The textile mills of West Yorkshire were the original Northern Powerhouses at the centre of the Industrial Revolution. These impressive structures still shape the rural and urban landscapes of the region but they are taking on new roles as desirable homes, offices, funky bars and chic restaurants and even an NHS Centre for Outpatients (at Acre Mills, Huddersfield).
Many of these amazing places have been successfully and creatively adapted but more remain underused and awaiting a new purpose. To mark the publication of Historic England’s report Engines of Prosperity: New Uses for Old Mills we have chosen some of our favourite conversions to show just what new dreams can be stitched from the historic fabric of the mill. We’d love to hear about your favourites, whether you live or work in a mill or just admire them from afar.
Written by Deborah Wall, Historic Places Principal Adviser, Historic England, Yorkshire.
1. Sunny Bank Mills, Leeds
The famous red suit that Lenny Henry wore for Comic Relief in 2005 came from Sunny Bank Mills in Leeds, which was still producing high-quality wool cloth until 2008. In 2010 the 6th generation of mill owners, the Gaunt family, set about adapting the mill to re-establish its role as a major employer in the area. Today the mills are home to sixty companies ranging from creative businesses, architects, a gallery and café and a children’s play gym as well as their own archive museum open to the public.
2. Lister Mills, Bradford
Once the largest silk factory in the world, Grade II* listed Lister Mills stands proud on the skyline. The striking and unique campanile chimney stack that rises 76 metres high is a reminder of the city’s textile heritage. It now hosts silver-coloured pods on the roof of the Silk Mill as part of its conversion to mixed use residential, office and leisure use. The mill played a vital role in the Second World War, producing 2,140 km of real parachute silk, 457 km of flame-proof wool, 80 km of khaki battledress and 7,130 km of parachute cord.
3. Pecket Well Mill, near Hebden Bridge.
During alteration works in 2005 on the 19th century Grade II listed Pecket Well Mill, developers found a Victorian stash containing a bottle of Halifax Pale Ale and two racy novels. The mill owner offered to create an equivalent time capsule with a Heat magazine and Bacardi Breezer! The three-storey mill building with rusticated quoins, ashlar chimney and the weaving shed was successfully converted into high-quality 2,3 and 4 bed houses and apartments.
4. Dalton Mills, Keighley
Dalton Mills boasts unusually ornate ironwork that is more than simply functional in design. The mill complex has had a starring role as the location for multiple series of Peaky Blinders, the BBC’s epic gangster tale set in 1919 that has been captivating the nation. In real life, owner Paul Harris has been hard at work bringing the mill complex into the 21st century with part of the site now a thriving business park and plans to regenerate the rest of the site.
5. Salts Mill, Saltaire
Salts Mill was built by Titus Salt who also created the surrounding village of Saltaire to house the mill workers. It ceased production of cloth in 1986 and was among the earliest major industrial reuse projects in the country providing space for culture and businesses. Saltaire is now a World Heritage Site and home to one of the largest collections of David Hockney’s art.
6. Woodhouse Mill, Todmorden
The fortunes of Grade II* Woodhouse Mill, Todmorden were turned around when demolition man, Charles Moran, hung up his hard hat and sold his demolition business. Instead of knocking things down, he decided to restore the mill. Moran, a local resident, had become fed up of looking at the derelict landmark that had suffered a devasting fire in the 1990s and he took its future into his own hands. Today the mill hosts twenty stunning apartments.
7. Red Brick Mill, Batley
Originally a producer of ‘shoddy’ (recycled scraps of rag to produce cloth), Red Brick Mill is now at the opposite end of the spectrum of style and design as it is home to high-end interiors stores like Heals, Made.Com and BoConcept. This conversion creatively incorporates escalators to transport shoppers from one floor of luxury goods to another.
8. Titanic Mill, Huddersfield
Titanic Mill was originally called Lowestwood Mill, but become nicknamed Titanic because it was built the same year as the fateful ship. For the opening of the mill, members of a local brass band were hoisted in a large bucket to play on a platform specially built on the top of the 100feet high mill chimney. The noise and grease of the working woollen mill has been replaced by luxury apartments and the UK’s first Eco-Spa.
Make Your Mark on History
England’s most significant historic buildings and places are listed so they can be understood and protected. The List has almost 400,000 entries on it, from palaces and pigsties to cathedrals, windmills and rollercoasters.
For the first time, we are opening up The List and asking people to share images, insights and secrets of these special places to capture them for future generations. Can you help us #List England?