In 1892, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell travelled to Labrador on the Newfoundland coast, Canada, where he witnessed the appalling living conditions that the local people were subjected to. “The poverty, ignorance and semi-starvation among English speaking people of our own race,” he once said, prompted him to devote his entire life to improving the livelihood of the inhabitants of Labrador. A philanthropist, medical missionary, humanitarian and explorer, he was a formidable man who helped build the first schools, agricultural centers, libraries, hospitals, orphanages, cooperatives and much more on the Newfoundland coast, going far beyond his call of duty. He was fittingly awarded a knighthood in 1927.
Grenfell spent the majority of his career in Canada but he returned to England in 1922. A prolific orator, he toured the country and lectured in cities to raise awareness of the plight of the inhabitants of the Newfoundland coast. One requirement that he sought help in was appropriate clothing. In Burnley’s Town Hall, Lancashire, Grenfell spoke about the difficulty in finding the right cloth to function in the incredibly harsh and inhospitable climate. He said: “The right cloth for the Labrador mission workers should be light. It should also be strong, for once on the trail, the wearer’s life might well depend on it. It should be weatherproof, to turn both rain and snow, and windproof to retain the wearer’s warmth. Above all, it must allow the body moisture to escape.”
Grenfell’s words resonated with Walter Haythornthwaite, whose family owned a cotton weaving mill just north of Burnley that specialised in linings, rather than cloth that was fit for the great outdoors. Haythornthwaite went to work and experimented with great difficulty as the looms had to be specially strengthened and it was near impossible to inject dye into the fabric due to its density. Eventually, though, he succeeded and produced a cloth that met Grenfell’s requirements.