Lancashire was the centre of the British cotton textile industry. Possibly BritainÕs most important industry, the economic benefit of the cotton trade was over three times greater than the iron industry. However, the textile industry has received little recognition for its importance in the development of the industrial revolution. It relied on low waged workers, with both husband and wife having to work to provide a reasonable income. The low value put on workers has created an atmosphere in former textile districts where the history of the local textile industry and its value to the country as a whole is not appreciated by many former workers and local people.

It was in East Lancashire, around Blackburn and Accrington, that the ŌnewÕ cotton industry was established in the eighteenth century. It was here that Robert Peel developed his textile and printing business – possibly the first fully integrated manufacturing industry. Peel controlled all aspects, from the purchase of raw materials to the printing and dyeing of the cloth, and employed 6000 people around the end of the eighteenth century. He had made enough money by the end of the century to allow him to purchase estates in the south of England. Other important early developments in the area were the invention of the Spinning Jenny by Hargreaves, and Arkwright also undertook his early work on the water-frame here.

The area continued to have great importance as a textile centre until the mid-twentieth century. From the second half of the nineteenth century it became the main weaving region, at one time producing most of the worldÕs output. Printing and dyeing were also important, and there were strong links with other parts of Europe, particularly Alsace. It was the depression of the 1930s and post second world war problems which resulted in the closure of the majority of mills, though there are still several firms producing textiles in the area.

Closure has resulted in the demolition of many mills, though some have survived either because they were listed as of architectural or historic interest, because they continue to be used by industry, or because alternative used have been found for them. These new uses include museums, offices, retail outlets, hotels and housing. Ten sites are identified here which portray some of the possibilities for the reuse of former industrial premises.

The first is at Hyndburn Bridge where a water-powered carding and jenny mill was built by John Butterworth around 1784. It continued in use until 1812, since when both the mill and its adjoining weavers cottages have been converted for housing. Improvements to the buildings have disguised their original use, but this is possibly one of the most important survivals of the early textile industry. The jenny mill is particularly important as few similar early industrial buildings survive.

The next site is the Helmshore Textile Museums. Higher Mill, dating from 1789, continued in use as a fulling mill until the 1960s when it was taken over by local enthusiasts and converted to a museum. The County Council took over responsibility for it in the 1970s. The newer mill alongside, dating from the 1850s, continued in business spinning waste cotton on mules until around 1980 when it too was acquired by the council as an extension to the existing museum, complete with all its carding and spinning equipment. The ground floor has been altered to incorporate an entrance, conventional museum displays, shop and cafˇ, while the central floor remains virtually as it was when working. The only alterations are the provision of a fire escape and improved guarding of the machinery. The machinery on the upper floor has been removed so that other types of machinery can be displayed. Although probably the best method for preserving and interpreting historic industrial buildings, the cost of museums and their lack of direct financial return prohibits their widespread use.

Where a building forms part of the historic landscape, it can be retained by conversion. The provision of office space in such buildings is expensive, but high returns are sometimes possible, though careful marketing, Research into demand for offices is required beforehand to ensure that such offices can be sold or leased. Most such conversions in the area have been undertaken by local authorities or financed by government or European funded projects.

Scaitcliffe Mill falls in to the first category. Built in 1850 for spinning and weaving, it was worked by John & Jonathan Ormerod until 1862. It was then purchased in 1871 by Thos. Haworth, also for spinning and weaving, and  extended in 1875. The mill ceased production in 1932, after which it was used by various businesses. It was subsequently purchased by the local authority who converted it for use as their central offices during 2002. A new entrance has been provided using modern materials, and these have also been used on the roof. However, the overall visual impact of the building is still much as it was when built.

Other industrial buildings which have been converted to offices include canal warehouses, such as the one on Bolton Road, Blackburn. This was built in two stages, the earliest dating from around 1840 and built from stone. A brick extension was added around 1900. The warehouse was used for storage until the 1960s and then by small businesses. By the mid-1980s it had become derelict and it was restored using inner-city development grants in the early-1990s for use by a non-government organisation involved with environmental improvement.

Daisyfield Mill, Blackburn, was built in 1871-2 for Joseph Appleby & Sons, flour millers. Flour was originally ground by stones, and production converted to roller milling in 1883. The mill was taken over by Joseph Rank Ltd in 1928, and closed in 1968. It was subsequently used as warehouse. It was converted to offices around 1990 as part of a scheme to regenerate derelict canalside sites within Blackburn. Funding came from European, national and local government. One interesting addition is the access stairwell built on the eastern wall in place of the engine house. A variety of private businesses now use the offices provided here, and a regional television studio is also located here.

Private businesses have also converted mills for new uses, in particular as retail outlets. The large single storey weaving sheds found in East Lancashire are particularly suitable, and many have found a new life either as non-textile industrial premises or as mill shops where, originally, local factory products are sold at discount prices. Today the range of products is usually much wider.

Perhaps the best example is in Oswaldtwistle. Moscow Mill was established by Benjamin & Robert Walmsley in 1824-5 for spinning, and was extended in 1842 and c1860. Weaving began from 1828, with a new shed being built in 1871-2. The business closed 1891, and the mill was eventually taken over by Enfield Manufacturing in 1897. A new weaving shed was built in 1905, and the mill purchased by the present owners, the Hargreaves family, in 1920. A new weaving shed and looms were installed in 1989 resulting in part of the old weaving shed becoming vacant. This has been developed as mill shop and tourist attraction, the firm having earlier established the Bubble Factory, selling detergents to the public, in 1983. ThÕOwd Calico Shop opened around 1990, with an exhibition on the development of textiles in the area offered as a further attraction. This included views into the operational weaving shed and its modern looms. Weaving has recently moved to another site and development at the mill has concentrated on tourism and retail sales. The mill grounds have been improved, creating a fishing lodge, picnic area, nature walk, etc. There are also workshops/sales areas for local craft industries. The mill has approximately 450,000 visitors per annum who come from a radius of about eighty kilometres.

Queens Mill, Accrington, was built as a weaving shed in 1912-13. It continued in use until 1964, and was subsequently used by various non-textile firms. Part of the building is now used as the sales area for a bedroom furniture producer and distributor, the large single storey building being ideal for such use. Little alteration was necessary other than new windows and improved car parking.

Some buildings have been converted to mixed use, combining offices, hotels, cafes and pubs. This is particularly the case for large sites, where parts of the old structures have been demolished to create car parking, modern offices or housing. This type of development can leave older buildings isolated so that they loose their original context, and good quality modern architecture is necessary to make the best of such developments.

The Globe Works, Accrington, was established in 1853 by John Howard and James Bleakey as a textile machinery factory. James Bullough joined the firm in 1857, replacing Bleakey. Although taken over by Platts in the 1960s, Howard & Bulloughs continued as textile machine maker on the site until 1989. Company records show that machinery was often sent to Lodz, and Accrington workers travelled to Poland to help with installation. The firm employed 6,000 workers at one time, and there were numerous buildings on the site. They were too large and in too poor condition for all of them to be converted to new uses, and most were demolished. The surviving block was originally built in 1892-3 with a stone frontage to the main local brick structure. Today it houses offices for both public and private businesses, meeting rooms, cafˇ, restaurant and hotel. The last three are run by the local college as part of their training facilities for the catering and hotel trade. New buildings, including offices, a private sports club, small factory units and housing, as well as a large car park, were built on the site of the demolished buildings.

The first canal warehouse at Eanam, Blackburn, was built when the canal opened in 1810. New warehouses for cotton and grain were built in the 1840s and extended around 1910. They continued in use until around 1980, but then fell into disrepair. They were rebuilt in the late 1980s as part of a European funded scheme for improving the canal in Blackburn. Some outbuildings were demolished to create increased car parking space. The main 1840s building contains offices and meeting rooms used by both public and private businesses. Originally there was a small visitor centre telling the history of the canal in Blackburn, but this has been closed and the space used for offices. The older warehouse has been converted into a canalside pub which also serves meals.

The listing of mills does not ensure their survival. Rhyddings Mill was built in 1856 by Watson Bros as weaving mill. It was purchased by R & J Shaw in 1892, and a second weaving shed built in 1951, with weaving ceasing in 1957. Since then it has been used by non-textile small businesses. The mill was listed because of its importance locally and because of its architectural detail. There were plans to develop the old mill, but much was destroyed by an unexplained fire. Since then there has been some new building on the site of the destroyed weaving shed, but little has been done to conserve the surviving buildings.

The industrial buildings which have been reused in East Lancashire are typical of those elsewhere in the Lancashire textile region. However, because of the many single-storey weaving sheds in the area, they are perhaps better suited to modern industrial use than the multi-storey spinning mills found to the south around Oldham, Bolton and Rochdale. The size of many spinning mills also causes problems because building regulations today require better lighting and access. This can only be provided with considerable alteration to the structure, for example by creating central light wells. Access, particularly for the disable, which is an integral part of most funding packages, can also cause problems in old buildings. However the examples given do show that many new uses are possible, and that funding can come from a variety of sources. The largest projects do require some form of government funding, but with some of the smaller-scale or more long-term projects, it has been possible for private business to undertake such conversions.


Mike Clarke, 2002. Created for TICCIH Conference in Poland.