wool Extractors and Shoddy Manufacturers was active for nearly 60 years, from about 1860 to 1918 (1). William Baxter & Company operated out of Raglan Mills, Gibson Street just off the Leeds Road. Over this period two families established and developed the business: the Baxters and the Warings.

William Baxter was born in 1802 in Bradford (2). The 1851 Census states he worked in the textile industry but by 1861 he had established himself as a wool and waste dealer and extractor of wool from cotton. On 15 February 1865 he bought Raglan Mills, together with a boiler house, extracting works, warehouses and land (3). The mill, constructed of brick and four stories high with an attic, was built in about 1855 by Peter Tattersall, a local builder (4).

In 1867 Denton Waring bought an equal partnership in William Baxter & Co (5)and they developed the business, jointly purchasing land and property in and around Gibson Street (6) and submitting patents for adaptations to processes and machinery (7). In 1872 William Baxter unexpectedly died  and left his estate to his wife, Sarah, (8) who later sold her share in the business to Denton Waring (9). In 1875 a fire, thought to have started in the attic where the rags were stored, destroyed the mill. An article in the Bradford Observer states that the damage was estimated at £25,000, the equivalent of £2.8 million in today’s money and Denton Waring was not insured(10). The article states that he bought the mill for £4000 and invested £3600 in alterations and additions and that at the time of the fire the mill held bags of rags and wool worth £5000. All his stock and capital was therefore tied up in the mill and business and was “the result of many years continuous hard work”. The article states that “people speak of him as a considerate employer and a kind-hearted friend”.

By 1880 the mill had been rebuilt and the company was flourishing under Denton Waring’s stewardship. He ran two companies, had interests in at least two others and managed an extensive land and property portfolio(11). In 1875 he had been elected as a Conservative member of the City Council and served in local government until the mid 1880s (12;13). He lived in a substantial villa, Thorn House, with his extended family (14).

From 1886 Denton Waring’s health began to fail. On 14 June 1893 Articles of Partnership were drawn up between him and the three sons from his first marriage, John Brooksbank, Frankland and Denton junior, who increasingly managed his businesses (15). In 1899 fire destroyed parts of Raglan Mills again (16). The damage was extensive but this time Denton Waring was insured. The mill was repaired, although the top storey and roof were never replaced. In 1902 Denton Waring died (17). In his will he left William Baxter & Co to his three sons, with other siblings having shares in the business (18). Denton Waring was buried in Undercliffe Cemetery in a prominent position alongside many other leading Bradfordians (19).

Within six months of their father’s death the partnership between the brothers was dissolved (20). By this time John and Frankland Waring were already effectively running William Baxter & Co. and by 1911 the other siblings had given up their shares in the business, so they had sole ownership (21).  The business prospered and in 1911 Frankland Waring moved to Crow Trees, a large estate on Killinghall Road (22). Then, in 1917 they sold land and buildings around the mill to  Arthur Henzen, a local wool merchant. In the deed of this transaction Frankland Waring is recorded as a “retired wool extractor” (23). On 15 January 1918 the business, remaining land and property was sold to Walker Huggan and Co Ltd., worsted spinners with premises on Gibson Street (24).  Baxter & Co continued to be listed in trade directories until about 1923. In 1926 A Notice of Appointment of Liquidators was lodged and the company was dissolved in 1934 (25). The William Baxter & Co trail then disappears from the records. Since 1970 Raglan Mills, now called Laurel Works, has been occupied by Wm Spence (Sheet Metal) Ltd.

Raglan Mills still stands today, fundamentally unchanged since 1899. It is a testament to the men who rarely figure in Bradford’s textile history. This is just one story, and there are many other rag merchants in Bradford who turned everyday rags to riches.

Caroline Perry


  1. Bradford Local Studies Library, Kelly’s and Post Office Bradford Directories 1850 – 1934
  2. Baptism 17 March 1802. West Yorkshire Archive Service. Bradford. St. Peter’s Bradford 40/D/1/19
  3. West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Wakefield History Centre (WHC), West Riding Registry of Deeds (WRRD) Year 1865, Volume YM, Page 626, Document number 706
  4. Bradford Observer 24.12.1875
  5. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Year 1867, Volume 35, Page 741, Document number 706
  6. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Condensed Index 1864-1872, for example Year 1868,Volume 614 Page 457, Document number 537
  7. Leeds Mercury 17.11.1868; Bradford Observer 07.01.1869
  8. Probate Register 30 November 1872, proved at Wakefield. WYAS, WHC, Wills Oct -Dec 1872
  9. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Year 1873, Volume 693, Page 429, Deed 502,503,504
  10. Bradford Observer 24.12.1875
  11. Probate Register 17 June 1902, proved at Wakefield. WYAS, WHC, Wills April-June 1902
  12. Bradford Daily Telegraph 01.11.1882 and various newspaper articles
  13. WYAS, Bradford Archives– City of Bradford Year Books 1876-1882
  14. Electoral Roll and UK Census; Bradford a Local Studies Library
  15. WYAS, WHC, WRRD – Index 1888-1900
  16. Bradford Daily Telegraph 08.06.1899
  17. Bradford Daily Telegraph 28.02.1902. Denton Waring died on 27 February 1902
  18. Probate Register 17 June 1902, proved at Wakefield. WYAS, WHC, Wills April – June 1902
  19. WYAS, Bradford Archives, 28D77/14/1/91 Undercliffe Cemetery Consecrated Burials 1901-1902
  20. The London Gazette 10.03.1903
  21. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Year 1902, Volume 52, Page 474, Document number 228; Year 1903, Volume 54, Page 524, Document number 242; Year 1911, Volume 21, Page 366, Document number 148
  22. UK Census; Bradford Local Studies Library – Map
  23. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Year 1917, Volume 29, Page 470, Document number 170
  24. WYAS, WHC, WRRD, Year 1918, Volume 3, Page 236, Document number 80
  25. The London Gazette 31.12.1926