BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK, Derbyshire

This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th June 1997 (p.5), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)

BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK: BOBBIN MILLS

The production of wooden bobbins was a spin-off from the textile industry. Yarn or thread was wound onto these cylindrical spools, to be unwound in a smooth continuous movement during the weaving process. A large cotton-spinning mill would have several million bobbins in use day and night, giving rise to a constant demand for the replacement of those which became broken and damaged.

Bobbins were made from coppice wood and invariably manufactured in a water-powered mill close to the timber source. The new wood had to be dried and so was stored in drying sheds before use. Inside the mill the turning machinery and lathes might also be put to making other cylindrical wooden items such as tool handles and cotton reels. As with bobbins, a smooth finish was essential and production was finalised at the polishing section.

A specific type of bobbin, very narrow and about 4" long, was used in making pillow or bobbin lace, a speciality in the Middleton/Youlgreave area during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Lace-making bobbins were commonly made from fruit tree wood or bone, weighted at one end with a circle of beads threaded onto wire. Many bobbins were in use on one piece of work and the addition of flat sided beads stopped them rolling about on the pillow while lying idle. A bobbin-net machine for lace-making was invented around 1803. Old pillow lace bobbins have become so popular with antique collectors that wooden reproductions are on sale.

Manufacture of the larger, commercial bobbins was often carried out within easy distance of major customers. Hence on the western outskirts of the Peak, the textile mills of Mellor supported a number of bobbin turners throughout most of the 19th century. Twelve were listed in the census of 1850, one of whom, Jesse Stafford, was still in business twenty years later when he employed eight men and five boys.

In the early 19th century a bobbin mill was recorded at Lumsdale near Matlock, possibly that owned by Edward Radford who ran it in conjunction with a large spinning and candlewick mill a short distance away. At Bradwell the Fox family manufactured weavers' shuttles for cottage looms which were once numerous in the village. Around 1795 a venture known as Wightman's bobbin factory was established at Fritchley but the original building was burnt out in 1885, leaving a dam and mill tail to mark the site.

RECONSTRUCTION

The existence of Lumford Mill at Bakewell, which functioned as a cotton mill until the end of the 19th century, may support the local tradition that bobbins formed the early output of a mill in Ashford Dale. Built in the 1870s as a water-powered saw and wood-turning mill, it stands on the river Wye and comprises a small complex of buildings which together house three water-wheels. Operated by the Frost family, the mill went on to produce carts and wheelbarrows. for self assembly.

Reconstruction of Ashford Mill was begun in 1977 by the Arkwright Society with the cooperation of the owners, the Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Joint funding from the Chatsworth Estate and the Peak Park Planning Board has enabled the Arkwright Society to undertake renovation of the water-wheels. One of these is a rare survivor of a type with ventilated buckets, an advanced design which enabled air to escape as the buckets were filled with water, thus improving performance. Housed in a separate small building is the Sheldon wheel, so named because it drove the pump taking drinking water from Pot Boil spring up to the village of Sheldon. The system was in operating between the 1880, and 1950s.

The Arkwright Society has also undertaken refurbishment of Slinter Cottage in the Via Gellia. Standing on Bonsall Brook the building is believed to have been built between 1800 and 1830, probably as a slag mill, and still has its water wheel. The subsequent installation of wood turning machinery and evidence of coppicing in the area suggests bobbin production - the building is only a short distance from the former cotton mills at Cromford. In its later working life the little mill functioned as a wood turning and saw mill, with domestic accommodation on the upper floor.

Prior to its purchase by the Arkwright Society in 1991, Slinter Cottage had been maintained and preserved for fifty years by its lady owner. When it was put up for sale, at £65,000, its historical significance attracted a contribution of £55,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Further financial assistance came from the Zochonis Trust and the Alan Evans Memorial Trust.

A public footpath passes close to Slinter cottage (SK293570), while the Ashford Mill site (SK182896) is a point of interest for walkers using footpaths along the river west of Ashford.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th June 1997.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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