James Sugden, textile industrialist

James Sugden
James Sugden
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James Sugden OBE, who has died at 71, was a leading figure in the Yorkshire and Scottish textiles industry, whose commitment to maintaining traditional skills won him Royal patronage.

Having spent his early years in Huddersfield at Berry Brow and later Netherton, he gained a degree in economics from Downing College, Cambridge, in 1968, and joined the textile firm of R Beanland in Scissett, while taking an evening course in the subject at Huddersfield.

He had a spell at W&J Whitehead in Laisterdyke before moving to MP Stonehouse in Wakefield, his father in law’s business, and after the firm was taken over by Readicut he accepted an offer in 1987 to join Johnston’s of Elgin. There, he rose to become managing director, transforming a small weaving mill into a global brand.

In the next quarter-century, he developed Johnston’s into the leading UK manufacturer of Cashmere, increasing its turnover ten-fold. He travelled widely to meet suppliers on their territory and to source Cashmere from China and the upper grasslands of Inner Mongolia.

When a flood swept through the mill in 1997 he was on the scene in his Dunlop fishing waders, supervising the clean-up operation. The aftermath kept many contracting mills in the borders and in Yorkshire busy in otherwise lean times.

His endeavours had few limits and in 2013, after several years of personal contact, he gained the Royal Warrant for Johnston’s from Prince Charles in his capacity as Duke of Rothesay. Last year, as chairman of Campbell’s of Beauly, he obtained the Warrant as tailor to The Queen.

He became a liveryman of the Worshipful Company Of Weavers in 2006, and by the time he retired in 2013 he was the leading expert in textiles in the country.

But he never lost his love for Huddersfield and had a remarkable knowledge of the history and development of its textile industry, its families and the mills.

He is survived by his wife Linda, children Emily, John and Rosie, and four grandchildren.