Trade, transport and communications

Industrial activity in the post-medieval period developed skills in the region that contributed to the dramatic developments of the industrial period after 1750.  The post-medieval period used renewable sources for energy, with water power particularly in Cumbria and the Pennines and wind power in the west, including on the Solway Plain, the Wirral and the Fylde. In Cumbria, research by Davies-Shiel on water mills has been brought up to date, posthumously, by the publication of his research into water mills within the catchment of the river Kent (Davies-Shiel, 2017).  Articles by the Cumbria Industrial History Society are published in a series of occasional papers, The Cumbrian Industrialist, covering some post-medieval sites. The Society maintains gazetteers of sites such as lime kilns and water mills but phasing information is generally not provided ( Also in Cumbria, woodland industries were an important strand, related to charcoal making, iron manufacture, potash and the making of items such as swills (baskets). The Furness bloomeries were significant from the medieval period, expanding in the post-medieval and industrial periods, and have been the subject of detailed study published by English Heritage (Bowden, 2000).  

The estuaries of the western and southern Lake District were important for coastal transport from the post-medieval period, serving industries such as mining, slate quarrying, iron-manufacturing and lime-burning. In Lancashire and Cheshire river navigation connected inland towns such as Manchester with the coast, until superseded by canals and railways. River bridges and traces of roads used before turnpike road improvements survive in parts of the region, such as a rural hollow-way section of the road from Blackburn to Bolton and Manchester, noted by Crosby in a paper on the early road network in the Manchester area (Crosby, 2008, 12). In the seventeenth century, some earlier timber bridges were rebuilt in stone on key river crossings, such as Ringley Old Bridge over the Irwell; records refer to it being built with two arches in the 1630s, (Crosby, 2008, 9-10), although the present Grade II* listed structure is said to be of 1677 (Historic England List Entry). More detailed research is needed to fully understand the region’s surviving historic bridges, which are at risk from more frequent and increasingly severe flooding events.

In Cheshire, particularly to the east of the county, water-powered mills were developed for processing corn and for other industries, but the rapid expansion for textile manufacturing, notably silk, mainly occurred after 1750. Corn mills in this period were numerous, but few are intact due to later redevelopment of mill sites for other purpose; two good examples have survived on estates, at Nether Alderley (for the Stanleys) and at Dunham Massey (for the Booths), both recently researched and surveyed by Matrix Archaeology (Arrowsmith, Fletcher and Middleton, 2012 and Arrowsmith, Fletcher, Middleton and Watts, 2013). The Dunham Massey corn mill was first built in c1600, powered by a single water wheel, and extended to the north by 1697 for a second wheel, although this was later removed. In the mid-nineteenth century the mill was converted for use as a saw mill for the estate. The first record of a mill at Nether Alderley occurs in 1391, but the present mill represents the rebuilding and enlargement of a mill built in the 1590s, in about 1746; the water management system and the remains of a corn drying kiln are also mid-eighteenth century. The mill has two overshot wheels in line, one above the other, a once common arrangement but now rare; the water wheels and in situ machinery at Nether Alderley date from the second half of the nineteenth century, steam power was introduced in 1892. The mill closed in 1939 and was restored in the 1960s by millwright Cyril Boucher.  

In Greater Manchester, research published as part of the Archaeology of Tameside Series (Nevell, Grimsditch and King, 2006) found that there were around 540 eighteenth century textile mill sites in the area, but only a small fraction of these have extant standing remains, due to later redevelopment of sites.  On a small scale, loom shops in weavers’ cottages were characteristic of domestic buildings in the south-east of the region, but few examples pre-date 1750; Numbers 16 and 17 The Flash in Carrbrook is a pair of houses with a first floor taking-in door, potential evidence of textile manufacturing, and probably built in the early eighteenth century (Nevell, Grimsditch and King, 2006, 189).  Documentary research is important to supplement the oftenscant physical evidence of domestic textile production in buildings; in the Lancashire Pennines, studies of probate inventories dated between 1600 and 1730 show that textile manufacturing took place in many domestic buildings, with looms and spinning wheels recorded in rooms at the service end of houses or on upper floors (Pearson, 1985,111-113). A good example is Hobstones in Colne where a workshop was built in 1710 by Edmund Stephenson, with an external door at first floor apparently the only access (Pearson, 1985, 98-99). More research into this early phase of industrialisation would be valuable.

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