Brandts Klædefabrik, a Woolen Mill with a Surprising Story
Back in the days the woolen mill in Odense, Brandts Klædefabrik, for many just Brandts - has a story that often surprises. Brandts Klædefabrik in Odense is a lovely place both during the daytime and in the evening. Major changes have taken place over the years, but it is still the great variety of workplaces that is the focal point. Today, the large facility provides space for culture, wonderful shops, life and happy days for young and old, music, beautiful decoration and good food and places to eat.
It hasn't always been that way. There was a time when it was a completely different life that was lived here. Back then it was also an enterprising workplace, but the work was done under completely different conditions. Many of the jobs in the woolen industry were hard work, regardless of age or gender. The working days were long and the pay was probably on the small side, without me knowing it for sure.
I will happily show you the neighborhood, which to me is incredibly exciting because there are so many quirky stories to reveal. If you want a slightly different experience, we can start off in one of the restaurants with a lecture on Brandts, before I guide you througt the complex. It's a pleasant way to learn more.
A family run business
Brandts Klædefabrik was a family-owned business on the outskirts of what was then Odense. Today it is located in heart of Odense. Which is what happens when a city grows and changes come along. The Brandt family named the complex and if you look at the back of the building facing Vestergade, there is a portrait of one of the owners, Søren Christian Brandt. It can be slightly difficult to see on a summer's day when the parasols are up, but if you find the right angle it is visible.
And this is where the twist in the story comes in, because the company did not start as a weaving factory at all. It started as a dyehouse in the mid-1700s. This you can see on the front of the building facing Vestergade, where a nice blue sign hangs from the wall. Why this? The crafts of the time were organized in guilds, and each guild and craft had its own symbol to show customers which trade was in which building. The baker's was a pretzel, and the next answer is simple: a blue cloth was a symbol of the dyers and symbolized that cloth was hung out to dry from the wall - almost like the sign that hangs from the wall today.
There are probably not many of us who think about the fact that dyeing cloth was a business. But that's how it was. There was a time when traditionnally cloth was woven at home on the farms. The materials had the colors of the natural fibres from the wool or flax, and you could use natural dyes on the farms such as yellow, brown and green colours. If the fabrics was intended other colors such as black or blue, this required the use of imported dyes. The dyer in town had those. In other words the beginning of industrialization in the city.
This is how the story of how the cloth dripped onto the pedestrians in Vestergade, when the died fabric was hung to dry from wooden beams from the facade - as the sign on the front of the building shows us today. However today it only drips when it is raining.
A strong woman
When Christian Brandt, the dyer, died in 1814, he left behind a well run business. His widow, Marianne Lihme, was a strong woman. When she was suddenly widdowed with the responsibility of their three sons, the eldest only 12 years old, she decided to continue running the business and to give all three of her sons an education. An achievement 200 years ago, when women business owners were only few.
Education back then must have been a bit of a rough experience for the boys. The son Morten was apprenticed as a dyer in Copenhagen when he was only 12 years old and a few years later he continued his education with several dyers in Germany. In Germany he learned to do things in new ways. He saw how dyers and woolen mills worked closely together, and were tightly connected. He was inspired and came up with the idea that his mother's dyeing business at in Odense, could do the same when he took over the management only 20 years old. Marianne Lihme had run it for 10 years, so I wonder what it was like for her to pass on the responsibility to her son. Did she know about his ideas?
New and modern ideas
However, several years were to pass before Morten's ideas about combining dyeing and cloth weaving in the same company became a reality. It only happened when his own sons were old enough to run the company together with him and one of his sons was given responsibility for the project. The son had also been an apprentice in woolen mills, both in Copenhagen and in Germany. It happened around 1870. At that time, the need to dye the home-woven fabrics was much less than before, because home-weaving was in decline due to industrialization. The Danes had begun to buy fabric to a greater extent from clothing stores and ready-made clothes from manufacturers.
By the way, do you know that "manufactory" is a word that was first used in Denmark in the early 1600s? A manufactory was a place where many people worked, a large production, especially of textiles. Before then, textiles had been imported at high prices. And who was it then that produced these textiles in the manufactories? Prisoners and orphans. In other words, government jobs for society's weakest. Not nice to think about. Gradually, the word came to mean the concept of textile businesses and now it means finished textile goods. What do you think of when you hear the word? Do you use it at all or is it an outdated word in your opinion?
The woolen mill's first machines
When Morten Brandt and his sons had taken the first step towards a woolen mill, the next step was to acquire the right machines. Remember, it was the time of new-fashioned steam engines and Brandt's was bought from Burmeister & Wain in Copenhagen. Carding machines, spinning machines and looms came from Germany and in 1869 they were ready to start a production with 10 employees.
So it was the son and grandchildren of the dyer Christian Brandt and Marianne Lihme who founded the woolen mill Brandts Klædefabrik, which today has given its name to both the factory and the area.
Tagea Brandt's Travel Grant
The same year that his father died Morten Vilhelm Brandt married Tagea Rovsing, whom he had known for 10 years. She was older than him and unfortunately she fell ill and died when they had been married only half a year, only 34 years old.
Morten Vilhelm and Tagea Brandt did not have children. He therefore established several grants in her name and Tagea Brandt's Travel Grant, which is an honorary gift to "Women in science, art or music" is one of them. According to the directory it distributes around DKK 3 million annually.
A renowned workplace in Odense
Have you considered how strenuous and extensive cloth production was in the late 1800s? Most Danish wool was used, but some was imported from Iceland, Australia and many other wool-producing countries. Once the wool had been sorted by quality, it had to be washed. The next step in the process was to wolf the wool, which meant combing the wool and greasing it with the right oil. Then the wool had to be carded on large machines with rotating rollers with steel teeth, so that the wool threads could lie fine and parallel in a thin layer, ready to be spun on large bobbins on spinning machines.
Thespools of yarn were taken to the weavers who conjured the threads into cloth on the large looms. Do you know that the longitudinal threads in a cloth are called warp, the transverse ones weft. Of course sometimes a thread broke and errors occured in a weaving proces. The cloth was naturally checked for that and errors fixed. That process is called nobbing. When you take a walk in the area, you can see on the buildings which process has taken place in which building. It is sign posted, and the nobberie is one of the processes unknown to many. When the cloth was inspected for defects, it had to be washed. This happened in Valkeriet. In that process, the cloth became firmer and denser because the threads became entangled with each other.
After washing, the soap was rinsed out and then it was ready to be dried and get the right surface. This could be done, among other things, by teasing the surface. Only then was the cloth ready to be dyed. Finally, another quality assurance was carried out in Finnobberiet. The cloth was then pressed and the process was finished. Now it was finally ready to be sold to the costumer.
An impressive pump
As you can probably guess, huge amounts of water were used throughout this process. The water came from the river Odense Å in a pipeline. And guess what, the piston pumps were never changed. They lasted as long as the factory. It is quite impressive when the factory celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The employees and their conditions
Another impressive detail is the employees. Brandts Klædefabrik is, after all, from a time in Denmark when child labor was quite normal. It was not unusual for children to start at the factory as young as 10 years old. Imagine a whole working life in the same workplace and that you yourself started as a child. It can turn be quite many years. And when we know that there were many anniversaries at the factory over the years, even 60th anniversaries, then the point is only emphasized. Brandts Klædefabrik wanted to be a good workplace with good conditions for the employees. Among other things, the manufacturer built retirement homes for the factory's former employees and it was not unusual for many from the same family to work at the factory. Would we today consider that a benefit from the employer?
Other benefits were an affiliated doctor, the possibility of taking out loans for housing and grants for pensions and a school for the children. However, the school was closed in 1913, when a law was passed that forbade children under 14 to work in factories. At that time, children made up about 25% of the factory's employees in production. Just imagine, 25% of a staff of 200 employees are children. That's quite a number and it's actually not that long ago. Around 1930, the factory was one of Odense's largest companies with approx. 250 employees.
A new aera
As in the rest of the country, the workers at the clothing factory in Odense wanted to form a trade union. It didn't suit the owner. He stated that there was no work for those who joined a trade union. Those were the days.
A full 33 years had to pass before the management at Brandts Klædefabrik recognized that employees could join a trade union. On that point, the factory lagged behind the other companies in Odense.
When the last of the Brandt brothers, Søren Christian Brandt, died, it was a former office apprentice, Aage Mengel, who at the age of 23 was given the position of director of the company, which had been transformed into a limited company. However, the company kind of remained in the Brandt family, as Aage Mengel married Søren Christian Brandt's daughter and their two boys later joined the management.
In 1950, they also started working with some of the new fibers such as polyester and mixing them with the wool. From there the factory's exports grew so much that in the factory's 100th anniversary year in 1960, more was exported than was sold on the domestic market.
A few years later, the situation was completely different. Woolen cloth stopped being used. Abroad, wages were lower and woolen trousers went out of fashion and cotton fabrics were in demand instead. Despite the new times, the factory had in 1973 the best year in its entire history.
Then came the oil crisis and only 4 years later it was over.
Today, the experiences you get in the Brandts Klædefabrik area are completely different.
Odense is much more than Brandts Klædefabrik. Take a look and be inspired.
We are happy to say visit Brandts Klædefabrik with Guide Service Denmark and our guideservice Odense.
Skilt Brandts Klædefabrik. Foto: Guideservice Danmark