Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society

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Driving - North West Textiles

Textiles have been used for thousands of years and are among the oldest man-made artifacts ever found. Egyptians used linen to wrap up the Pharaohs, while Peruvians used llama's wool to produce fine garments. The ancient Greeks and Romans both produced linen and woolen cloth and the Romans even established textile factories and traded in textiles with China.

The basic process of spinning and weaving is the same for producing textiles from any raw material. Spinning draws out the fibres and twists them together into one long thread or yarn. Weaving then interlaces two sets of thread together at right angles. The thread that runs through the length of the cloth is known as the warp, while the thread that runs across the cloth is known as the weft.

In Britain up until the 16th century, the most commonly used fabrics were wool and linen, (Linen being made from the stem fibres of the flax plant). Textile production was still very much a cottage industry made up of families completing different parts of the process at home. The wool or flax would be bought and straightened by the carders. They would then sell it to the spinners who in turn would pass it on to the weavers. The weavers would then take the cloth to the public fulling mill to be finished. The fulling process shrunk and thickened the fabric and gave it a smooth texture. Originally, fulling was carried out manually by repeatedly walking over the cloth, but the process was mechanised early on with the use of water driven mills. Fulling was vital if the cloth was to be of any use and this meant that the fulling mill owners became important people. They soon began to take control of the earlier stages of production, carding, spinning and weaving. At first, these continued to be carried out at home, but before long the fulling mill owners started to build mills where these processes could be brought under one roof. Higher Mill in Lancashire is an excellent example of a water-powered fulling mill.

1. Helmshore Textile Museums

Higher Mill is part of Helmshore Textile Museums in Rossendale, Lancashire. It was built by the Turner family in 1789 and was initially used by the local weavers for fulling their cloth. The family began to take control of the wool production in the area and early in the 19th century they built another mill, adjacent to Higher Mill, to bring all the stages of production together.

The fulling machinery in Higher Mill was replaced a number of times and the present water wheel and fulling stocks date from the 1840's.The mill continued to be used up into up until 1967.

The later mill, now known as Whittakers Mill, switched between wool and cotton production a number of times until the 1920's when a condenser cotton spinning plant was installed. Cotton condensing uses waste cotton from conventional cotton processing, and turns it into yarn, and Whittakers Mill continued to work up until 1978.

Cotton was introduced to Britain around the 16th century and it was to take over from wool and linen as the major textile industry. Improvements in transport meant that international trading was beginning to expand. British merchants traded with India and they bought back cotton garments that became very popular in this county. The colourful fabrics became known as "chints", after the Hindu word "chint" meaning colour.

Their popularity caused such a decline in the woolen industry, that their importation was eventually banned. The British merchants tried to make cotton garments similar to those that had been imported, but found it difficult using the spinning machinery available. The Flax or Saxony Wheel had been introduced in the 15th century and dramatically increased the productivity of wool and flax spinners, but was unable to cope with the shorter cotton fibres. The cotton had to be spun on the Great Wheel, which was the predecessor of the flax wheel, and was really just a modified version of the early spinning wheel. The process was slow and meant that cotton production was confined as a cottage industry.

The need was for a cotton spinning machine that could speed up the process. It was the subsequent development of machines to solve this problem, that led to the implementation of the factory system that turned Britain into the foremost cotton manufacturer in the world.

The types of machines that changed the cotton industry are on display on the second floor of Higher Mill. It was James Hargreaves, from Stanhill in Lancashire, who made the first significant development in cotton spinning. One story goes that it was an accident that preempted his invention. Hargreaves had been experimenting with spinning two threads at once, but the horizontal spindle caused the two fibres to be pulled apart. His daughter knocked over his machine by accident and the spindle, now vertical, kept on revolving and the two threads twisted together. His daughter's name was Jenny and the machine he developed was named the "spinning jenny".

The jenny at Helmshore is an improved version of the original and dates from around 1820. The problem with the jenny was that it was difficult to operate, and although the larger ones where used in early factories it was the inventions of Richard Arkwright that led to the widespread introduction of the factory system. Arkwright had been experimenting with machine design when in 1767 he patented his spinning machine. It was based on the continuous spinning of the Saxony wheel and unlike the jenny did not require skilled labour to use it.

In 1770 he set up a horse drawn mill in Nottingham and the following year built a factory in Cromford to power the spinning machines by water. This led to the machines being known as water frames and the example at Helmshore dates from 1780. There are a number of alterations and improvements from the early machine that are evident on this model.

Helmshore Textile Museums Holcombe Road, Helmshore, Rossendale, Lancashire. BB4 4NP Tel: 01706 226459 Open: April to June and October, weekdays 2-5, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 1-5. July to August, weekdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, 1-5.

Directions: By Car: Follow the brown signs from the Haslingden bypass or from Rawtenstall town centre. By Train: Bury BR (0345 484950). You can then take a ride on a steam train from Bury to Rawtenstall on the East Lancashire Railway (0161 764 7790) By Bus: Rossendale Transport (01706 212337)

2. Queen Street Mill, Burnley

All the developments in spinning machinery necessitated improvements in weaving technology. Up until the end of the 18th century weaving was done by hand, with one of the greatest advances being the heddle. The heddle was a device that lifted every other warp thread up to allow the weaver to pass the weft under a series of warps, instead of one at a time.

Edmund Cartwright was born in Nottingham and originally became a rector, until he visited Arkwright's spinning mills and was inspired to design a weaving mill. He patented his power loom, which was driven by water power, in 1785 and built a factory in Doncaster to house them. Soon he introduced steam power to drive the looms and by 1799 he had built a factory in Manchester for 400 of the looms. However, angry hand weavers, who opposed the introduction of the power loom because it threatened their jobs, burned down the factory. Even the ones who could get work in the factories were only paid the rate of an unskilled worker. The opposition to the power loom meant that its uptake was slow and did not completely replace hand weaving until towards the middle of the 19th century.

Another great advancement in weaving was brought about by a Frenchman Jospeh Marie Jacquard. He introduced the concept of automatic weaving machines whereby the patterns were stored on metal punch cards. The use of punch cards was adopted for other applications, and the English inventor Charles Babbage used the method to control the first calculator, and later to input information into the first computers.

Queen Street Mill in Burnley has two fine pitch Jacquard machines on display, that are awaiting the funds to be re-harnessed to a Hattersley loom built for the Franco-British Exhibition in 1907. The Hattersley loom is currently in store and not on display.

The mill itself was built in 1894 and is the only place in Britain where you can see an original steam engine powering the same looms it did over 100 years ago.

The steam engine was installed by William Roberts and Son of Nelson. The Lancashire textile industry reached its peak just before World War I and the engine had to be upgraded to cope with the demand from extra looms. The engine acquired the name "Peace" at the end of the war, and at one time there were over 100,000 looms installed in the mills of Burnley, more than its population!

It is now possible to walk directly from the mill into the engine house, but when the mill was working commercially the only entrance was from the street. Other workers were not normally allowed in the engine house because they would disturb the engine man. He would maintain the engine and listen to it carefully while it was running. He would be able to tell if there were mechanical problems by any change in the noise the engine made.

The boiler house is still only accessible from the street and contains two Lancashire boilers which power the engine. For many years after the mill was built, the coal for the boilers would have been brought by horse and cart and the stable buildings can still be seen on site.

The engine powered over 300 looms in the huge weaving shed, a number of which are still worked and can be seen weaving some of the yarn from Helmshore. The noise in the weaving shed is very loud, and the museum has built a sound-deadened booth so that the shed can be viewed without any discomfort. Today only a small number of the looms are worked at any one time, but the majority of noise comes from the overhead shafts and bevel gears which run throughout the weaving shed. It's hard to imagine what it would have been like when all the looms were working, in fact, it was too loud for the weavers to hold conversations so they developed their own form of sign language and lip reading to communicate with each other.

The yarn used at Queen Street would have been brought from mills like Helmshore and it would have to undergo a number of processes before being ready to be used on the looms. All of these can be seen at the Mill including the assembling of the strands of yarn onto a beam and the amazingly repetitive job of drawing-in. This is when the warp threads were drawn through healds, with each thread being passed through an individual loop to keep it separate.

Queen Street Mill Queen Street, Harle Syke, Burnley BB10 2HX. Tel: 01282 412555 Open: May to September, Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30-5. April and October, Tuesday to Friday, 12.30-5. November, Tuesday to Thursday 1-4.

Directions: By Car - Exit junction 10 of the M65. The mill is two miles from Burnley town centre. By Train - Burnley BR (0345 484950) By Bus - Buses run regularly through Harle Syke from town centre.

3. Bancroft Mill Engine, Barnoldswick

The same firm that installed the engine at Queen Street, William Roberts and Son, also built a larger 600hp compound condensing engine at Bancroft Mill, which has been preserved in working order by the Bancroft Mill Trust.

The town of Barnoldswick, Lancashire, was a typical cotton mill town of the 19th century, at the edge of the more prevalent wool producing areas of Yorkshire. The site was ideal for the cotton industry as it combined high humidity, a plentiful supply of water, local coal mines and a transport system for the raw materials and the finished goods. This was initially provided via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and later by way of the Midland Railway.

In 1876, a local man, James Nutter, commenced weaving cotton goods in the town. He produced good quality plain and twill cloth and was so successful that in 1914 he began to build what was to be the thirteenth and last weaving mill in Barnoldswick. Unfortunately for him, the First World War intervened and it was not until 1920 that the mill was able to open and begin production. By this time James Nutter had died and it was left to his sons to carry on the business in the new premises. The offical opening and starting of the steam engine was performed by James's daugher Eliza, on 13th March 1920. The mill continued in operation until December 1978.

The engine house was built to accommodate a steam engine large enough to operate the 1250 looms, and a generator to provide electric light and power for the mill. The steam was provided by a Lancashire boiler, one of the largest ever built, and in 1930 a Cornish boiler was also installed to provide extra steam for heating and processing.

When the engine stopped for the final time in 1978, it had completed 58 ½ years of continuous running with very little in the way of repairs. The site of the mill was earmarked for a housing development, the weaving shed and warehouse buildings were soon demolished and all of the 1250 looms were broken up for scrap. It was only at the eleventh hour that a handful of local men decided to try and save the steam engine. They managed to get a preservation order on the remaining parts of the mill, which consisted of the engine house, boiler house, chimney, yard and storehouse.

By this time the scrap men had removed many of the engine fittings, but over time they were recovered. In 1982 Bancroft Mill was opened to the public and the engine has been steamed through the summer period up to the present time.

Bancroft Mill Engine Trust, Gillians Lane, Barnoldswick, near Colne, Lancashire. Open: In steam on selected Suns from Easter to end-Oct 1-4.30. (4 Apr, 25 Apr, 16 May, 13 Jun, 18 Jul, 8 Aug, 29 Aug, 12 Sept, 3 Oct, 31 Oct). Static viewing most Sats, 11-3. For further information contact Jim Gill on 01282 865626.

Directions - Car: 9 miles North of Burnley off A56. Follow signs in Barnoldswick. Train: Colne BR (0345 484950) Bus: Regular bus services from Colne to Barnoldswick.

4. Ellenroad Engine House

The preserved steam mill engine at Ellenroad is the third of the working mill engines left in Lancashire, and it is by far the largest.

Ellenroad Cotton Mill was built on the banks of the River Beal in 1892 and it was powered by the largest steam engine made by John and William McNaught of Rochdale. [They were not named after the chairman's children]

The mill consisted of five storeys and contained 999, 756 mule spindles with supporting draw frames, carding, and other machinery. The mill continued to run with fluctuating fortunes until January 19th 1916 when disaster struck.

At 2.30pm on this Wednesday, a spinner named George William Taylor was working on one of the mules when he noticed that the headstock of an adjacent mule had burst into flames. As Taylor gave the alarm, almost instantly the fire spread down the whole length of the second spinning room where the mule was located. The operatives quickly left the mill and the firm's fire brigade set to work on the fire. At 4.30pm a motor pump and crew arrived from Oldham and by 5.30 the fire seemed to be extinguished. Suddenly, at 7.30, the fire broke out again and the firemen were not able to cope as a strong wind got up and the whole mill was engulfed. Only the engine house, boiler house and the chimney stack were saved.

The decision was taken to rebuild the mill and install Ring Spinning frames, in all there were 12, 880 ring and double spindles. This technology required more power so the engine was upgraded to its present configuration becoming a twin tandem compound engine that produced 3,000hp.

The machinery continued to be powered by the engine until electrification in 1975. The mill only survived a few more years until 1985 when it was demolished. However, the engine and boiler house, including the steam raising plant and the 220 foot high chimney, were saved.

The engine has been preserved by volunteers of the Ellenroad Trust, and is steamed on the first Sunday of every month. The Trust has added a number of engines to its collection including a 1841 Whiteless beam engine.

Ellenroad Engine House Elizabethan Way, Milnrow, Rochdale, Lancashire. OL16 4LG. Tel: 01706 881952 Open: Every Sunday (except January), 12.00 - 4.00. In steam on the first Sunday of every month.

Directions: By Car: Beside junction 21 of M62 at Milnrow. By train: Milnrow train station is a few minutes walk (0345 484950). By Bus: Regular bus services from Rochdale to Milnrow.

5. Quarry Bank Mill

Before the development of the efficient steam engine, textile mills tended to be built in rural localities near sources of fast flowing water. This provided power to turn the waterwheel and drive the mill machinery.

Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire is the best preserved Georgian Cotton Mill in the country. It was founded in 1784 by Samuel Greg, at Styal just north of Wilmslow near the fast flowing waters of the River Bollin.

The natural 15-foot drop in the river was harnessed by constructing a headrace to force the water through a narrow channel. The water turned the wheel and then flowed out through another channel, the tailrace, back into the river.

The original waterwheel was situated inside the building with another one being added in 1801. Both were replaced in 1818 by a massive 32ft diameter iron suspension wheel, which continued to operate until 1904. The Mill Trust have installed a comparable wheel of 24 foot which is capable of producing over 100hp.

In 1810 Samuel Greg installed a steam engine to supplement the water power, particularly in times of water shortages. In 1836 a larger Boulton and Watt engine was installed and although it no longer exists, the Trust have installed a similar beam engine which has been restored to working order.

At Quarry Bank you can see all the processes of cotton manufacture demonstrated from carding and spinning to weaving and printing. The weaving shed is still powered by the waterwheel and the transmission system can be seen bringing power up from the wheel below.

In the beginning Quarry Bank Mill just spun the cotton, and the weaving was "put-out" to hand weavers from the local area. But by the 1830's Greg had built a weaving shed alongside the spinning mill to accommodate power looms.

Exhibits and reconstructions also show the working and living environment of the mill operatives, many of whom were children. Because of a shortage of labour many mill owners, like Greg, employed children, often orphans from workhouses. The children were fed, clothed and housed but received no payment. The idea behind employing children was not simply to get them to perform the menial tasks, but also to train them for a worthwhile trade. Retaining a reliable workforce was not easy and it made good sense to employ those who had already been disciplined to factory life. Exhibits in the Apprentice House where they lived, tell the story of their harsh and dangerous working environment.

Production continued at Quarry bank throughout the 19th century. The mill and estates were donated to the National Trust in 1939. In 1978 the site was re-opened by Quarry Bank Mill Trust and fittingly in 1984, 200 years after its foundation, it won the "Museum of the Year" award.

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Country Park. Styal, Cheshire. SK9 4LA. Tel: 01625 527468. Open: Summer, 11-6. Winter 11-5. Closed on Mondays in Winter.

Directions: By Car: 20 minutes from Manchester City Centre, signposted on all major routes. By Train: Nearest station is Styal BR but services are infrequent. Manchester Airport BR and Wilmslow BR are both 2 miles from Quarry Bank. (0345 484950). By Bus: There are no bus services at present but this may change so ring Quarry Bank for details.

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