Manufacturing: Textile Finishing

The textile finishing industry remains poorly studied, compared to the spinning and weaving branches of the industry in the North West, although there have been some significant studies since 2006. The extensive Grade 2 listed complex of the Wallsuches Bleachworks at Horwich (GM) was redeveloped for housing in the mid- to late 2000s and a detailed scheme of archaeological building recording accompanied this process, providing important new information on the early origins and character of textile finishing, and becoming a type site for industrial archaeology. In addition, in 2005-6 a programme of archaeological evaluation and an open area excavation of the bleaching croft revealed significant remains and allowed an extensive re-interpretation of the site (UMAU 2009). This is one of the most detailed archaeological studies ever undertaken on a textile finishing works in Britain, combining both above and below-ground remains, although it remains unpublished.

Extensive remains of a c. 1820 dyeworks and workers’ housing were recorded at Adelphi Street, Salford (GM), beside the river Irwell, with a regionally important assemblage of clay pipes dating to the 1810s that included considerable kiln waste (OAN 2008; Higgins 2016). As part of an apartment development alongside the river Irwell in Salford, targeted excavation was undertaken to record the late-18th century logwood mill and early-19th century Crescent Road Dye Works. Significant remains of multi-phased walls and dye vats were recorded by Archaeological Research Services. They also provided a significance study on the very rare survival of a late-18th century wheel-house projecting into the river. This structure was retained as part of the riverside walkway and interpretation panels provided (ARS 2016). A building survey by OAN recorded the buildings of Cheadle Bleachworks, Stockport (GM), a former medieval corn mill, ahead of redevelopment for apartments (OAN 2008). The Bleachers Association early-20th century plan informed the building survey and facilitated interpretation of some of the excavated features which included a set of stone lined bleaching tanks. Tottington Print Works, Bury (GM), was the site of a community archaeology excavation in 2010, led by OAN. The industrial remains lie under a thin cover of vegetation in the Kirklees Valley, which was a major centre for textile finishing. Remains of a variety of cisterns, flag floors, and engine beds were exposed (Miller 2012). Northamptonshire Archaeology excavated, at Carlyle Street, Bury Ground, Bury (GM) the remains of the a goyt, a secondary water channel, a wheelpit, building walls, and floors relating to Howarth, Peel and Yates Calico Print Works (1773).

Community excavation at Tottington Print Works, Bury, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)

The textile industry in the North West also encompasses several smaller branches, such as fustian and felt hatting production both of which have been studied since 2006. Roger Holden has written an overview of the fustian industry in Lancashire and Cheshire England (Holden 2016). Fustians are heavily wefted cloths, which includes cotton velvets. Some fustian, principally corduroy, and all velvets were woven with weft floats that were cut after weaving to form a pile. This remained largely a manual operation, in some cases still being carried out in domestic workshops, into the 20th century. Although some cutting was carried out in the Rochdale, Oldham, and Todmorden areas, where these cloths were produced, velvet cutting in particular came to be situated in the Warrington area, in east Cheshire, where Congleton became the centre of the industry, and in adjoining parts of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. In its domestic phase the industry used top floor workshops similar to those used by weavers. The long, narrow mills built for silk throwing were suitable for conversion to fustian cutting and purpose-built mills took a similar form. Some of these buildings survive in alternative commercial or residential use as at Congleton.

Felt hat making saw the production of hats from rabbit fur. Early references to the domestic industry occur in the 17th century, but large scale production only began in the 18th century. Denton (GM), Haughton (GM), Manchester (GM), and Stockport (GM) emerged as centres of the domestic industry in the late-18th century (Nevell 2008; Nevell, Grimsditch & Hradil 2007). Mechanisation in the mid-19th century saw the emergence of concentrated, formalised production in purpose-built factories such as Moores in Denton (GM). The design of these factories encompassed two sets of processes which were reflected in the design of the buildings, as a Battersby’s Hat Works in Stockport (GM). Firstly, wet side production where the felt hat body was made, a process done in single-storey structures with access to water and power. Secondly, dry side production that involved finishing the hat design with a brim, liners, and trimmings. This second set of processes remained largely unmechanised and took place in multi-storey structures and sometimes at home for more specialised products.

Although these manufacturing processes were sometimes found in re-used cotton spinning mills, such as Christie’s Work in Stockport (GM), most were housed purpose-built structures in Denton and Stockport, which emerged as the national centres of this mechanised industry in the late-19th century. Such complexes are usually not listed and are vulnerable to partial or complete demolition (Nevell, Grimsditch & Hradil 2007).

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