Manufacturing : Textiles

The Lancashire Textile Mills Rapid Assessment Survey, carried out between 2008-10, identified a total of 1,661 textile-manufacturing sites that once existed in the modern county of Lancashire (OAN 2010). The majority of the identified sites were concentrated in the southern and eastern parts of the county, within the boroughs of Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Burnley, and Pendle, corresponding essentially to Pennine Lancashire. In addition, important concentrations of urban textile-manufacturing sites have been identified in Chorley, Clitheroe, Lancaster, and Preston, with notable rural examples existing on the periphery of these centres. Of the 1,661 textile-manufacturing sites identified, a total of 619 were found to survive or were partially extant in 2011; which equates to an average survival rate of 37.27%, although this varied between the component boroughs. This total includes examples from all branches of the textile-manufacturing industry, though in some cases, such as textile-finishing works and flax mills, very few buildings survive. In order to inform policies to help protect the remains of the county’s rich and internationally significant industrial heritage, a comprehensive Buildings at Risk (BAR) assessment was carried out as a second phase to the project. Undertaken between 2011-15, this aimed to provide an overview of the stock condition, occupancy, and ownership patterns of the buildings. This was coupled with a detailed record of selected examples that were used to illustrate the historical development of the functional and architectural types that were noted for the various branches of the industry in the Rapid Assessment Survey, and allowed for any differences spatially across the county to be determined (Phelps, Gregory, Miller & Wild 2017).

In 2016-17 GMAAS and CfAA undertook a Buildings at Risk survey of Greater Manchester textile mills, funded by Historic England. The survey revisited the mills recorded by GMAU/RCHME in the second half of the 1980s. The included an initial desk-based assessment of mill survival and condition, occupancy, and potential re-use survey. It was found that 540 mill sites have standing remains compared to 973 in 1988, a loss rate of 45%; with the highest rate of loss in Salford and lowest in Bolton. Overall 20% of mills were in very bad or poor condition compared to 41% in fair condition and 39% in good condition. 16% Of the mill sites studied 16% were vacant, 41% partially occupied, and 43% fully occupied. A fifth of mills were at risk from damage or loss including several listed structures such as Gidlow Works in Wigan and Oakwood Mills in Tameside. There were many examples of good re-use, particularly as residential sites, as at Albion Mill in Uppermill in Oldham, Cavendish Mill in Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside, and Wallsuches Bleachworks in Bolton, as well as mixed-use sites as at Pear New Mill in Reddish, Stockport (CfAA 2018). A series of recent mill fires has drawn attention to the risk from arson (Nevell 2017c).

Through the use of planning conditions, the local government archaeological advisers (GMAU and since 2011 GMAAS) have secured the implementation of a large number of historic building surveys and below-ground investigations of the area’s iconic remains relating to the textile industry. Between 2006 and 2018 there have been over 50 historic building surveys, either to record textile mills and finishing works prior to demolition or to inform conversion schemes. Alongside this work, there have been 25 excavations of textile mill sites and 12 textile finishing sites.

Murrays Mill in Manchester (GM) has seen the most detailed survey. This grade two star listed mill complex was recorded by OAN in the mid-2000s during a significant fabric consolidation project with both detailed building survey and excavation work being undertaken. The survey and below-ground investigations were published in 2007 (Miller & Wild 2007), with further work being undertaken a decade later. This publication included the results of development-led excavation at several other mills and workers housing in the Ancoats area as a result of planning-led investigations undertaken for the New Islington regeneration project (Nevell 2008).

Mellor Mill in Stockport (GM) was explored between 2009 and 2018 through excavation and survey undertaken by the Mellor Archaeological Trust (Hearle & Hearle 2015). This community project has revealed the mill foundations and massive internal wheelpit, which is now landscaped and interpreted as part of the Revealing Oldknow’s Legacy project, which was HLF funded. Built by Samuel Oldknow in 1792, and burnt down a hundred years later, Mellor was possibly the largest water-powered mill in the world at the time of its construction.

Ahead of regeneration, OAN fully excavated Arkwright’s Shudehill Mill site in Manchester (GM) in 2014-15, following on from Channel 4’s Time Team evaluation in 2005. The mill was built in 1783 as one of the world’s first mills to make use of steam power, burnt down in the mid-19th century, re-built as a textile warehouse only to be destroyed in the Manchester Blitz of 1940. This complex marked an important moment in the development of the mechanisation of the cotton industry in Britain. After initial but ultimately unsuccessful experimentation with a direct-acting atmospheric (Newcomen-type) engine, it is known from documentary sources that Arkwright’s Shudehill Mill went into production in 1783 using a steam-powered pumping engine in conjunction with a waterwheel. Arkwright chose a site that was remote from a river, reflecting his intention to power the machinery in the mill by steam. This technical shift signalled the birth of the steam-powered textile mill, and the beginning of the rise of Manchester as a factory metropolis. The buried remains of the multi-phase power systems survived up to 5m deep and were exceptionally significant as they encompassed the original wheelpit and drive system from the early 1780s, and the extensive remains of the five steams engines installed between 1781 and 1815 as well as multiple phases of boiler (Miller & Glithero 2016; Miller & Wild 2015).

Succession of engine and boiler houses at Arkwright’s Shudehill Mill, Greater Manchester (courtesy of Oxford Archaeology Ltd)

In late 2016 Salford Archaeology excavated the remains of Salford Twist Mill No. 3 as part of the Chapel Wharf Phase 3 development. Well-preserved remains of the basement included intact cast iron framework for innovative fire proofing, c. 1800, with the use of hollow cylindrical columns for very early steam heating. The mill was the second to use gas lighting in Britain and had its own gas retorts, and provided gas to the world’s first gas lit street – Clowes Street. There was an exceptionally large, for the time, steam engine of 60hp provided by Boulton and Watt. Drawings survive in the latter’s archive. Other excavated Greater Manchester mill sites in the region since 2006 include Brownhill Bridge Mill, Slackcote Mill, Diggle Mill, Brook Mill, Greenfield Mill, Rugby Mill, and Gem Mill in Oldham borough.

As part of the Metrolink extension to Ashton under Lyne, Northern Archaeological Associates carried out excavation and recording of remarkably well preserved industrial remains at Pollard Street in Ancoats, Manchester, beside the Ashton Canal (GM). These included the early-19th century Pollard Street Mill (with its engine bed, boiler house, coal store, chimney base, and flue system) and the Soho Iron Works, dating to the early 1800s and built by the noted engineer William Fairbairn. Here were found the remains of a double engine bed, early tram road, a Nasmyth Forge Hammer, canal side steam crane, and former canal arm (NAA 2011).

Ahead of construction of new offices for Stockport Homes, Wardell Armstrong archaeologists recorded the remains of a once famous and unusual Stockport landmark – the Edward Street Windmill, Stockport (GM). This was a windmill erected in the 1780s to power a cotton mill. Despite the site having already been redeveloped for car show rooms in the 1920s, there were impressive foundations for the windmill and fragmentary remains of the adjacent cotton mill (Wardell Armstrong 2016).

Amongst those textile mill sites recorded ahead of conversion in Greater Manchester since 2006 is Brownhill Bridge Mill, Dobcross, Oldham (GM). The mill was built on the packhorse road from Dobcross to Uppermill on Diggle Brook. Built  c. 1772 by three entrepreneurs it was powered by an internal water wheel, initially served by a leat and then a reservoir by 1822. The wheel remained until the 1940s and its filled-in pit survives, along with water power features such as the headrace and tailrace openings and dam overflow; there are also remnants of mechanical and hand power systems. As a relatively unaltered example of its kind, it is a building of importance not just locally but also in the wider context of the early Greater Manchester textile industry (Miller 2009).

In Cheshire, targeted programmes of mitigation have been undertaken on several textile mill sites, primarily in Cheshire East. Here work has concentrated primarily on wheelpits, power systems, and building recording, as at Bath Vale Mill, Congleton (Ch). Amongst the most important of these investigations was the excavation in 2003 of the wheelpit, leat system, and remains of the line shafting that powered the Old Silk Mill in Congleton (Ch), built in 1753. The power system was designed, and probably installed, by the canal and water mill engineer James Brindley and shows the adaptation of corn mill water power technology to the textile industry (Fletcher 2008).

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