The Silk Mill at 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.