** WORKING COTTON MILL ** Helmshore Cotton Mill & Wool Mill | Lancashire


Welcome to Whittaker Mill, this
building was originally
constructed in 1820 as a wool, spinning and carding
mill. And that was built to feed
Middle Mill which is further down the road,
with spun yarn. Which was also owned by the same
owner, William Turner, who built
this Mill. And incidentally, owned the Mill
at the back. Which had been built in 1789. This operated as a wool mill, From 1820, all the way through
to 1857. Until one morning in January,
quite mysteriously burnt down. Not entirely sure why. Some suspect foul play, some
suspect it was merely an
accident. Whatever happened, the fire
started at that end of the mill and very quickly consumed this
half. So if you actually look from the
car park area, you can actually see that one
side of the Mill is actually a
lot lower than the other. So where all the floors and
windows are slightly disjointed. This side is the only original
part of the 1820’s structure
that remains. All this was reconstructed in
the 1860’s. From the 1860’s to the 1920’s,
it was spinning fine cotton
yarns. In the 1920’s it was
reconfigured
as a cotton condenser spinning
mill. Which essentially means it was
recycling waste cotton. To put it into context,
Lancashire produced an awful lot
of cotton. 75% of the world’s woven cotton. Just prior to the First World
War. That’s not including any other
cotton mills in any other
counties, that’s just Lancashire. So there was an awful lot and this is what I mean by waste
cotton. I’ll pass this around so you can
all have a closer look. Some of the hard waste, which is
going to come around now, this is spun yarn. That’s come either from a
spinning wheel or a weaving
shed. It’s quite hard to breakdown. And the idea is we’re going to render it down
and take it back to that really soft state. And that will take place in this
room here. Now, this long corridor that
will be known as the devil hole, The devil hole was named as such after the machines which
occupied it. The six cylinder devil on the
left hand side, down there There used to be three of those
machines in this room, And they would be operating
constantly. And they operate very, very hot. They run big cylinders that if
you’ve not been down to have a
look. Big cylinders covered in spikes
that rotate
very, very quickly, and chew up
this hard waste. Now, it said of the people who
worked in this room, If they got through their
working lives,with all ten fingers and thumbs intact,Then
they haven’tworked hard enough. It’s quite a difficult job
because those
machines take 8 minutes to shut
down. Take the power off, you switch
it off,
it takes 8 minutes to come to a
complete standstill. So, when problems started to
occur,
people used to start doing
shortcuts and sometimes that could lead to
losing digits And sometimes worse. It was quite a hazardous
occupation down here and that was on the left hand
side. On the right hand side here, we
have the softer waste processing. You’d have soft waste that would
come out of the carding mills, This is the more fluffy, nicer
stuff. There’d be two types of soft
waste part processed waste from
carding mills and there’d be
. comber waste, which is
essentially raw cotton Comber waste is the most
expensive. The soft waste is not
as expensive. The machinery on the right hand
side is still in operation. We still process soft cotton
waste. Little bit of waste nowadays but the majority of cotton we
process is from America. It’s all blended together, the
hard waste and the soft waste,
in the scutcher here. This machine was one of the only
two new machines installed in
here in the 1920’s when it was setup as a recycling
mill. This is still in operation and
is the noisiest machine in the
mill. It rattles and it shakes and
what it actually
does, it produces a very fine
blended layer which is rolled up to what we
call, a lap. You can see that in that
photograph there … And there’s one on that wall
there, of it being carried into
the lift. It should be very consistent,
without any
big lumps of either hard waste
or soft waste., They should all be uniform. In the 1920’s, that would be on
a hoist, just behind you there and there was be a sort of crane
that would come down, and they would winch that up to the
next floor,and the floor above
that; where it would be carded. Down here, it would be very hot,
very dusty,
and very unpleasant working
conditions. But it could be some of the
starting positions,
if you started work at a young
age. Up until 100 years ago, or 99
years ago, children could work
in the mills, half time, fromthe
age of 7. From here, I would like to take
you up to the spinning and
carding room. Welcome to the spinning and
carding floor. This is one the last original
rooms of this type left in
existence. This is where people used to
come to work on these machines, day after day, for many many
years. We still occasionally get people
(who worked here)
come back, telling us this
hasn’t changed that much. Good for us to hear. Also, quite amazing that people
who lived
and worked here, can pass on
these incredible stories. Now the person who worked on
these banks of machines in the
1920’s was a 14 year old school leaver. Now, in various mills it
differed, boy or girl, in this
mill we were told it was a girl. You can see, there’s actually
not a lot space between these
machines and we have 9 of these, which
are working, plus a
10th machine which you would
also be responsible for. You would be responsible for
feeding the cotton into that,
making sure everything’s coming
through and being processed. These big machines are
essentially big mechanical hair
brushes. These are elements of what we
call “Card Clothing” and these are millions and
millions of little tiny metal
pins, that straighten out the
jumbles that come in the back. Over here, we have one with its
hood up, so you can see all the
rollers. We have a large central
cylinder, surrounded
by 7 pairs of rollers and
clearers; The cotton is passed through
very fine gaps from one roller
to another Very few, I think only one of
those rollers touches the
central cylinder and that is the front one. If you’ve got the one with the
courser pins on it, thats the
one, and that picks up the
cotton from the central cylinder and passes it on to the doffing
cylinder Doffing cylinder named as such
because doffing means to take
off. The cotton is combed off here by
this blade and passed along, and
comes out as this. (Called a) Sliver Also called, rope if you’re from
Rochdale. The can would fill up with
sliver over 25 minutes, and the
person in this position would
have to carry the can. If you’ve heard the phrase, “To
let your hair down”, that
came from girls working in the
mills, 55 hours weeks, come Saturday after the last
shift, Saturday afternoon, you
wash your hair, wash all the
cotton dust out of it, then go
out and have a good time. In my time here, we’ve only ever
run 4 of these at once, and that
was quite noisy in itself. But imagine 8 or 9 of these
going at any one time, combined
with everything else, would be
quite a racket. From the cutout on this machine
being pressed, it will take
roughly 20 seconds to come to a
complete standstill. In the early days, prior to the
1920’s, or 1950’s in the case of
this mill. These were actually powered like
we have the mules, by the belts
and pulleys on the ceiling. And it was powered actually by a
steam engine which was located
in the boilerhouse downstairs. The vertical power drive came up
from below through that wall and
powered all these machines. When the steam engine was taken
out and replaced by an electric
motor, they could fit these
1950’s extraction pipes to take
the dust out of the air. Prior to the 1950’s, the amount
of dust coming out these machine
meant you couldn’t see from one
end of the room to the other. That leads to a number of
problems, obviously, visually,
it’s hard to see what’s going
on. But also, your respiratory tract
will get blocked up over time,
causing all sorts of problems,
. later in life things like
emphysema. But, it actually
causes a peculiar condition to
workers in the cotton mills
called “Byssinosis”. That was essentially blocking of
the lungs from the cotton dust
building up. They did say, because it became
apparent early on in the
industry There was an idea that: ”Don’t
worry, it won’t kill, it’ll just
shorten your life a bit”. It was pretty dark humour but
people carried on. There was a very thin line
between working and ending up in
the workhouse. By the 1960’s, it was if you
were part of a union, if someone
contracted Byssinosis, the mill
owner wouldpay compensation. From here, the cans would be
carried to this machine. What this actually does is take
the cotton sliver, from 44 cans
either side, so it’s got 88 red cans on this
machine , feeding sliver on to
it. It’s actually producing a big
roll of compressed lap of
sliver, and that will take 5
minutes and weigh 56 pounds
when it’s done. This still works but we don’t
demonstrate it because it
produces quite a lap quite
quickly. But I will explain, that the
person up
there is also responsible for
keeping this machine running. Might be a little trickier than
you think because when this can
runs out, that saddle there, that the sliver is crossing. Is
only held down by the momentum
of the sliver so when that runs out, that
saddle will pop up and cut out,
and that person down there has
to listen for this machine
stopping. Which is quite difficult as
there’s a lot of other noise. You had to have a sort of system
in place to work. But the idea is, it’s very
simple to reconnect a new can,
split one end of the sliver, place the other end there, spit
on your hands (which I’m not
going to do), then roll it
together That should be strong enough to
go through, across the saddle,
into the rollers and into the
compression stage. From here, fortunately for the
person in this position. That’s
the end of their job. Down here, someone else Would lift off the lap and place it behind these
machines. Ready to be fed into this thing,
moving on the finishing carding
engines. Although similar to the breaker
carding engines, at this stage,
at the front here, theres
something else going on what it is, the cotton is coming
up and being broken into small
individual webs, which are then rolled into
what we call “Roving”. So there’s no twist in it, but
it’s just
rolled very gently. It’s then
wound on to this bobbin. We’ve got 34 ends coming out of
this end, and we have
extra pieces on the roller here,they’ll be
sent back to the devil hole and
reprocessed. Over this side, it could be two
girls in their 20’s. We say about 19 or 20 years old
looking after all these
machines. That bobbin will fill up after
an hour and 20 minutes,
with the machine still running. They would replace it with the
next one that is underneath.
With the strands still coming
down. A little bit of a gory story
about this machine, if you want
to know what this red bar is for, it’s
to stop you getting your fingers caught in it. Occasionally, you do find that
these block up and you lose strands of roving.
It still happens now. But we have a modern device to
do it. But in the victorian
times, people used to just put
their fingers down there. Unfortunately, if you got your
hand caught between the leather aprons,it will take the skin or
your hand and arm. To avoid that, these red bars
were put on, and they came up
with this centrifugal gun to
help you pick up cotton. From here, that bobbin would be
taken across to the spinning
mules where the twist would be
put into it. In the 1920’s, originally it had
fitted a monorail system, now we
still have the two strands over that but
originally there was one here,
but that was taken out. You’ll notice the bobbins of
roving have been placed on top
of the mule here. They have a roller, and the
strands over roving come down
through these rods, on to these. These may have different name
depending on the town. Different names in different
towns of the cotton industry, in
this mill it’s called a “cop” when it was full or a “purn”
when it was empty. It actually sits on a spindle,
visually it just
looks like metal spike, but it’s
called a spindle. And that would rotate very
quickly, about
600 revolutions per minute, as
the carriage moves out. You’ll notice as the carriage
does move out, all these will be
spinning very quickly, and these will be quivering, and
that’s the cotton being twisted. So the roving’s been rollered
and twisted onto that. This would have been occupied by
men, from about the middle of
Victorian period. Essentially
when it became unionised. Prior to unionisation, this
would have been very mixed gender roles and they would have
men and women working on the
older hand mules. Photographs from the turn of the
1900’s. Then during the First World War,
because of the enthusiasm to
join up they lost a lot of men, so women
assumed their roles. It was a very well paid job
actually, working on a spinning
mule, the photograph going round
of three men, a man in the centre, a teenager
on his left and primary school
child on his right. The spinner was the paid
operator, he’s the only person
paid by the mill owner to
operate this machine. He’s paid on piece work. So he’s
paid by the amount he
is producing. The teenager is learning a
trade to become a spinner
and was actually paid by the
spinner himself. Spinners were generally on such
a good wage that many
mill owners didn’t pay the
spinners assistants. The primary school child
(piecer), who’s job it was to
repair all these pieces of yarn as they
broke, he wasn’t paid at all. He was a half timer, he would
spend half his day in school,
and the other half in the mill. From 7 years old, up until about
14 when they left school. Their wages were essentially
learning a trade,
up to a comparatively well paid
job or career. It was quite hard work, you
might have thought that was
hard, carrying the cans up
there. On the bigger versions of these
machines you would walk up to 20
miles a day. Because you’re following this
carriage in and out, and this is
moving in and out as well, you may have to look
after both sides. So you’re doing a lot of
walking. Every two hours, because you’re
working on piece work,
these all have to be taken off
very very quickly. They will fill up, and in the
photo you can see one man has an
armful of full cops. What they’re actually doing
their is doffing the mule,
essentially, taking off all
these full cops of yarn. So they doff it very very
quickly, under 14 minutes, from
stopping the machine to starting
it. You have 714 cops to change. On the bigger machines, you’re
looking up to just off 2000. We do have one of these upstairs
that is dismantled, the reason
it’s not assembled it we can
only just fit less than half of
it in this room. You need a mill twice the size
to actually fit the entire
machine in. There were mills around places
like Bolton and Oldham, 10 times the size and 7 stories.
Just filled with mules. One of my colleagues has worked
out that, in the 1920’s working
12 hour days. This mill was producing 100,000
miles of yarn a week. 8 mules, 4 upstairs, 4 down
here. That’s enough to go round the
world, 4 times. You might have noticed in the
photographs,
that they’re not wearing
anything on their feet. That’s not because they couldn’t
afford any footwear. It’s because at the time,
popular Lancashire footwear,
which everyone would have worn,
were Clogs. Wooden soles, leather uppers,
and metal plates on the base. Now if you notice, we’ve got a
wooden floor, metal rails
and it would have been a lot
messier than it is now. There would have been a lot of
what we call, fly, settling on
everything, potentially dust from the cotton
would settle on everything. If you notice, that catching a
metal plate on a rail would
inadvertently cause a spark. You really don’t want that to
happen, cause that would cause
a very small smouldering fire.
Which might spread. If you didn’t put it out, These things did actually
happen, if you notice, we’ve got
a wooden floor, that’s Canadian Maple. Which is
very absorbent, but it doesn’t
splinter easily. Notice the pool of oil here,
when it get hot, the oil
actually comes up from beneath
in the grain and pools. That’s an incendiary combination
you would really want to avoid. They tended to go barefoot,
until they started introducing
rubber soles in the 1960’s. But with the bare feet, it
wasn’t a bad thing because you could pickup bits of cotton with
your toes. Apparently, it was really good
for your feet,
the oil meant you could have
very very soft feet. Unfortunately, the mineral oil
in the machines, led to many
conditions as it is
carcinogenic. This was known at a local level
by many physicians for many
year, but was not widely
investigated until the 1920’s. This machine was introduced in
the 1780’s It was actually two surgeons in
Manchester that actually
investigated it, and eliminated
the types of oil that were
carcinogenic. and then worked out which types
of oil were safe,
essentially it was vegetable and
animal oils. They forced legislation through
Parliament, and it was a drip
drip of legislation, and it was
only 1961 when they put through
the last piece of legislation. Well into the decline of the
cotton industry in Britain. Places like this, this mill was
still operating like this in
1978. There was a couple of
other local mills also
operating. It was only here, that the lack
of waste cotton
that led to it shutting down. This would go to a weaving shed,
where it’s woven into this,
nowadays it’s tea towels and
oven gloves. At out sister museum in Burnley,
Queen Street Mill.
Which is the last steam powered
weaving shed. And that’s woven using single
ply, isn’t it? Yes, this is on a Lancashire
loom. This building originally opened
in 1789, and it
worked all the way through to
1967, as a woollen fulling mill. If you’re not familiar with
fulling, essentially, it’s a
controlled shrinkage of the
cloth. Cloth would come into the mill
looking like this. Like sacking material. But the process in this room
would leave it, like that.
Essentially its just been
shrunk. Its been hammered by these
stocks here, and the friction
has shrunken it down. It’s a really simple process,
which has
been around in this country for
an awful long time. The mills of this type in this
country date from about 1200. The water wheel that powered
these machines here, that was fitted in 1850 and
replaces two smaller wheels that
were either side of this room. It was the last commercially
operating water wheel when it
stopped in 1955. Because of some damage to the
wheel, the family that actually
owned the mill at that point replaced it with an electric
motor which wasn’t as powerful
as the wheel itself. The wheel itself weighs 20 tons
and its got
compartments along the side
known as buckets. And there’s 50 of those and they
hold 70 gallons each. As they fill up at the back,
weight of those that moves the
wheel round. It isn’t moving today for some
reason, I think the technician
are maintaining it. It was restored 2 years ago, at
a cost of about
£90,000 to put new wooden spokes
in the centre. We are looking at trying to use
it again, and reconnect all the
machinery. At the moment, this one runs but
unfortunately I can’t
demonstrate it. The Victorians decided to go one
better from these machines and
introduced the milling machine. Which processes the cloth a lot
quicker, and a slightly
different process. Instead of soaking the cloth
beforehand to remove the
lanolin, they would actually
remove it in the process in
here. Sending the cloth through these
rollers at high speed, come through these holes and
rollers,and add chemicals
through the top. Such as soda ash solution and
fuller’s earth and a lot of soap
and a lot more water. Quantity over quality I think
it’s fair to say in this
process. It has it’s supporters though,
apparently people who used it
said they had better control
over the amount of fulling from
cloth then you did with the
Fulling machine. These were only adopted here
during the first world war, but
that one is dated 1917. They must have done that one to
fulfil military orders. The superior cloth comes from
the pulling stocks, that
consistently produces very very
good quality cloth. They actually produced some
cloth by the original methods in
about 1989 for the anniversary
of the mill opening. When the water wheel turns,
there’s actually a
line shaft that runs behind all
these machines. There’s actually a wheel on it
with cams and as these turn,
they lift up the hammers, but
it’s very very noisy. From here, the cloth would be
taken out of both these
processes and taken to the next
room and washed to get rid of
all the pollutants. It’s not too bad in here today,
normally it’s a lot colder with
the flow of water. Apparently the lowest recorded
temperature in this area
was -14 Celsius (6.8 Fahrenheit)
in the 1960’s. This is essentially a big
washing machine, it was a dolly
scourer, similar to the milling machine.
In the sense you put the cloth
through roller with soapy
solution in the base and it would go through, you’d
wash it twice. First batch in
the 19th century, they would literally, pull the
plug and it would go out into
the river, then wash it again. In the 20th Century, they can
become slightly more aware and
built a pump, and all the
poisonous stuff and pollutants. Put in there and then pumped by
hand over to the car park where
there were charcoal beds and that would be absorbed and
purified. From here, the cloth would be
taken out and fed through the
mangle, and have all the
moisture squeezed out. then they’d take it up to the
tenter fields, up on the
hillside. If you’ve heard of the phrase,
“to be on tenterhooks”, this is
where it comes from. Big frames, they’d stretch out a
long way, apparently in this
area they had some of the
biggest ones in the country. These are tenterhooks,
essentially through the various washing processes, the cloth
became quite wavy and distorted The tentering process is just to
help it regain its uniform
shape. Throughout this time, well the
late 1700’s and 1800’s,
they did raise the cloth by hand
and machine. In this area, we think they used
both at a time, they used
something called “Teasels”. They grow as a weed now,
essentially you’d just comb or
raise the cloth to dry the
cloth. These aren’t actually native to
this country. These come from
Turkey or America, a native
British Teasel is this. So what they’d do is wore out
the fibres, they’d do one side
for 3 hours and then do the
other side for about half the
time. After that process, it would be
cropped. In the early days it
would be done by hand by a man
known as the cropper. He would trim it to a set length
with a pair of sheers and if he was any good at his job he would
have a red band on his sleeve
and be known as a “cut above the
rest”. He would be one of the most well
paid people in the mill. That was later done by machine,
as was the raising. Some places,
they did carry it on by hand. As the industrial revolution
came to this area, in the 1820’s we had this machine appear,
doing the same job as the people
out in tenter fields. But instead of having a few
teasels, you’ve got a cylinder
with 4000. This machine doesn’t need
paying, it doesn’t need rest, it can run 24 hours a day and you
only need one person to operate
two of them. This is quite an old variation,
the later versions were slightly
different. But, you have turn the teasels
around every two weeks so you
get the full use of both sides. And then replace them after 8
weeks. The cloth I should say is not a
great example, it is actually
dyed, but it wouldn’t have been
dyed at this point. They wouldn’t do anything dying
on site, but what they would do
is actually bleach it. At the
other side of the yard there up against the viaduct, there
was stoking house, a short
building with glass tenterhooks, and they would hang the cloth
up,and have sulphur pits
underneath. There was a Cornish boiler next
door, which they would use for
heating the bottom of Whittaker
Mill. They would have a hot piece of
metal in the furnace of that boiler and use that to light the
sulphur to create sulphur
dioxide and that would bleach
the cloth white. It was said locally that if you
weren’t feeling good, go and
breathe in at the stoking houses when they’re doing this because
it’ll clear your passages and
make you feel better. It would leave you very
susceptible to other things
because it would probably wipe out your immune system, as
sulphur isn’t very good for you. From there, the cloth would
then, in the early days, sold by
weight, it would be stored in a
very damp place, to make it wetter to make it heavier. That was such a widespread
practice by the mill owners that the government actually
introduced selling cloth by
length not weight. I should also say that a lot of
mill owners in this area, well,
all over the country, once they made the money they
knew how to keep it. William Turner who built this
mill, well, family built it in
1789 and it he ran it up until
1852. He apparently used to pay some
of workers in the pub on a
Friday. A pub he’d built and
named after himself, and he
owned. Obviously, once those wages were
paid, they came trickling back
in the terms of drinks. Turner himself was responsible
for the reason Helmshore is
here. He started with this mill
and built workers housing, then
he built another mill, then rented another. He had the gasworks on the
carpark here, he built the shop,
the pub, he directed the railway, and he
paid £84 for the church to be
built. Oh, he was also the local judge
as well. He had a lot of power in this
area. Some might see that as being
unfair but that’s the way it
evolved. When he actually died in 1852,
they weren’t passed on to his
family and they were sold off
and There was an exodus in
Helmshore. It became a ghost village for
many years. Hundreds of people left and
never came back.

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