The company known latterly as the John Bright Group had its origins in the year 1809 with Jacob Bright, prominent Quaker and father of Rochdale first mayor (also Jacob). Jacob Bright the elder moved to Rochdale from Coventry (where he had been born in 1775) and worked for a number of years as bookkeeper at the Hanging Road Mill. In 1809 he and two associates set up business in cotton in what had been a derelict worsted mill at Cronkeyshaw. This was Greenbank Mill and was to be the centre of expansion of the concern. Jacob Bright's son, John, the Liberal Statesman, was one of the principals of the firm which became known as John Bright and Sons in 1839.
In 1887 Bright's became a private company - one of the first in Lancashire - and the firm remained in the hands of the Bright family until 1923 when it became a limited company. The family connection ended in 1950 with the death of Herbert Bright.
At its height, in the late 1960's, Bright's ran seven mills in the Rochdale area producing items as diverse as tyrecords, carpets and belting. Throughout the seventies Bright's was in decline and one by one Bright's cotton and "synthetics" mills closed down, culminating in the early 1980's by the closure of Lowfield Mill (early 1980), Healey Mill (mid 1980) and Fieldhouse and Oxford Mills (early 1981).
This followed the compulsory takeover of the company in 1979 by Largs Ltd of the Isle of Man. A Ramsbottom businessman, John Whittaker became a director of the John Bright Group in 1978 having in January 1975 (as head of a nominee company of Largs, called Agremin) acquired a 27½% stake in the Group. Largs' share in the Group topped 30% in 1979 and under the Stock Exchange Code of Practise a bid had to be made.
By late 1982 Fieldhouse Mill was operating as industrial units, still trading under the name "John Bright Group" but with no remaining interest in the textile trade.
Thus ended an 170 year connection between the town of Rochdale and John Bright's textiles. During its heyday Bright's had been one of the first companies to install power looms and Howard and Bullough's ring spinning frames; the first company to install electric lighting in Rochdale; the first company to operate a fire brigade in the area and the first concern to bring a telephone to the town.