England’s textile mills are an important part of the country’s industrial legacy and once those were the workstation of the world as well as the original Northern Powerhouse. They helped make Greater Manchester in the north of England and have a profound impact on the physical and cultural landscape.
A new report by the University of Salford, funded by Historic England, published on 19 November reveals that Greater Manchester alone has lost almost half (45%) of its mills since the 1980s, though most of the people are against this demolition. Salford is the borough which has lost the most, with 66% lost over the last 30 years. Historic England and YouGov operate a survey where they found that 90% of adults in England believe that historic mills are an important part of the country’s heritage, story and character and 85% do not want to see historic mills demolished and replaced.
The study, commissioned by Historic England, explores viable new uses for old mills across the North West. Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s Planning Director in the North West, said, “With their ability to accommodate wonderful homes, workplaces and cultural spaces, our historic mill buildings deserve a future and should not be destroyed.”
“Mills have so much to offer in terms of space, character and identity. By shining a light on successful regeneration projects, we hope to inspire others to recognise the potential of our former industrial buildings and start a conversation about their future.”
There is calculated to be 1,996,597 square metres of vacant floor space in textile mills across Greater Manchester and Lancashire – equivalent to 25,000 new homes, according to the report. Historic England believes that mills can and should accommodate the North West’s growth needs. Mill buildings are also distinctive, character-filled places which offer a connection between past and future generations.
Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, said, “It’s a real shame that half of Greater Manchester’s historic mills have been lost. These buildings are an important part of our industrial legacy – the original Northern Powerhouse. But equally they are an important part of our future, whether that’s creating new jobs for local people by investing in the industries of the future, providing much-needed affordable housing, or transforming these unique spaces into cultural destinations. I fully support Historic England’s plea to ensure our remaining mills have a key place in the developing fabric of our region.”
Norman Redhead, Director of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service, said, “The historic textile mill is the iconic symbol of the region’s rich industrial heritage. It epitomises the successful introduction of the factory-based system for the production of textile goods, which from the late 18th century transformed the Greater Manchester area into one of the world’s leading manufacturing centres.”
John McGoldrick, curator of Armley Mills Industrial Museum near Leeds, said there is “no catch-all answer” to preserving mill buildings. “A modern use for the mill depends on the circumstances. Some have massive historical significance but you must take each on its merits.
“Armley Mills is a perfect spot to tell the historical story of Leeds’ textile and many other trades but Holmes Mill in Clitheroe, Lancashire has been redeveloped differently as a shopping and food outlet. It’s just another way to expose visitors to industrial history.
We would like to protect as many buildings as we can but we are also in the real world,” he said.
Historic England is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In 2016 Historic England commissioned the University of Salford to review the survival of mills in Greater Manchester to update a previous survey of the late 1980s. According to the survey result, in the last 25 years there has been a loss of 45% of historic textile mills. The condition of the surviving 540 mills is variable, with 20% considered to be at high risk of complete loss and a further 28% vulnerable to change or loss. However, just over half of surviving mills are in good order and make a positive contribution to the economy. 90 of the most significant mills have been given statutory protection as listed buildings.