Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

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Helmshore Mills Textile Museum
Higher Mill Museum - geograph.org.uk - 694912.jpg
Helmshore Mills Textile Museum
Helmshore Mills Textile Museum is located in the Borough of Rossendale
Helmshore Mills Textile Museum
Location within the Borough of Rossendale
Cotton Wool
Alternative names Higher Mill, Whitakerś Mill
Spinning mills
Architectural style Stone built 3 storey
Structural system Stone
Owner William Turner
Current owners Lancashire Museums
Coordinates 53°41′20″N 2°20′10″W / 53.6890°N 2.3362°W / 53.6890; -2.3362
Built 1789
Floor count 3
Water Power
Wheels 2 Pitch back
Cotton count 20
Mule Frames 4 per floor, Taylor, Lang &^Co Ltd, Stalybridge
Doublers 1

Helmshore Mills are two mills built on the River Ogden in Helmshore, Lancashire. Higher Mill was built in 1796 for William Turner, and Whitaker Mill was built in the 1820s by the Turner family.[1] In their early life they alternated between working wool and cotton. By 1920 they were working shoddy as condensor mule mills; and equipment has been preserved and is still used. The mills closed in 1967 and they were taken over by the Higher Mills Trust, whose trustees included Chris Aspin, the historian and author and Dr Rhodes Boyson who maintained it as a museum. The museum is open for visitors and does carding and mule spinning demonstrations.


Helmshore Mills lies within Helmshore, a village in the Rossendale Valley, Lancashire, England. It is situated 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Haslingden, broadly between the A56 and the B6235, approximately 16 miles (26 km) north of Manchester, and 3 miles (4.8 km) from the M65 motorway. Helmshore straddles the River Ogden a tributary of the River Irwell. The village developed around the 7 cotton and wool mills.


Before the mills were built, the Turner family had been involved in textiles. Three of the six brothers made their living from wool in Martholme and three from cotton in Blackburn. In 1789 the brothers built Higher Mill on a green field site in the parish of Musbury as a woollen fulling mill but the cotton brothers soon dropped out of the enterprise. It was the son of one of these original six, a William Turner (1793–1852) who built the larger mill in the 1820s. This was a wool carding, spinning and weaving mill. Some of the cloth would have gone to the fulling mill next door. Turner instructed in his will that the mill should be sold on his death, which occurred in 1852. This mill was destroyed by fire in 1857, and was rebuilt in 1860. It switched between wool and cotton several times. In the 1920s, the mill was bought by L.Whitaker & Sons who installed cotton condensing equipment and the mill continued in that business until Christmas 1978. Higher Mill came to operated by Lawrence Whittaker in 1875 still using Turners machinery, and his descendants continued to run it as a fulling mill until June 1967. The two families may have been distantly related but by the 1920s the Whittakers were a well known local family while the firm of L.Whitaker & Sons no longer had any Whitakers working for them. The freehold of both mills in the Helmshore Mills Estate was bought by Lawrence Whittakers family.[2]

The museum

When Rossall Whittaker died leaving no male heirs the Higher Mill was saved by local enthusiasts who recognised its significance and had it scheduled as an Ancient Monument, and through a trust bought it. Platt International, whose site was also in Helmshore, owned a significant collection of historic textile machines and agreed that they should be located in Higher Mill. The task of running a museum and maintaining the buildings put pressure on the trust, so in 1975 Lancashire County Council stepped in taking a 99-year lease. Whitaker's mill became vacant in 1976 and Lancashire County Council saw the advantages of having control of the two mills and bought the Condensor mill. This allowed them to also purchase the Platt collection in 1985, keeping the site intact and forming a comprehensive museum of the Lancashire Textile industry.[2]

Condenser spinning[edit]

The condenser spinning process (1920)
Hard Waste Soft Waste Comber waste -
FCIcon odo.svg FCIcon odo.svg FCIcon odo.svg
Jumbo Single cylinder devil Hopper opener Blowing Room
FCIcon ovo.svg FCIcon ovo.svg FCIcon ovo.svg
Six cylinder devil FCIcon ovo.svg FCIcon ovo.svg
FCIcon ozh.svg FCIcon A.svg FCIcon h2h.svg FCIcon A.svg FCIcon h2o.svg
Breaker Scutcher
FCIcon ovo.svg Lap (Scutcher lap) 42lbs a time
Breaker Carding Carding Room
FCIcon ovo.svg Sliver
Derby Doubler Takes 88 slivers
FCIcon ovo.svg Lap (Sliver lap)
Finisher Carding
FCIcon ovo.svg Roving On bobbins or a beam
FCIcon ovo.svg
Mule Spinning
FCIcon odo.svg

Fine spinning produced a lot of waste so naturally this was recycled. This waste was the raw material of a condensor spinning mill. It came in three forms, loose staple, unspun rovings and spun thread (hard waste) that had been pirned but rejected. No matter its source it had to be devilled (broken down) to staple, then scutched and carded in the normal way. After these processes the staple was very short, and the processing of the lap was different - a Derby Doubler was used to mix slivers into sliver lap. A notable feature of the mule was that the rovings weren't on individual bobbins but on a beam. As the fine spinning of cotton contracted so did the need for condensing.

Boilers and chimney[edit]

When the steam engine was put in Whitaker's mill, Lancashire boilers were ubiquitous. For maximum efficiency they required air to be drawn over the coals, and this was the function of the mill chimney. As these mills are set in a valley the air flow was irregular so the chimney was built in the hill opposite and the flue passed over the river and underground to reach the chimney. This provided the required updraught.


Clean water was needed for processing the cloth. This was captured from field drainage on the hillside opposite and stored in a lodge on the farther side of the river, piped across when required. The Water wheel, and later the engine condenser could use the then highly polluted water from the River Ogden, a weir was placed 800m upstream and the water diverted into a long canal-like lodge that finished at the mill. Having passed over the pitch-back wheel the water passed through a culverted tail goyt back into the Ogden.

Museum exhibits[edit]

The museum divides its collections into three themed areas, representing the wool story, the cotton story and the spinning floor.

The wool story

This shows the water wheel and fulling stocks and clay pots used to collect urine from the local cottages, that produced the ammonia needed for fulling. It goes on to show the later box system. There is a tenter frame, with the tenterhooks to show how the cloth was dried without shrinking and how teasles were used to lift up the nap. This was of course later mechanised and there is a teasle holding frame.

The cotton story

This illustrates firstly the hand weavers cottage, with a frame loom with a hand thrown shuttle, mannikins represent the weaver and two women spinning the yarn on different types of wheel. A child is shown hand carding. It is here we see a 16 spindle spinning jenny that would have dated from about 1760, and a 50 spindle improved jenny. There is a replica of Arkwrights first carding machine. There is a complete sequence of machines that would have taken the bolls from the bales, opener, scutcher, breaker card, finisher card, draw frame and finally a waterframe. Sharing the floor at Whitaker's Mill is the equipment needed to prepare the waste cotton for the cards in the room above. There is a single cylinder pisker for soft waste and a six cylinder devil for the hard waste.

The spinning floor

This was one of two at this mill and has all the equipment to breaker card the shoddy (recycled cotton) and to finisher card the slivers into rovings, these go onto the 714 spindle Taylor Lang spinning mules. Opening, scutching and mixing happened on the floor below.


  • North and South, BBC version [3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History and background
  2. ^ a b Spinning the Web.
  3. ^ North and South, Mrs Gaskell, Richard Armitage

External links[edit]