Lucas Clothing Factory

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This famous Ballarat enterprise began in 1888, when the young widow Eleanor Price established a small enterprise manufacturing clothing in order to support herself and her six young children.

Lucas Lingerie Box, Fderation eUniversity Historical Collection (Cat. No. 20050)
Lucas advertisement, 1950, Private Collection.

small enterprise manufacturing clothing in order to support herself and her six young children.

Lucas Lingerie Box, FEderation University Historical Collection (Cat. No. 20050)




The business began in a humble way in a four-room cottage in James Street, Ballarat East[1] in 1888 - in a room that 'was seven metres by six metres and had 12 treadle sewing machines and about 20 employees'.[2] However, in 1894 a new factory was built behind the original workroom. Eleanor's son Edward Hargreaves Price entered the business and developed new machinery to service the expanding demand for underclothing and children's wear.

The factory moved to the corner of Dana Street and Armstrong Street in 1903, when electric power was employed to operate the machines, a first for Ballarat. In 1907 following the closure of the Phoenix Foundry in Doveton Street

A remarkable story of industrial development is associated with the business of Messrs. Lucas and Co., white work manufacturers. Fifteen years ago their work was done in one room of a dwelling-house, but as time passed more and more commodious premises had to be secured. At present they are employing over 300 girls to meet their Victorian and interstate orders, but find that this staff is insufficient for their rapidly-increasing requirements. It has now been decided to add considerably to the existing establishment, which is on part of the site of the old Phoenix foundry. Additions to the building will involve the firm in an initial expenditure of £1,500, and when these are complete room will be afforded for 200 more sewing-machines, the whole of which well be driven by electricity, that being the motive-power now in use.[3]

The Ballarat N. branch gratefully acknowledges another fine contribution of £5 from the girls at Lucas’ white work factory, being the second one of the kind. From Ronaldson Bros. and Tippett’s employees they have received their fourth monthly instalment of £2 10/ ; and from Ronaldson Bros. and Tippett, £1/5/. Other contributions previously acknowledged this month bring the amount up to £27/6/ collected since January, 1916. This sum has been forwarded on to Melbourne, and will be sent through the Lady Mayoress’ Patriotic Fund, Melbourne, in connection with which all arrangements are made for prompt shipment.[4]

The Lucas Clothing Factory participated in Factory Day, 1916 - an initiative of the Forward Ballarat Movement. Their advertisement in The Ballarat Courier read...

LUCAS AND CO. ... One of the best illustrations of the enterprise and business ability that Ballarat can furnish is represented by the whitework establishment of Lucas and Co., in Doveton street south. It is one of the show places of Ballarat, and employs a small army of young ladies and girls. The visitor finds it hard to realise that the extensive business interests of the firm have been built up in a comparatively short time, but the factory is a veritable hive of industry, and the class of work produced is responsible for the fame Lucas and Co. have won throughout Australia. Lucas' is certainly one place that should not be overlooked next Friday.'[5]

PATRIOTISM is shown by deeds, not words. We want £500 on our Flags in Monday’s procession. Lucas’ Patriotic Workers.[6]

Save Your Money to Throw on the
For Our Returned Soldiers’ Fund.[7]

Sir.-On behalf of the employees of Messrs. E. Lucas and Co., manufacturers, we wish to give an emphatic denial to the scandalous statements made by Messrs. Smith and Kean at the Trades and Labour Council meeting last night.

Every one of the employees strongly resents the application to her of the words "serfs," "pet dogs," "lick spittles," and "mock patriots," to choose a few of the choice epithets culled from their elegant phraseology. Never have our employers attempted to dictate to us as to whether we should or should not join a union or how we should exercise the franchise. A considerable percentage of the girls employed are now receiving more than the minimum rate of wage.

What seems to hurt the sensitive feelings of these agitators is the fact that we and our employers are living and working harmoniously together, and that the best of feeling always exists in "this little tin-pot show."

The fact that the girls would rather deduct from their wages money for the benefit of the Soldiers' Institute, "Avenue of Honour," and other patriotic efforts, than subscribe to the officials of the Trades Hall, is, no doubt, sufficient reason for last night's outburst. As our employers are away from Ballarat to-day we take this opportunity of freedom from "Russian tyranny" to make this protest.-Yours, &c.

The Employees of E. Lucas and Co,


On behalf of 412 signatures received to-day requesting that the above letter be sent to the press for publication.
Ballarat, July 13.[8]

To the Editor of "The Courier"
Sir.-We all know the old adage, "Let sleeping dogs lide;" but when such an unwarranted atack is made on E. Lucas and Co. and their "pet dogs" by Messrs Kean and Smith it is time to bark. The scathing comments voiced by these gentlemen savor too much of the spirit of petty jealousy. I reckon if Ballarat had more citizens possessed of the brains, perseverance, and uniting energy characteristic of the firm of E. Lucas and Co. there would be no bewailing the fact that 9000 people had left here during the last 10 years for pastures new, but there would be work for all. We are quite capable of looking after our own intersts without any interference on the part of the Trades' Hall officials, and we are not all suffering from the effects of "overwork" and nerve "tremors." We hope also to continue the Honor Avenue at no distant date, and dig holes for the trees if need by; but I would suggest that Messrs Kean and Smith visit the football grounds and racecourses, and by their very forcible language try to induce some of the "Weary Willies" to sell the ranks of the Sportsmen's Thousand. Now I must be off to my kennel, as I am under German tyranny.-Yours, etc.,

To the Editor of “The Courier.”
Sir.-In your issue of Tuesday Mr E.H. Smith weeps crocodile tears over what he calls my insult to the wives, daughters, and sweethearts of unionists attached to the Trades’ Hall, and tried to hide his ignominious head behind our brave soldiers at the Front, who, I might point out, represent all classes and sections of the community, and those who are members of unions enlisted as citizens of the Commonwealth, and not as trades’ unionists. Anyhow, I have yet to learn the Trades’ Hall has done anything worth while to send relief to our brave boys who are fighting for us. The public does not judge the respectability or otherwise of the Trades’ Hall by the lady friends of the ordinary members, but by the blatant reportings of such insipid men as Messrs Kean, Smith, and others could mention, who seem to spend their time insulting respectable citizens, met much better than themselves. Trades’ unionism is all right in itself, and once I was proud to be a unionist, but it is the type of men such as those indicated above who have brought it into contempt. It needs no prophet to foresee that there is going to be a change, particularly when our boys come back from the Front, and those who are dragging unionism in the mire will have to make way for worthier men.-Yours, etc.,

Sir.-The employees of E. Lucas and Co. do not desire to continue this correspondence, but wish to contradict the statement contained in Mr. Smith's letter this morning that "the girls signed blank sheets of paper, and that a great majority were quite unaware of what they had said concerning Lucas and Co." The letters written by Messrs. Kean and Smith, as published in your columns, were read to a mass meeting of the girls before lunch hour, when they expressed a strong desire that a reply to the Trades Hall should be made, and an overwhelming approval was given to the term of the reply framed. After lunch, instead of a blank sheet of paper, the girls signed a paper headed, "Those in favour of letter as read being sent to the press, kindly sign their names here." We leave it to your readers to judge of the accuracy of Mr. Smith's statements.

We might mention, to further bear out our statements, that all the girls present this morning, with the exception of one, were in favour of this letters being sent for publication.-We are, &c..

Ballarat, July 17.[11]

The controversy respecting Lucas and Co. and the Trades' Hall was referred to last night at the Trades and Labor Council by the secretary, who formally reported concerning the meeting held at the Mechanics' Hall respecting Lucas and Co., which, he said, was on the the greatest trades' union meetings ever held in Ballarat. The spirit manifested on that occasion showed that unionism in Ballarat was destined to flourish. Mr Price had desperately attempted to justify his position, but they had easily repelled the attack, and at the present juncture they were strongly attacking. Mr Price had since the meeting made sertain statements to the employees of Lucas and Co., from which a certain amount of satisfaction was to be derived. He said now that he was a strong believer in unionism...[12]

The employees of E. Lucas and Co are arranging to bring the name plates on the trees in the Avenue of Honor up to date. They ask the next of kin of any soldier who has a tree planted in his honor, and who has since been killed, or who has received any honors, to write the full particulars clearly on paper and post paper to E. Lucas and Co. If the particulars are sent in at once the alterations will be completed before Christmas. The young ladies are also arranging to place a laurel wreath on every treeguard in the avenue as a Christmas tribute.[13]

The patriotic zeal of Lucas and Co.'s employees is unbounded. Undertakings which at first blush would appear to be almost impracticable are essayed with a confidence in their own resources that compels success...[14]

"LUCAS'S GIRLS." A Wonderful Record.
In the history of voluntary service done by our womenfolk during the years of the Great War there is no finer record to be found than that in the chapter which belongs to the work of the women employees of Lucas's clothing factory in Ballarat...[15]

The Lucas Clothing Factory was visited by the official Imperial Press Conference on 15 October 1925. Lord Burnham was recorded in The Argus as saying that he 'understood that the girls in the establishment worked almost without supervision.'[16]

Eleanor took over part of the works to add more floor space for her workforce, now approaching 500 workers. The factory entered increasingly into the arena of women's fashion, and in the 1930s was a leading designer with Australia-wide distribution through its showrooms in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Clothing Factory Destroyed
The two-storey clothing factory of Lucas and Co, Doveton st, Ballarat, was destroyed by fire yesterday evening.

Buildings, plant, and material valued at more than £50,000 were lost, and 400 operatives and staff will be thrown out of employment until they can be otherwise absorbed.

A brick wall and fireproof doors prevented flames from reaching the warehouse and offices immediately adjoining. Hundreds of poinds' worth of packed orders and others almost completed were damaged by water and smoke.

This was the most serious industrial loss by fire that Ballarat has experienced for many years.

The Lucas factory has been linked with Ballarat commercial life for 55 years. It had its origin in the work of the pioneer seamstrees, Mrs E. Lucas.[17]

In 1968 the company was taken over.[18]

In 1972 Lucas provided financial assistance for expansion, the company becoming a subsidiary of Courtaulds-Hilton.


James Street Cottage

City Central

'Located in Armstrong Street South on the current site of Target. The company produced women's fashion with departments dedicated to children's wear, babies' wear and underwear.'[2]

Wendouree Factory

In 1963 the business moved to a new 32 hectare site on the Western Highway on the outskirts of Ballarat, and in 1968 the company became part of the British Courtaulds-Hilton textile manufacturing group. Reductions in tariffs from the 1970s impacted on the business, with the lingere and fashion lines unable to compete with cheap imports. The Ballarat tradition finally ended in November 2010, when Hilton Fabrics closed down, with the last 40 workers losing their jobs.


  • 1903 Lucas installed the first electric motor in Ballarat.
  • 1908 Tilly Thompson became Australia's first female commercial travellor.
  • 1930 Lucas set up Australia's first warp knitting, dyeing and finishing plant.
  • 1934 Lucas produced Australia's first screen printed tricot dresses.
  • 1949 Lucas produces Australia's first nylon Tricot fabric.
  • 1952 Lucas produced Australia's first nylon permanent pleating.
  • 1962 Lucas produced Australia's first colour coordinated lingerie and foundation garments.

Community Involvement

Works Produced

Workplace Relations

The People

Hazel Barnett (later Williams)

Ethel Butt

Beatrice Dans

Dorothy Dixon - 1949

Monica Dooley

Ella Downes

Dorothy Duval - 1958

Dorothy Fuhrmeister

Meta Fuhrmeister

Howard Hall - 1958

Elwyn Hamilton (later Kinnane) - 1920s and 1950s

Frances Harris

Lloyd Jones - 1958

Tree 2880, for Percy Murphy, was planted by Miss M. Lavars, an employee of E. Lucas & Co., on 18 August 1918.[19]

Kath Leonard - 1945

David Nelson - 1958

Ivor Pittard - 1958

Eileen Scott

Joan Shadlow - 1958

Ada Trotman

Gladys Trotman

Another vital member of staff was Tilly Thompson who became Australia's first commercial traveller for the firm in the early years of the twentieth century.

A past employees' association still meets once a month - and they continue to donate $1000 annually towards the upkeep of the Ballarat Avenue of Honour and the Ballarat Arch of Victory.


Mrs Lucas died in 1923, by which time her 'Lucas Girls' had become famous through their efforts to create the Ballarat Arch of Victory and the Ballarat Avenue of Honour in Ballarat as a tribute to local soldiers who fought in World War One.

See also

Ballarat Arch of Victory

Ballarat Avenue of Honour

Create a Publicity Brochure for the Lucas Clothing Factory in 1919

Factory Day, 1916

Factory Day, 1917

Forward Ballarat Movement

Lucas Girls

White Works Factories

Recommended Reading



  1. ’E. H. Price.’
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jamali, Dellaram. ‘Ballarat Lucas girls: the history.’ The Ballarat Courier, 11 February 2011. Digital copy accessed May 18, 2012 via The Ballarat Courier.
  3. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), Tuesday 13 December 1910, page 4. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  4. The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 1918) Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  5. The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918) Saturday 14 October 1916, page 1. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  6. ’’The Ballarat Courier’’ (Vic. : 1914 – 1918) Thursday 5 April 1917, page 8. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  7. ’’The Ballarat Courier’’ (Vic. : 1914 – 1918) Saturday 14 April 1917, page 6. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  8. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) Saturday 14 July 1917, page 20. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  9. The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918) Monday 16 July 1917, page 5. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  10. ’’The Ballarat Courier’’ (Vic. : 1914 – 1918) Wednesday 18 July 1917, page 7. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  11. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) Wednesday 18 July 1917, page 10. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  12. The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918) Friday 27 July 1917, page 4. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  13. ’’The Ballarat Courier’’ (Vic. : 1914 – 1918) Tuesday 4 December 1917, page 2. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  14. The Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), Saturday 1 June 1918, page 8. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  15. The Argus (Vic. : 1848 - -1956) Friday 2 May 1924, page 14. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  16. The Argus (Vic. : 1848 - 1956) Friday 16 October 1925, page 13. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  17. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) Monday 14 May 1945, page 3. Digital copy accessed via Trove.
  18. Mole, Andrew. ‘Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour.’ Weekly Times Now, 20 April 2011. Accessed May 18, 2012 via
  19. Lucas's Staff Appreciation of Brave Men, Final Edition, June 1919.

Further Reading

National Film and Sound Archives. (-) Living Ballarat. [Video]

Mitchell, James. (c. 1972). Progress in the Shire of Ballarat. Ballarat: Shire of Ballarat.

White, M. (1964). The Golden Thread. Ballarat: E. Lucas & Co. Copy in the Australiana Room, Central Highlands Regional Library.

External Links

Tilly Thompson - Australian Dictionary of Biography entry

Anne Beggs-Sunter; --Beth Kicinski 14:24, 23 May 2012 (EST)

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