Museum site & Cotton mill
Once a hive of activity, the Desmet-Guequier cotton-spinning factory is now home to the MIAT. The former textile workers may have gone but their memories and stories live on in the museum.
The growth of the factory
Pieter Van Huffel was the first to set up in business on this site. The exact date in not known. He wona large contract to processsix bales of rawcotton on the Basel and Frankfurtmarkets. That was in 1819. This gave him the necessaryfinancial clout to purchase a steam engine. Around 1830 he had a cotton-weaving millbuiltnext to the spinning factory.
Pierre Guequier and Ferdinand Dierman took over the company in 1845and immediately embarked on major building work. In 1854 Guequier bought out his partner. A few years later he formed a new company with his son-in-law Adolphe Desmet. From 1864 there is reference to the 'Desmet-Guequier & Compagnie' factory.
Focus on cotton
The weaving millwas eventually closed and thecompany concentrated on cotton spinning. TheDesmet-Guequierfactory was one of thesmaller cotton-spinning millsin Ghent. At the beginning of 1862 it had 99 employees who worked between 7 and 11 1/2 hours a day. This was considerably less than in other factories, which is explained by the high level of unemployment when the weather was too cold to operate the machines.
Crisis in the cotton industry
The American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 had serious consequences for Ghent’s antiquated cotton industry. Imports of raw materials from America came to a standstill, as did production in several of Ghent’s cotton factories. Desmet-Guequier’s financial difficulties were no exception. The factory survived thanks to capital injections from a succession of new backers.
In 1914 eight of Ghent’s cotton mills merged to form the Union Cotonnière (UCO). Several years later the Desmet-Guequier factory was also taken over. It was a period of huge change.
In the 1950s wages were the cause of great unrest. The three large trade unions led mass demonstrations for increased wages. They were joined by white-collar workers from the various UCO establishments, but to little effect. In 1975 UCO decided to close the division on the Oudevest and the building was left empty.
A modern Manchunian factory building
Factory bosses strove for robust, fire-resistant buildings. The 'textile mill' was a new type of building developed in the textile sector in England. The size of the building was determined by its operations and profitability, while improved building materials ensured good lighting, stability and fire safety.
Sources: S. HUYSMAN. Filature Desmet-Guequier - 200 jaar textielgeschiedenis. in: Geschiedenis: zijn werk, zijn leven.