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HiyaHiya’s History of Knitting: The Jute Barons of India

Jute is a natural fibre produced from the bast of a plant’s stem. It has high tensile strength, low extensibility, and ensures better breath ability of fabrics; as well as being 100% bio-degradable, and therefore, environmentally friendly.

Jute has been used since ancient times in Africa and Asia to provide a cordage and weaving fiber from the stem and food from the leaves. In several historical documents during the era of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542 –1605) states that the poor villagers of India used to wear clothes made of jute. Simple handlooms and hand spinning wheels were used by the weavers, who used to spin cotton yarns as well. History also states that Indians used ropes and twines made of white jute from ancient times for household and other uses.

jute barons of Dundee

The British East India Company was the British Empire Authority delegated in India from the 17th century to the middle of 20th century. The company was the first jute trader. The company traded mainly in raw jute during the 19th century. During the start of the 20th century, the company started trading raw jute with Dundee’s Textile Industry. This company had monopolistic access to this trade during that time. Margaret Donnelly was a mill landowner in Dundee in the 1800s and set up the first jute mills in India. The Entrepreneurs of the Dundee Textile Industry in Scotland were called The Jute Barons.

Calcutta (now Kolkata) had the raw material close by as the jute growing areas were mainly in Bengal. There was an abundant supply of labour, ample coal for power, and the city was ideally situated for shipping to world markets. The first jute mill was established at Rishra, on the River Hooghly near Calcutta in 1855 when Mr. George Acland brought spinning machinery from Dundee. Four years later, the first power driven weaving factory was set up.

Jute in India

The earliest goods woven of jute in Dundee were coarse bagging  materials. With longer experience, however, finer fabrics called burlap were produced. This superior cloth sold quickly and, eventually, the Indian mills began to turn out these fabrics. The natural advantage these mills enjoyed soon gave Calcutta world leadership in burlap and bagging materials and the mills in Dundee and other countries turned to specialties, a great variety of which were developed.

After the fall of British Empire in India during 1947, most of the Jute Barons started to evacuate India, leaving behind the industrial setup of the Jute Industry. Most of the mills in India were taken over by the Marwaris businessmen.