Glossop Heritage Trust

The Mills of Glossopdale.

Glossopís First Mill
Although there is an area of present-day Glossop called Milltown it actually has nothing to do with the cotton industry but it is derived from the presence, on what is now Corn Street, of the Lord of the Manorís Corn mill which from medieval times ground the corn for the inhabitants of the village.
At this time Glossop was the area round the Old Cross and Parish Church - in other words our 'Old Glossop'. There was little on the site of our modern town until the early 19th century. The small townships , or villages, like Dinting, Simmondley and Whitfield, Hadfield and Padfield and further away Charlesworth and Chisworth, were sited higher up the hillsides. The bottom of the valley was empty and the few roads ran between the villages well above the valley bottom. There seem to have been few crossings over the Glossop Brook and these were only fords till Turnpike roads were built in the late 18th and early 19th century.

The Beginnings of the Textile Industry
The Glossop area was ideal for textile production for several reasons. Firstly, the damp climate kept the threads supple and made them less liable to break during the spinning and weaving processes and secondly, the main Shelf and Glossop Brooks descending from the hills and the side tributaries such as Bray Clough, Blackshaw Clough and Padfield Brook [which flowed into the Etherow] supplied water to drive the machines as well as for industrial processes.
From the earliest times the inhabitants of the small farms had to be self sufficient, not only in producing their own food but in providing their own clothing. This was usually made from woollen cloth, with thread, or yarn, made from the fleeces of their own sheep. In the cottages the older girls and women - or spinsters - spun thread from wool carded or straightened by the younger children and the thread was woven on hand operated looms by the men and older boys.
Soon this grew as some families produced excess thread, or cloth and would sell it at markets to buy other necessities. This is termed the Domestic System.
In Old Glossop, it is recorded that one man would walk to Huddersfield carrying the bolts of cloth he had woven to sell it at the market. Soon men with an eye for business would go round buying raw materials and distributing it to spinners and paying them for their work, then taking it to the weavers and paying them for their work and selling the cloth at cloth markets. These men were called 'Putters Out'.


As towns grew the demand for cloth grew and the methods of production had to increase. Looms had become larger and more thread was needed, more than could be produced by hand. The Spinning Jenny made it possible to produce thread more quickly and the Flying Shuttle made it possible to weave wider cloth and make it more quickly but all the early innovations were still hand processes.
By the brook [now Wesley St.], in 'old' Glossop first William Sheppard, then Benjamin Rolfe owned a mill where several skilled workers worked together but soon water power began to be used to drive ever larger spinning and weaving machines.
From the outset, many of the mills were built by speculators, eager to make money from the growing textile industry or by agents for landowners, and not necessarily by the men who were later to operate them.
Some early Mills were engaged in woollen textile production and to begin with, the small mills did not use powered machines.
Waterloo Mills
Meadow Mill Mills on the Blackshaw and Shelf Brooks
Soon after 1784 Hawkshead mill was built on Blackshaw Clough and Warth Mill, Water, Barracks and Thread mills were built at the bottom of Mossy Lee. Several tenants ran these mills with varying degrees of financial success - or ruin. Many mills passed through the hands of a succession of operators and often stood empty for many years, some of them from the moment they were built.
A sketch map of the Shelf Brook mills in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format can be viewed on screen by clicking here (opens in a new window).

The arrival of John Wood
After 1815 John Wood rented the Water, Barracks and Thread mills and expanded his business till he needed even more room for the bigger machines and greater production. This necessitated his moving to an area further down the valley close to where the new road from Chapel en le Frith to Woodhead crossed the Marple Bridge to Glossop turnpike at Bridge End [now Victoria Street]. He bought the old woollen-fulling mill at the river crossing and began to buy up land to build spinning and weaving sheds and houses for his workers.
Click This Link for a more detailed article about the Wood family.

Ellison, Sumner and Wren Nest
In 1815 Wren Nest Mill was set up by Thomas Ellison and in 1827 it became the property of his nephew Francis James Sumner who greatly expanded the business.
Here is an article about Francis James Sumner and Wren Nest Mill.

Howardtown
An inn called the Tontine, later renamed the Norfolk Arms, was built near the crossing of the turnpikes. In 1837 the new bridge over the Glossop brook at Bridge End was made and Lord Howard paid for the Town Hall to be built. In 1844 the market was moved from the old cross. The area became known as Howardtown. The town of Glossop had moved to its present position.
Howard Town Mill c1830
Mill chimney in quarry, Meadow Mills Old Glossop Expansion of the Textile Industry
Initially local families provided the work force as the farming community had spinning and weaving skills which they had always relied on to clothe themselves and augment their income from subsistence agriculture.
Later, as the factories grew, local inhabitants alone could supply enough labour and workers came in from other parts of the county and from Lancashire and Yorkshire, and Cheshire as well as further afield, especially Ireland.
A sketch map of the Glossopdale mills in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format can be viewed on screen by clicking here (opens in a new window).

It is clear from the early censuses of 1841 and 1851 both how much of the local population was involved in the textile industry and how many had migrated to Glossop to find work. Whole families were employed in the cotton industry and all worked long hours. The youngest children did cleaning jobs, collecting the cotton fibres which filled the air and settled in drifts under the machines and could cause a fire hazard, and mended the threads which broke during production. These tasks were done while the machines were moving and it could be very dangerous. Modern ideas of Health and Safety were unknown and many accidents, some fatal, were recorded. In good times families with several cotton workers amongst its members could earn a good income but in bad times it would be hard to find other employment By the end of the 19th century the cotton industry had peaked and Glossop population began to decline.
We hear many horror stories of how badly workers were treated in the textile industry during this period but by and large Glossop mill-owners were benevolent, providing good housing and food and fuel supplies for their employees from local farms which they owned and from nearby mines. Glossop escaped the worst of the violence of the industrial disputes and what little occurred was mainly brought in by more militant workers from towns outside the valley, but it could not escape the slumps and depressions in the cotton industry. Many left the town and emigrated in the late 1830s in one period of little work.

The Cotton Famine of the early 1860s caused by the Civil War in the USA put the cotton operatives out of work and Lord Howard and the Board of Guardians paid for a programme of road building which gave us many of our present main roads. The unemployed workers also drained agricultural land and built several of the reservoirs we see today.
Meadow Mills Letterhead
Vale House, 1859 Mills were often rebuilt, sometimes due to damage or destruction in fires caused by the dangers involved in the textile processes or because of the need to accommodate new, larger, machinery. By the time of the 1881 Ordnance Survey map, in Glossop, many of the mills are already marked down as derelict or in ruins. Mill names changed with new firms taking them over and many mills passed through the hands of the well-known local textile industry families as they expanded and the businesses were built up by sons or relatives of the original founders. Many firms went bankrupt in this process, some several times, but some survived to make the cotton empires which became well known in the valley. Vale House chimney rising ffom the reservoir
Local Mill Capacities in the 19th - 20th Century
Wood Sumner Shepley Sidebottom/CPA
Howardtown Wren Nest
Waterside
Looms Spindles Looms Spindles Spindles Looms Spindles
1823 143 5580 ---- 7000 -- 206 6600
1825 363 13618 12000
1829 527 14914
1831 698 28933 57 9696
1832 805 31942 22000
1836 916 38500 380 14000 590 17472
1896 3385 221000 2688 122000 43000 4700 293000
1910 3200 200000 2496 141000 49000 1872 71000
1929 3000 200000 2496 150000 62000 1872 71000
1937 1340 80000 2267 102000 closed 761 1400

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Page last updated: 25 September 2017.
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