Bollington mills

Cotton town


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Short history of Bollington mills

Introduction

The industrialisation of the happy valley that became Bollington occurred between about 1760 and 1950. Before that time there were two, both corn mills producing flour. After 1950 the industry rapidly ran down with closures, demolition in the case of Waterhouse mill, and conversion to other uses, during the following fifty years or so. Today (2016) Bollington has several fine mill buildings with uses varying from domestic accommodation to hi-tech offices, as well as manufacturing - paper coating at both Higher mills and Lowerhouse mill being the main industry.

In the beginning - Two corn mills

Amongst the oldest buildings in the valley these corn mills were not part of the industrial revolution at all but an intrinsic part of the rural scene as in any part of the country. Neither exist today. Bollington corn mill was located on the river Dean just below Garden Street, just about where the small car park is in Riverbank Close. There is nothing at all left to show its exact position. This mill was water powered, receiving its head water via a long leat which came all the way from a point unknown at Bridgend (behind Broadhead's garage or the Bridgend Centre in Palmerston Street).

The second corn mill was certainly operating in the mid 16thC and was later a paper making mill before being redeveloped into Rainow cotton mill, which has itself been lost in 1856 and again in 1908 and replaced by mid-20thC industrial buildings presently housing a joinery works and Pumping & Technical Services, pump engineers. The waterfall that held up a mill pool is readily visible behind the workshops but it is doubtful whether this originates from the corn mill. It is more likely to have been built with the first Rainow mill; maybe built over an older weir.

Early cotton mills

The first cotton mill in Bollington was Oak Bank mill, built in 1784 by George Antrobus between Queen Street and the bottom of Shrigley Road, where Hamson Drive is today. In those days it is thought that Queen Street continued through the mill site to join Ingersley Road and the first part of Shrigley Road was then only recently built, the way to Pott Shrigley being via Ingersley Road, Smithy Brow and Spuley Lane. At this time there was probably a ford or a minimal bridge over the river at the bottom of Shrigley Road because a mill manager's house was built 100m up Shrigley Road in 1794 and named Newbridge House. Over the following two centuries Oak Bank mill was burnt down (1882), rebuilt, had its use changed several times, and finished up in dereliction, being demolished in the late 1990s, after which the present housing estate was built. The Harrop brook runs under the site in a big stone culvert. Oak Bank mill had its water supply stored in the mill pond beside Shrigley Road, still existing in moderate condition today.

In the late 1780s Peter Lomas built the first Waterhouse mill. He had previously been operating a tannery approximately where Brook House is today in Wellington Road (next to the Medical Centre). Lomas married a daughter of the Oliver family and the business became Olivers. The mill was burnt down around 1800 and rebuilt to become the premier fine cotton mill in the world.

Mills everywhere

Bollington only exists as a town today because the valley was a good place to build, power and operate cotton mills. Alas, the remaining mills no longer have anything to do with cotton but we are certainly left in many cases with fine heritage buildings that have fortunately found other uses. We also include in this list some Rainow mills that were important to the area. In alphabetical order ...

  • Rainow mill, Ingersley Vale, probable site of an early corn mill, then a paper mill, then cotton and silk, burnt down in 1856 and again in 1908, today the site houses a joinery workshop and engineering works;
  • Sowcar mill, (1802) cotton mill built by George Antrobus in Sowcar meadow, gone by 1832, hardly a trace remains, no picture;
  • Turner Heath mill, small works owned by Philip Antrobus (1829), unknown purpose, part of a wall remains;
  • Waterhouse mill, (1791) burnt down 1800, re-built, first big cotton mill, later Kay Metzeler foam manufactory, today a housing estate;
  • Waulk mill, Ingersley Vale, wool preparation; location uncertain, no trace identified;
  • Whitaker's, see Owlhurst mill above.

Not all of these were built as cotton or silk mills of course. At least three were corn mills for some or all of their time, at least one was a paper mill and the names of others indicate their purpose. Most mills have changed their use, with Ingersley Mill, for instance, having more than a dozen uses over the years.

And, of course, we could not have mills without the people who had the foresight, inventiveness and courage to invest and build these fine structures in the hope that they could establish a sound business that would make them some money. In some cases they made a good deal, and some spent a lot of it on improving the town. In other cases they ended in the bankruptcy courts or even in jail for their debts. See the people pages for more on this.

The descriptions of the mills are taken from the extensive researches carried out over many years by the Bollington Civic Society History Group, Wilmslow Historical Society Industrial Archaeology Group, and by further later work by George Longden for the Kerridge Ridge & Ingersley Vale project. The historic pictures come from the Civic Society collection which can be seen at the  Discovery Centre  and online.

The History Group are no longer active but if you would like to be involved in local history research then please contact the webmaster.

A full description of a typical cotton mill, the factory system and their development through the industrial revolution can be found on Wikipedia, as can a good description of the textile industry. A description of the cotton carding and spinning process can also be found on Wikipedia. A list of the typical jobs and skills to be found in a Bollington cotton mill is also available.


Acknowledgements

My thanks go to those who researched and discovered the history that is presented in these pages. Please read the full acknowledgement of their remarkable achievement.

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