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's 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. The mills are certainly the most original and best preserved examples of both Cotton Spinning and Woollen Fulling left in the country which are still operational.

Following the withdrawal of its grant from Lancashire County Council this museum will be closed to the public on 30 September 2016 for an undetermined period.


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 Wool Spinning mill in the 1820s. This was a wool carding and spinning. It then would have gone to Middle mill on Holcombe Rd for Weaving then would have return to Higher mill for Fulling and Finishing. 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 by Edward Turner. At Somepoint after the end of the American Civil War and return of Cotton to Lancashire that the rebuilt mill started Cotton Spinning. In the 1920s, the mill was bought by L.Whitaker & Sons who installed cotton condensing equipment and the mill continued in that business until November 1978. Higher Mill came to be 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 L.Whitaker & Sons group no longer had any Whitakers working for them and were owned and run by the Hardman Family. The freehold of both mills in the Helmshore Mills Estate was bought by Lawrence Whittakers family.[2]

The Museum

When Rossall Whittaker died in 1971 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. The expertise, knowledge and experience of the site staff and Lancashire museums service is well utilized by other sites including NT Quarry Bank Mill at Styal and Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester) .[2]

In November 2015 Lancashire County Council announced it planned to cease its funding of the museum and shut to the public from 1 April 2016. In March 2016 the museum was granted a six-month reprieve and stayed open to the public until 30 September 2016. Other operating models are being considered but the future of the museum beyond this date remains uncertain.

The Mills[edit]

The whole site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument however Higher Mill is a Grade II listed building [3]

The associated chimney stack on the other side of Holcombe Road is also separately Grade II listed.[4]

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]

Higher Mill and remote Whitaker Mill chimney

When the steam engine was put in Whitaker 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. The first Boilers in Whittaker Mill were built by Hick Hargreaves of Bolton and were installed circa 1855 and at the 1868 auction the mill was equipped for fine cotton spinning with a number of power looms also on site. The later boilers in Whitaker Mill were built by Yates and Thom of Blackburn were taken out in the 1950s. The Boiler for Higher Mill was a Cornish type installed where the hub is now.


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 known as the Teasel Raising gig.

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 an original 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 complete Arkwright waterframe dating from 1790. 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.

Spinning floor
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. This is the only original & complete floor of its type left.

Spun yarn is sent to sister museum Queen Street Mill on the outskirts of Burnley to be woven.


  • North and South, BBC version [5]
  • Sharpe's Justice, 1996 - Whole site featured;
  • Grey Friar's Bobby;
  • Great British Bake off
  • Irish TV - documentary on Michael Davitt
  • River Magic
  • Korean TV
  • Lucy Worsley Regency Programme
  • Promo Video for 22nd Foot Re-enactment Group
  • Film Location spot for Scott & Bailey;
  • Marks & Spencer Fashion Photo shoot 2015;
  • BBC North West Tonight 2016;
  • Featured on BBC Radio 4 in 2015;
  • Countryfile 2014;
  • Antiques Road trip;
  • Who Do you think you are? - Jerry Hall 2015
  • Mill site used in montage advert for London Olympics 2012.
  • Brass 1983 - Scene with brothers Dr Macduff & Inspector Macduff (both played by David Ashton) fishing on the Millpond.
  • White Stuff Fashion Shoot 2009
  • Wheel of Fortune 1960s
  • North West Film Archive
  • Performances by band Trouble at Mill.
  • Internationally Renown singer Jennifer Reid will be performing at the Mill on 17 & 28 September 2016


In November 2015 it was announced that Lancashire County Council would withdraw funding from five of its museums: Fleetwood Museum, Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Judges' Lodgings, Museum of Lancashire and Queen Street Mill because of what the leader of the council described as "the financial challenges facing the county council as we deal with relentless cuts to central government funding combined with rising demand for our services".[6][7] They were initially to close at the end of March 2016 but that month were reprieved until 30 September 2016.[8][9]

The museum closed on 30 September 2016, along with the other four Lancashire museums mentioned above, except for pre-booked school groups. As of 8 October 2016 Lancashire County Council's website states that "There has been an expression of interest from a potential new operator."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History and background
  2. ^ a b Spinning the Web.
  3. ^ "Name: HIGHER MILL MUSEUM List entry Number: 1072811". Historic England. Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  4. ^ "Name: CHIMNEY TO HIGHER MILL List entry Number: 1072812". Historic England. Retrieved 10 March 2016. 
  5. ^ North and South, Mrs Gaskell, Richard Armitage
  6. ^ Kirby, Dean (11 March 2016). "North of England 'at risk of becoming cultural wasteland' with museums hit by austerity measures". The Independent. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  7. ^ "Lancashire County Council confirms cuts to job and services". BBC News. 27 November 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  8. ^ "Reprieve for Lancashire's under-threat council museums". BBC News. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Sullivan, Nicola. "Five Lancashire Museums in last chance saloon". Museums Association. Retrieved 8 July 2016. 
  10. ^ "Museums". Lancashire County Council. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 

External links[edit]