The Hiiu - Kärdla Baize Factory

It was one of the many agricultural crises that swept over the Baltic states in the early 1800s that led to the establishment of the cloth factory. Fresh ideas were needed to get over the tough times. Baron Ungern-Sternberg had just gone through a trial and had been sent to Siberia, but his sons got into action.

First, a large flock of soft-woolled merino sheep were brought to Hiiumaa. Then, a school was established were people were taught to keep the sheep. Soon, merinos were cross-bred with the local sheep. The final goal of all this was but not an evergrowing flock of sheep, but a large and powerful cloth factory.

Brothers Peter Ludvig Konstantin and Georg Heinrich Eduard von Ungern-Sternberg established a factory called the Dago-Kertelsche Tuchfabrik, or the Hiiu-Kärdla Baize Factory, which started work at 1 May, 1829, and the first batch of baize was ready by 12 May.

The business was at first started at Suuremõisa and Partsi, but the premises at Kärdla were already being built. Workers were not easy to find, so in addition to locals they had to be brough in from several manors on the mainland. At first they lived in the empty houses left by the Swedes who had been evicted from Hiiumaa, later on one new house with a chimney and four without were built for them. Soon, a two-storey Patarei (which has not survived, but was originally located where the police house is today) and crook houses (low-roofed terraced worker houses built of hemp and clay) were built.

Organising the work at the factory demanded more from the Ungern-Strenberg brothers than they could handle, and since they had their own manors to run, they employed Robert Eginhard von Ungern-Sternberg, a young relative having studied textile manufacturing at Aachen, to be the director. Later on life he earned a nickname Old Baron from the local folk. He started work in 1835 and that marks the beginning of a long successful era in the life of the factory. It is true, though, that at the beginning of the factory-era, Kärdla was often referred to as Starvation Village – working days lasted for 16 hours, punishment for mistakes was beating, work was mostly done by hand and in candle-light.

Work accidents were also frequent. It is often mentioned with a bit of humour that since the factory used urine to colour the fabric, the locals had their income secured for a long time. The average wages at the factory were 150 kopecks a month, only weavers could manage earning themselves 7-8 rubles. To stabilise the economy, factory´s own currency (klubid – clubs) was introduced. At first, the notes were made of leather, and forging them from old leather boots was soon mastered by the locals. This didn´t last for long, though, because Prince Shakhovskoy soon banned the arbitrary action.

Production was marketed in several European countries, including Finland and Russia. Changes in the workers´ living conditions were not easy to come, but they happened nevertheless. Since 1844 it became possible to get land, loans and building assistance to build a house. Also, a hospital was started and a port established. By the year 1853 there were 38 modern private houses, the beginning of the 20th century saw around 200 of those built – with chimneys, large windows and wooden floors. In addition to factory work, the workers also engaged in farming, keeping animals and growing vegetables.

The factory village grew steadily. After a great fire in the premises in the beginning of the 1870s, many times bigger premises were built in Kärdla. All the departments – or houses – of the factory were fit into this large four-storey building – the carding house, the spinning house, the weaving house, the picking house (were the cloth was examined and knots elinimated), cleaning house (were small debris was burned out of the fabric), the washing house and finally the house where the fabric went through brushing, ironing, and final examination.

The factory started operating as limited liability company, the number of workers reached 600, the range and export of production grew, participation in exhibitions was successful, more and more recognition was gained. High-quality clear-coloured baize was soon accompanied by large checked kerchieves, carpet yarn, bed coverings, coat fabrics, and the like, as demanded by the changing market. The management invested a lot into the local life – different activities were started, such as a choir, ensembles, schools, shops, a fishermen´s association.

The factory village needed other services as well, so they started a factory to provide agricultural tools, furnace doors, stove plates and other useful metal items. When speaking about the first gas lamp, electricity, town greenery or even showing moving pictures in Hiiumaa – the factory and its management were active everywhere.

After the Old Baron´s time his son Ernst Otto Adam von Ungern-Sternberg or the Young Baron took over, after him the representatives of the Peltzer family who were associated with the Narva Baize Factory and had taken control over the majority of the shares. Several changes of names and political regimes were survived, until the factory was set on fire on 16 October 1941. That marks the beginning of a new era in Kärdla – a life full of happy memories of the first lever in urbanising Hiiumaa.