Glossop Heritage Trust

Theo Walter Ellison's Glossop Dale Reminiscences.


Glossop Dale Estates Under the ‘Howards – Expansion & prosperity of Industries (published 11 January 1935).

The development of the Estates during the ownership of the Dukes of Norfolk was continued for three quarters of a century under Edward George (the first Lord Howard of Glossop created 1843, and made a Baron in 1869 in Mr Gladstone’s premiership) and his son, Francis Edward Lord Howard.

Factories grew apace, the principal mills owned by the Wood Brothers, Sumner, Potter and others were considerably extended, and with a few exceptions, all the mills were in the heyday of prosperity.

Men with capital of varying amount had leases of land and water rights, built mills, and established various businesses. Cotton, bleaching, dyeing, printing, rope band, and paper mill occupied, with their reservoirs and goyts, almost every available site on the River Etherow and its tributary streams.

The products were of first class quality. Cloth, especially, attained a far famed reputation, and was exported to India, China, Turkey and South America. The procuring of efficient labour from a rural district, sparsely populated, presented a problem. Proximity to neighbouring towns in which similar conditions obtained did not help to provide the needs of employers in the particular, hence operatives were imported from other parts, particularly from Ireland, attracted by the wages which offered to them a substantial advance. These imported ‘hands’ were inexperienced, and not quite up to the standard of civilisation which Glossopians had attained. In time, training, a cheerful readiness to learn the intricacies of spinning, weaving and kindred operations, and residence in the Dale achieved such good results that eventually Glossop Dale could boast a class of work people above the average compared with those in other districts.

Conditions of labour were not so smooth as nowadays. Long hours, tramping to and from work over roads and footpaths, such as they then were, on dark mornings and evenings, and in winter through snow, ice and ‘slush’ required a good constitution and a stout heart, and was trying to the young and old. Clogs and shawls were suitable to the conditions and afforded a necessary protection and safeguard from colds and other ailments. The attraction of an extra one or two shillings a week induced some good weavers to walk daily from Glossop to Hadfield and back. The houses in which the operatives lived were well built of stone, generally presented a neat appearance internally, and received a thorough cleaning and painting at the annual ‘Wakes’ holiday. The employers in the old days, themselves set an example in industry, some keeping the regular mill hours. Good feeling endured between master and servant, and it was not infrequent for operatives to proclaim with evident pride their long association through three or four generations with the mills in which they had spent much of their lives.

But not all the ventures were successful. There were failures from various causes. An operative once, in reply to an enquiry why the mill at which he worked had come to grief, said ‘well, sir, a mill won’t run itself when the master stays at home reading novels’, and so failure perhaps resulted from lack of that personal and individual capacity, knowledge and active participation which good workmen appreciate in their employers. Efficiency in manufacture and the organisation of agencies for selling and distributing the products, coupled with shrewdness, caution and courage were required for success.

Fortunes of hundreds of thousands of pounds were made by a number of those who risked their capital and devoted their lives to the carrying on of these industries, and hundreds of thousands of pounds were paid in wages, and for the purchase of raw materials, engines, machinery and commodities.

Simultaneously with this industrial expansion, houses, shops, stores, churches, chapels, schools, inns and licensed houses were built, the population increased and the Dale flourished, though hard times had to be faced when no cotton was obtainable, or demand for cloth was slack, or trade disputes occurred. The old leases for 99 years were in many cases renewed for 999 years, and in a few instances the freehold was purchased from Lord Howard.

About the year 1900 there were at the Howard Town Mills of John Wood and Bros. Ltd. (in round figures) 200,000 spindles and 3,400 looms; at Wren Nest Mills of Francis Sumner and Co, Ltd. 125,000 spindles and 2,600 looms, Hurst Mills of James Rowbottom and Co. Ltd. 22,000 spindles, Shepley Mill 43,000 spindles, Brookfield Mills of J & W Shepley Ltd. 2,400 spindles and 470 looms, Padfield, Hadfield and Broadbottom Mills of Edward Platt Ltd. 83,000 spindles and 1,400 looms. The figures for Hadfield Mills of Thomas Rhodes and Son Ltd, and the Waterside Mills of T.H. Sidebottom and Co. Ltd., are not at hand.

The paper mills at Turn Lee and Dover, formerly owned by T.H. Ibbotson, and the progress of which was checked in the ‘sixties’, became a most important industry when acquired by Edward Partington, who also acquired paper mills at Broughton Bridge, Salford, and Barrow-in-Furness, and was part-founder of the famous Kellner Partington Wood Pulp Company, with works in Austria and Norway, and also, for a few years, a pulp mill and extensive timber forest in Canada. Captain Edward Partington received the honour of knighthood and afterwards became Baron Doverdale.

Another successful trade was the manufacture of belting and belt fasteners in which the late Isaac Jackson engaged with works in Ellison Street Glossop, and afterwards at Hawkshead Mill.

The lot of the workers was by degrees much improved and ameliorated by the operating influences of the Factory Acts, the Education Act of 1870, the combination of operatives by trade unions, and the local governing bodies, but neither employers nor operatives were too responsive and a driving force was needed in some cases to remedy objectionable conditions which obviously should have been superseded earlier. In all such affairs progress is slow. Even at this time, notwithstanding the vast sums expended on local government and the liberal provision of governing bodies, there still exist conditions in houses and other property in the larger industrial towns and cities in England which are not very creditable.

The decline for the cotton industry is attributed by some thoughtful people to a variety of causes, such as the formation of Joint Stock Companies, the individual employer having sunk into a corporate existence ‘with no bodies to kick and no soul to damn’; over-production, competition, and the supplying of engines and machinery to foreign competitors and sending our skilled men to teach them. Many years ago some Japanese, I remember, spent a few months in Glossop, daily taking particulars and copying designs of machines in a mill in this district, for the privilege of which the owner received a payment of a few hundred pounds, it was thought this would not be of value to the Japanese competitors, but in view of present day competition, that may be doubtful.

Some mills were abandoned, the lease holder and the ground landlord failing to come to term of renewal when the leases expired. A few were destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. The site of a hive of industry being consumed by flames, the firemen struggling with crude engines and appliances, the employer woefully regarding the destruction of his property, the sad eyed work people anxious for the future means of livelihood, and the grim ruins, is a heart-stirring but pitiful spectacle. In the ‘eighties’ I witnessed the burning of a mill in Old Glossop known as ‘Sykes Mill’, and in later years a similar disaster at Waterside Mills. The complete failure of some old fashioned fire engines to render much needed assistance let to better provision, both public and private. Fortunately, the risk of these disasters is less than formerly, thanks to the exercise of greater care, the provision of ‘sprinklers’ and other appliances for the prompt extinguishment of fire.

Upon one point all seem agreed, that the present world wide depression, the aftermath of the Great War, has dealt a blow from the effects of which neither employers nor operatives, nor their representative bodies, have been so far able to revivify the trade.


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Page last updated: 9 May 2017.