Kenneth George Ponting
In 1913, the year Ken Ponting was born, his father, Arthur Ponting, was Managing Director of the Trowbridge cloth manufacturer Samuel Salter Ltd. He spent much of his childhood visiting the mill, and went on to work there after leaving school, in the 1930s.
He started out as an office boy, but what he really wanted was to study the new synthetic fibres, in the School of Textiles of the University of Leeds.
However, Ponting’s father would not allow this. Instead, he had to follow the traditional route for a mill worker and study at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels.
Upon his return, he learnt the trade of all the mill’s departments, as was the custom. After some time spent in charge of purchasing wool, he went on to design cloth and, finally, became the Managing Director after his father died.
Throughout his career at the mill, Ponting retained an intellectual curiosity; using his extensive knowledge of the textile industry, he started to write books. His first publication, in 1957, was A History of the West of England Cloth Industry. From then on, he wrote prolifically, producing books, articles, and leaflets, in addition to giving lectures. In 1967, he left Salters to become Research Director at the Pasold Research Fund, which still promotes and supports research on textile history today.
Witnessing the changes in the industry in the 1960s, a decade replete with mergers and takeovers, Ponting was probably aware of the difficult time that lay ahead for the mills. In an introduction to the very first edition of the Textile Journal in 1967, he wrote: ‘The textile industries today, not only in Great Britain but throughout the whole world, are in the middle of revolutionary changes. Natural fibres are losing ground to the man-made and partly, but not entirely, connected with this change, weaving is losing ground to knitting and possibly both are destined, over the next twenty years, to suffer from competition of newer methods of making fabrics’.
Realising that, with the decline of the industry, a whole tradition and way of life which had been a significant part of Trowbridge for centuries would disappear, Ponting ensured its history would not be lost, and continued to publish works on the topic until his death in 1983.