Monday, March 08, 2010

The Silk Mill at Galgate.

I've noticed this building each time we visit Hodmandod Minor in Lancaster: an old mill - stark and powerful against the skyline of the village of Galgate.

It fascinates me: the five red-brick storeys, the large windows, the enormous chimney at one end, and the roof with its zig-zag outline. Obviously a mill, but not like one I'd ever seen before - alone in open countryside, with a small collection of cottages, presumably built there for the workers. Why was it here?

This Saturday, when we went through the village, I googled it on my iphone and found that Galgate mill was not only a silk mill but the oldest silk mill in the country. Obviously, an exciting discovery!

Hodmandod Senior kindly stopped on the way back so I could look around. In front is a row of what looks like cottages, maybe weavers' cottages, each of them now housing small businesses. The mill itself contains a bathroom showroom (complete with water container on the roof),

inbetween is an engine house with chimney,

and then across the road is another mill, this time made of the local sandstone, which was also a silk mill judging by the name of the cottage at the end ('Silk Mill Cottage').

Walking further along the lane I could see that this older mill was joined to another smaller even older-looking building behind (white building behind the tree in the photo below), and this seemed to be close to what could have been (or maybe still was) a stream.

At home I investigated a little more, and found a couple of references in books and on the web. At first there had just been a corn mill at Galgate. But for some reason (that 'cannot be divined with any accuracy', but may, I think, be partly due to the canal nearby) three Lancaster businessmen, John Armstrong, James Noble and William Thompson bought what was then called Ellel (after the parish) water corn-mill from William Bell, the miller, and converted it into a silk mill.

In 1807 Mr Noble sold his share to Mr Armstrong, and it was about this time that the second stone building was constructed on the right of the road above. Like the first mill it had three storeys, but this time had the classic 'factory' zig-zag roof.

In 1851 the huge five-storied brick factory was built across the lane, and in 1869 the mills were acquired by the company William Thompson and Co,. Ltd - a descendant of one of the original businessmen. Maybe he lived here:

in this large grand house, bristling television aerials and punctuated with boarded-up doors - a legacy of multi-occupancy - and now left to decay altogether.

Apart from reeling silk from the cocoon this mill also specialised in 'short spinning' that is spinning the shorter lengths of scrap silk into a long thread, similar to the process used for cotton or wool.

Several prominent industrialists learnt their trade at Galgate, establishing their own factories in Rochdale and Halifax; but people that worked there did not seem to be particularly happy - complaining at the poor wages and the lack of pecuniary appreciation. However, the most interesting fact about the mill I found is here in the Lancaster Gazette. In 1808 one John Forster was found guilty of breaking into the mill and stealing silk, and for this he was transported for seven years.

This seems a severe punishment compared to the one doled out to John Bramwell. He was found guilty of killing John Ball of Liverpool and for this he was imprisoned for one year and fined a shilling - which is exactly the same punishment that Ann Wilson received...for stealing 'cloth, gowns, petticoat etc' at Manchester. Clearly life was sometimes cheap.

The factory closed in in 1971, and I find it fascinating to think that here, not so very long ago, there were people here watching cocoons unravelling (there is a painting of this here).

Next time we visit Lancaster we are going to arrive earlier - since all the small businesses at the mill are open to the public I am hoping for a sneaky look inside to see if there is anything interesting left.


Blogger Paul said...

Galgate silk mill sounds fascinating.

After reading your interesting piece, I googled 'silk mill' and 'Lancaster' and turned up a silk mill in another Lancaster, here is the US in my home state of Pennsylvania. It is called the Stehli Silk Mill and was considered the largest in its day (built in 1897):

Tue Mar 09, 01:18:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Paul, I find that so interesting. I just found Stehli Silk in one of the books on my silk pile and in 1925 was renowned for its design. There is not much more detail except that it challenged the popularity of another company's and there is a plate for that. This is a spectacular repeating motif of mountain scenery in red, blue and yellow, resplendent with white waterfalls. I'm not sure what sort of garment this was used for but it must have been eye-catching.

Tue Mar 09, 08:49:00 am  
Anonymous sarah said...

Interesting info! My Grandfather bought Galgate Mill in about 1971 and converted the empty mill into the small business units you see there today. I remember playing in the mill as a child, before all the machinery was removed- my toy box was a silk reel box!! We visited it recently and I was very sad to see the beautiful white house next to the mill, which was at one time also owned by my Grandfather, in such a state or decay.

Thu Aug 12, 03:23:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ooh thanks for commenting, Sarah! I'm so grateful for such an interesting update. I bet you have such stories you could tell about that mill. I'd love to know more. And yes, I agree about the house. It seems sound in structure still, but left to go to rack and ruin. It is such a shame.

Fri Aug 13, 09:28:00 pm  
Anonymous junglehungry said...

Make sure you go into the cafe next time you come - there are lots of old pictures, and the owner can tell you some ghost stories (the cafe was oringally the infirmary for the mill, so is apparently quite haunted).

Mon Aug 30, 01:08:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Fascinating, Junglehungry - thanks for the tip - I shall make sure I do!

Mon Aug 30, 02:31:00 pm  
Anonymous Josephine Swift said...

I was so sad to see the old house next to the mill in such a sorry state, as I lived there for over a year when I was a student at the uni up the road , in 1979, when it was divided into bedsits. Well, I suppose that was a long time ago. What a shame. Isn't anyone going to turn it into a nice hotel? Your photo brought back such memories!
Josephine Swift, Verona, Italy

Mon Nov 22, 02:29:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Hi Josephine, I was at university then too - just a little way east, in Durham! It must be sad to see it like this, and I agree - a huge waste because it seems like it could still be a beautiful house with a little care and attention.

Mon Nov 22, 04:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The house is soon going to be turned back to a nursing home with a large development on the land at the rear,

Fri Nov 26, 04:00:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Anon, that sounds like a good use of the building!

Fri Nov 26, 04:24:00 pm  
Anonymous Chris Fox said...

Hi Clare, You've found out much more about the mills than I've ever managed, I have a workshop where I make furniture in a basement of the old stone part.
You'll be pleased to know that that the house is taking shape and looking much happier now.


Wed Jul 20, 05:16:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Hi Chris - sounds like a great use of an old Silk Mill! I'll take a look next time I'm passing.

Wed Jul 20, 06:09:00 pm  
Blogger Donna Wren said...

The house will be opening soon as a Hill Croft Nursing home. It has been fully refurbished. I grew up in Galgate and everytime I moved away I always end up back here! My Mother worked at the Silk Mill from leaving school. Donna Wren

Mon Mar 26, 11:58:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

That sounds like good news, Donna! And how interesting that your mother actually worked in the mill. I'd love to have a chat with her about what the old mill was like.

Mon Mar 26, 02:17:00 pm  
Blogger Janice Mcewan said...

Clare, my grandfather Lloyd Armitage was part of the family who took over the mill from Thompsons. He managed the mill until the late sixties. We used to stay in the "grand house" (Ellel House) at Christmas and during the summer until I was about nine. It had beautiful gardens with rose beds in front of the house and I am of course sad to see its current state of desolation as it was my mother's childhood home and meant a great deal to her. Somewhere I have a history of the mill written by my grandfather and various photos showing the house when my grandparents and great-grandparents still lived there. Janice

Wed Nov 13, 09:53:00 pm  
Blogger Janice Mcewan said...

I too know the mill as my grandfather Lloyd Armitage was the second generation of the family who took it over from Thompsons. He managed the mill until the late sixties and wrote a history of it during that time (I have a copy). We used to spend Christmases and summer holidays in the "grand house" (Ellel House) and i am very sorry to see its current state of desolation as it was my mother's childhood home and meant a great deal to her. I have photos of the house when it was still a home to my grandparents and great-grandparents also some photos of "the Directors" back in their heyday. The gardens were beautiful with rose beds at the front and a tennis court behind.

Wed Nov 13, 10:01:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks for getting in touch, Janice. Your history of the mill sounds very interesting - and I can very well understand your sadness at the state of the grand house.

I understand things have improved for the building since I took that picture three years ago, but have not yet had the opportunity to take a look. I do hope so!

Thu Nov 14, 09:12:00 am  
Blogger emmabramleymusic said...

hi I'm 14 but have lived in galgate all my life. i was fascinated by reading this, me and my friends are always playing around by the mill as they live in the estate that is built behind it. we were always far to scared to go in the mill when we were little and i think part of us knew it was probably haunted but we went there today on a 'investigation' and stayed there for about 2 hours. the cafe is still very spooky next time we will have to ask about the ghosts haha.

Sat Jan 25, 04:01:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks for your comment, Emma! Investigations sound like an excellent idea to me. If you ever encounter anything truly spooky please report back. We need to know. :-)

Sat Jan 25, 04:22:00 pm  

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