The History of Hjula væveri

From Beyerbrua – the “factory girls’ bridge” – we can see an old brick building with its characteristic facades with stepped gables facing out towards the river. The Månefisken restaurant is situated on the premises down towards the river. The former factory on this site was Hjula weaving mill.

The factory girls at the Beierbridge

The buildings by the river have altered surprisingly little since they were built. Hjula weaving mill became one of the largest and best-known factories by Akerselva.

The industrial revolution in Norway took place at Akerselva from the mid-1840s onwards. Norway’s first textile factories were established at Sagene and in Nydalen. Halvor Schou started Hjula weaving mill and built it up into one of the country’s largest textile industries. He was 18 in 1841, when the United Kingdom began exporting technology such as steam engines and weaving machines.

Young Schou was sent abroad by his father, brewery owner Christian Schou, in order to learn languages and commerce. He sought out the modern industries which were spreading across Europe at the time in order to learn about operating methods and see whether anything he learned could be applied in Norway.

"Fra Hjula veveri" by Wilhelm Perterss 1886, donated to The Norwegian National Museum by Olaf Schou in 1909
“Fra Hjula veveri” by Wilhelm Perterss 1886

Back in Oslo, Schou used some of the family’s profits to set up a small mechanical weaving mill in Brenneribakken, where the club Blå is today. First, 20 weaving machines were purchased from the United Kingdom, but he quickly expanded by adding more weaving machines. By around 1850, he had two hundred weaving machines in operation, powered by a steam engine. In order to expand further, he bought Hjulafossen, which was sufficiently powerful to power 400 weaving machines by water turbine. His brother-in-law Oluf Roll designed the factory on the basis of German and British models.
There were over 800 workers in Hjula’s various departments in 1880. We can imagine what the working environment in the large weaving hall with its 400 mechanical weaving machines must have been like. Twice a second, every second, the shuttle holding the thread would have shot forwards and backwards with a bang. The air was full of dust from substances, including starch which was used to strengthen the thread. When the substances had been woven, dyed and washed, they were transported back to the harbour.

"Hjula Veveri" by Carl Baagøe 1867
“Hjula Veveri” by Carl Baagøe 1867

The transport, or ‘toiling’ as it was called in the factory’s accounts, was carried out using a horse and cart. It is easy to imagine how hard it must have been to transport goods up and down the steep hills of Sagene. After 1879, Hjula was passed on to the next generation, with Chr. Schou at the helm, and retained its position as one of the country’s leading industrial textile companies. Schou Jr. took part in the restructuring of the industry both during the First World War and during the 1950s, when many of the major textile factories by the river got together to build a new factory at Frysja. When the “New Hjula” at Frysja went bankrupt, in 1957, it was all over for both Hjula and its neighbours Graah and Nydalens Compagnie
– a hundred-year long industrial adventure by Akerselva had come to an end.