HOLMFIRTH’S oldest remaining mill which survived fire and flood in the 19th century is fast disappearing to make way for a supermarket.
Bridge Mill which was built on land between the Woodhead Turnpike Road and the River Holme was a notable landmark on the approach to Holmfirth and will be home to a new Lidl store.
According to research by local historian Mike Day for his forthcoming book on Textiles In The Holme Valley there was probably a fulling mill on the site since Tudor times. Fulling is the process of felting the fibres of cloth together by immersion in a solution and pounding it with big water driven (and later steam driven), hammers called fulling stocks.The ‘milled’ cloth was then stretched on tenter frames to dry before finishing.
By the mid 1700s there was also a corn mill and drying kiln owned by Samuel Haigh from Marsden.
The water-powered mills had a plentiful water supply both from the Holme and the Hebble Dyke and, by the end of the 18th century, scribbling engines were installed on the premises. Scribbling is the first process in separating the wool fibres to prepare them for spinning.
When the mill was advertised for sale in 1811 it was described as a ‘large commodious building now used as a scribbling mill’ tenanted by Jonas Roberts and William Cuttell.
The large stone quoining on the lower storeys of the structure recently demolished may be a remnant of this early building.
A five storey building was added to the complex, being described ‘of recent erection’ when the mill again appeared for sale in 1849. Around this time Joseph Broadbent took over part of the mill, employing 50 people.
During the Holmfirth flood of February 5, 1852, his willow room was destroyed, pieces of cloth ruined and the wall of the dam destroyed.
In 1987 human bones discovered by workmen excavating the dam were believed to be those of one of the flood victims.
The dam was again damaged by a flood in 1866 and in 1857 Broadbent’s premises almost burned down.
On June 6 there were two fires on the same day! The first, in the wool stove, was soon extinguished but another in an attic room required the calling out of the new ‘Unity’ fire engine from Holmfirth – the first serious test of the crew’s ability.
The mill’s bell summoned crowds of people who formed a chain to pass cans of water from the reservoir at the other side of the road.
The fire raged for over a hour but most of the building and the adjacent part of the mills, occupied by James Brook, were saved. Broadbent’s suffered another fire in 1859 when cotton in a teasing machine ignited, injuring the boy operating it.
By 1870 the mill had its own fire engine, the Excelsior.
James Brook later moved his business to Bradley Mills at Huddersfield and his part of the mill was taken over by Joseph Senior.
When the mills were sold again in 1861 two buildings were described – one the ‘Old Mill’, adjoining Woodhead Road of four storeys and a spinning factory, of three storeys. The mill was powered by a steam engine of 16 horsepower and a waterwheel of over 19ft diameter.
In 1865 when Joseph Turner built a new warehouse at the opposite side of the road to the main mills it was described as ‘the most stately warehouse in the neighbourhood of Holmfirth.’ This is now the only part of the mill still standing.
Up to the First World War the mill was occupied by woollen manufacturers James Hinchliff and Sons, George Greenwood cloth finishers and James Watkinson & Sons.
When it was sold by auctioneers Eddison, Taylor & Booth in 1916 it realised £6,100 for the four storey mill, two three storey mills, water rights and land totalling four acres.
The last textile firm to operate from the mills was Walter Gledhill & Sons Ltd who produced woollen and worsted suitings under the trade name ‘Holmvale’. They went into receivership in 1965 and closed with the loss of 200 jobs.
The demolition of Bridge Mills marks the loss of another unique monument to our textile history.