The textile industry has been a significant part of England since medieval times. However, the advent of the industrial revolution brought about a new age of textile manufacturing.
The results of this manufacturing explosion left its mark on many parts of the UK and can be attributed to the rise of many towns and cities, particularly in the North.
Here, Thomas Williams (Engagement Assistant: Mills Regeneration) at Historic England, takes us through examples of places open to the public where you can discover more about the cultural impact of textile manufacturing.
1. Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, Shropshire
Built in 1797, the Main Mill at Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings is the world’s first iron-framed building. It is the forerunner of the modern-day skyscrapers found throughout the world today and, therefore, one of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution.
The site operated as a state-of-the-art, steam-powered flax mill spinning linen thread from flax for nearly a century. After the decline of the popularity of linen, it was converted to a maltings in 1897. It was later used by the military during both the First and Second World Wars as a barracks.
The site finally closed in 1987 and fell into a derelict state. In 2005 it was bought by Historic England, who partnered with Shropshire Council and the Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings to save these extraordinary buildings and bring them back to life.
The Main Mill and Kiln at the Flaxmill Maltings are currently being responsibly restored, they will open in spring 2022, with a new visitor experience and café opening on the ground floor and the top four floors available for commercial tenants.
2. Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire
With initial construction of the first mill building starting in 1783, using the River Bollin as a power source, Quarry Bank has become not only one of Britain’s best industrial heritage sites, but also one of the most complete and unaltered examples of a factory colony in the world.
Always at the forefront of innovation, Quarry Bank continued to grow with cottages being built in Styal Village for workers in the 1820s, as well as an Apprentice House for the child labourers.
Gifted to the National Trust in 1939, it remained in active use until 1963 which has meant much has been preserved since its closure. Further restoration has been performed over the last decade which allows visitors to explore the entire industrial heritage site, including the mills, worker cottages and surrounding gardens.
3. Coldharbour Mill, Devon
Located in Uffculme, Devon, Coldharbour is perhaps one of the oldest woollen textile mills in the world and has been in continuous production since 1797. Owned by the world-renowned textile producers Fox Brothers, they took fleece from all over the world to turn into yarn, cloth and textiles.
Still a working mill using much of the original machinery, not only can you go and relive the sights and sounds of the Industrial Revolution, but also see craftspeople making traditional textiles. They even offer workshops where you can learn those weaving methods that have been used for centuries from the experts.
4. Museum of Making at Derby Silk Mill, Derbyshire
The museum originally opened in 1974 and was built on the site of Lombe Mill. It has recently undergone massive redevelopment into the Museum of Making. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Museum of Making aims to share 300 years of history which also includes the impact Derby had on the development of the railways and the relationship they had with Rolls Royce engines.
Lombe Mill was not only the first successful silk throwing mill in England but is also believed to be the first fully mechanised factory in the world. Built by John Lombe after returning from Italy with the necessary knowledge and a group of Italian workers, he industrialised the production of silk and provided a serious threat to Italian silk trade, which had previously been the biggest producer in Western Europe. The production of silk eventually spread throughout the surrounding areas, particularly Stockport and Macclesfield.
5. The Piece Hall, Halifax
Built in 1779, this Grade I listed building attempted to combine commerce and culture with the design ideas taken from the neo-classical order of architecture derived originally from the romans. The Piece Hall was a statement of the great wealth, pride and ambition of the cloth manufacturers, showing the importance of trade not only to Halifax and the West Riding, but to the entire nation’s 800-year history of the textile trade from the 12th to 19th centuries.
One of only a couple surviving examples of the great 18th-century northern cloth halls, it has incredible significance to the heritage of the English cloth trade. Here, trade would be conducted focused around ‘pieces’ of textiles, a 30-yard length of woollen fabric produced on a handloom.
These are just a few of the many textile mill sites open to the public. Do you have a favourite? Have you visited one? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter using #LoveMills.