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BIRKS MILL

Birks Lane

Walsden

Map ref. SD 935. 219

 

List of known occupiers

pre 1801

KERSHAW Edmund

1815-1834

LACY Thomas

1847

CROSSLEY Hamer & Abraham

1851

TAYLOR Abraham & MITCHELL Ormerod

1854-1899

FIELDEN Robert & Sons

1899-1979

COCKCROFT John & Sons Ltd.

 

Illustrated history

 

There is evidence that a mill existed here in 1799, and the close proximity to a source of water for powering the mill from the numerous hillside cloughs made it an ideal location for a mill to be built.

There was a datestone over the mill door. In 1917 it was on the ground in the yard waiting to be restored. The stone is engraved 1800 JSC (John & Sarah Crossley of Scaitcliffe Hall, the owners of the land on which it stands)

   

One of the first known owners was Edmund Kershaw of Henshaw who ran it as a carding and spinning mill. The cotton would be carded and spun into spools ready to be taken to the homes of outlying farms and the like, to be worked by hand to provide an extra source of income for the farming families.

William Greenwood took over the running of the mill from his father-in-law, Edmund Kershaw. William was an easy come easy go sort of chap and the money he was paid, which was one shilling per pound, for putting the cotton through this process, soon slipped through his fingers.

Thomas and Henry Lacy took over the mill and receive a mention in the accounts books of Jeremiah Jackson, machine maker, in 1815, at which time only Thomas is at the helm. They spun weft on commission for some of the larger farms in the area, which in turn was delivered to the hand weavers in the immediate vicinity of Walsden.  There is another mention in Jeremiah Jackson's accounts books in 1833 when Thomas Lacy is still the main man.

   

After the Lacys, brothers Hamer and Abraham Crossley, who already had a factory at COPPERAS HOUSE making and printing carpets, took over. They concentrated on the spinning and manufacture of wool and worsted.

They erected a dash wheel in the clough at Birks, just above the dam, so that the pieces could be washed before being dried and finished at the mill and made ready for the market.

The forerunner of today's washing machine.

   

A dash wheel is a large hollow drum divided into four compartments into which bundles of cloth and water are placed. The impurities are then washed out of the cloth as the revolving drum moves backwards and forwards. It would be powered by water.

Mr. Abraham Taylor of Rossendale then took it over and he stayed for several years, weaving and printing, before he decided to return to Rossendale. During his time in charge the mill worked solely on water power. His partner was Ormerod Mitchell, and in 1851 they employed 12 men and 5 boys at the mill, having changed it back to cotton spinning and manufacture. In the 1851 census, both men are living with their respective families at Birks Hall. In 1853, they added ancillary buildings for sizing and warehousing measuring 7400 square feet, plus a large weaving shed and a steam engine.

In December 1854, Mr. Robert Fielden of INCHFIELD FOLD PICKERWORKS decided to take the premises on lease for 50 years and he remodelled it in the back parts, built a weaving shed for 300 looms, with a chimney, engine and boiler houses and put down an engine of 20 horse power. The mill had to be entirely re-shafted to accommodate the various machines including spinning with throstles and mules. They spun and wove mainly for the Manchester market, which was easily accessible by the railway and also the canal.

Robert's son, Josiah was trained to take over the management of the mill and for a time he did this. Unfortunately he was to die at the early age of 29 in 1860. The Todmorden rates book of 1860 shows Robert Fielden was the occupier and John Crossley (of Scaitcliffe) was the owner. The mill included a shed, 28hp steam and 2hp water power. The rateable value was £166.18s7d.

Robert died in 1874, leaving his son Robert junior in charge of the mill. By 1879, the mill was facing problems and only working a 3-day week in common with many other local mills. At the time, there were 6,000 spindles and 150 looms.

 

The mill with St. Peter's Church

 

Robert Fielden junior died aged 70 in 1897. His death was reported in the local press as follows:

Mr. Robert Fielden of Inchfield Fold (senior partner in the firm Robert Fielden & Sons picker makers and cotton manufacturers, Birks Mill, Inchfield, Walsden) died very suddenly on Bacup railway station whilst hurrying to catch the 5-40pm train. Deceased was 70 years of age and was interred at St. Peter's Church Walsden on Monday 22nd.

 

The Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Almanac of 1898 reported:

WILL OF THE LATE MR. ROBERT FIELDEN

The honoured name of Fielden comes often before us, and we glory in the possession of the family as fellow townsfolk. At one time we applaud a generous act, at another we assist at a public festival, again at an anniversary, sometimes at a funeral. Now Mr. Robert Fielden has passed away, and left sorrow here among those who yet tarry on this side of the grave.

Probate of the will dated February 12th. 1896 of the late Mr. Robert Fielden, of Inchfield, Walsden, who died suddenly whilst at Bacup Railway Station, on 18th. March last has been granted to the executors, his brother Mr. Samuel Fielden J.P. of Waterside House, Todmorden, and his nephew Mr. Robert Thomas Fielden of Inchfield, Walsden, by whom the value of the testator's personal estate has been sworn at £28,190.16s.4d.

He bequeaths to his sister Hannah £2,500 and his furniture and household effects; to his sister Mary £2000; in trust for the widow of his brother James, £1000; to his nephew James and his niece Martha Ann, children of his sister Susan, £300 each; to his nephews John William and Josiah, children of his sister Sarah Ann, £500 each; to his niece Mabel £1000; and to his nephew the son of his brother William Henry, £1000. Mr. Fielden left all the residue of his property in equal shares to his two brothers.

His brothers took over the running of the mill until selling the lease to John Cockcroft & Sons in 1899.

 

 

The mill in 2008

Birks must have been a hive of activity at that time. With the spindles and looms, and all that was needed to keep them running, the work force would have been substantial. Canal boats would have been tied up at the wharf loading goods for local destinations and unloading the raw materials needed by the mill, horse and carts would be taking loads to the railway to be transported even further away, and the landlord at the CROSS KEYS would have been rubbing his hands at all the custom that thirsty men brought him.

The Cockcroft family moved from the weaving shed they called CROFT MILL, founded by old Henry Cockcroft, situated behind the Rope and Anchor on Halifax Road. John Arthur Cockcroft was the owner, the grandson of Henry who was first in the line of the Cockcroft manufacturers. After John Arthur died in 1927, he left it to three of his five sons, Eric, Keith and Leo. They traded under the name of John Cockcroft & Sons Ltd.

Another of his sons, John Douglas Cockcroft, pursued a different occupation. He was the famous Cockcroft who split the atom and so gained a Nobel Prize.

In 1907, the Crossley estate was sold off, and at that point John Cockcroft & Sons purchased the mill and land.

In 1922, the 40 foot diameter water wheel was removed and replaced by a water turbine known as a Turbo Impulse Wheel, made by Gilbert, Gilks & Gordon of Kendal in 1933. Water was conveyed from the upper mill dam in 12.25 inch diameter pipes with a fall of 130 feet down the turbine pipe. This all cost about £600.

In 1926, a single storey weaving shed was added measuring 3,600 square feet. This was followed in 1927 with the errection of a large garage and board room of 2 storeys, measuring 3,150 square feet. Further small weaving sheds were added in 1932, 1952 and 1956.

Production stopped in 1979, when the mill was mainly producing acrilic curtain materials, bedspreads, denims and tickings. This was 200 years after the first little mill set up shop and William Greenwood frittered away all his money. The Cockcroft family continued production at their other mill at DERDALE.

The mill still stands today, although somewhat derelict. Plans are afoot to convert the building to apartments. (2008)

 

Additional information


researched, recorded and referenced by Mrs Sheila Wade

Hebden Bridge WEA

 Local History Group

 

Pigot & Deane Directory 1824-5

Thomas Lacy

Baines Directory 1825

Thomas Lacy, cotton spinners

Pigot Directory 1828-9

Thomas Lacy, cotton spinners & manufacturers

Parson & White Directory 1830

Thomas Lacy, cotton spinners & manufacturers

Pigot Directory 1834

Thomas Lacy,cotton spinners & manufacturers

Account books of Jeremiah Jackson, machine makers, 1815 and 1833

Thomas Lacy of Birks Mill/Birks Hall

Whites Directory 1847

H. & A. Crossley, worsted spinners & manufacturers, wool manufacturers & printers

Todmorden Rates Books

1860 - 1890

Owner John Crossley, occupier Robert Fielden

1860 rateable value £166.18s.7d.

1880 rateable value £201.15s.0d.

1885 steam and water power

1888 rateable value £135.15s.0d.

Halifax Guardian 3rd May 1879

Birks Mill working 3 days a week

Todmorden Advertiser 1st August 1879

Birks Mill, 6000 spindles, 150 looms; working 3 days a week

Manchester Examiner 22nd July 1887

R. Fielden & Sons (Birks and Holebottom Mills), 5000 spindles, 150 looms, Birks Mill working full time.

Mills Directory 1891

R. Fielden & Sons, Birks Mill, 5,000 spindles, 150 looms.

 

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