The Lost Mills of Cheesden Valley

Ruins of Cheesden Lumb Mill, north of Heywood, Lancashire
Cheesden Lumb Mill. (Alan Rayner)

The passing of time often leaves little trace of what has gone before. The quiet course of Cheesden Brook is now flanked mostly by woods and moorland hills, but the valley has a significant industrial and cultural history.

The Cheesden Valley was formed during the last Ice Age and visited by humans as far back as 4,000 years ago. For centuries, the population in the valley was sparse and scattered. One of the earliest records of activity there shows that John Blackwall was granted the right to mine coal in the valley by Elizabeth I around 1580. By the 17th century there were small communities (‘folds’) in the valley with their own mines. These people got by with a combination of livestock husbandry and cottage industries such as weaving. Mills started to appear in Cheesden Valley during the 18th century, the first probably being the one erected at Kershaw Bridge in 1780 by Thomas Allanson. It was a fustian mill, producing thick, coarse cotton material.

Click here for large map of the mills in the valley.

Cheesden Brook is a small waterway, but the development of a series of lodges along its course created enough water power to eventually power 15 mills. Between them, these mills employed about 2,000 workers, and before long bustling communities emerged in what had once been an isolated area. Operatives in those mills usually worked 60-70-hour weeks and that work was regulated by the flow of water, so after a heavy rainfall the workers would be called in for long shifts to take advantage of the swollen flows.

Typical layout of a 19th-century water-powered mill.

The highest mill on Cheesden Brook was Four Acre Mill, a cotton mill built around 1810 at Cheesden Pasture, in the moorland north-west of Knowl Hill. It is likely that this started life as a woollen mill, spinning and carding wool for weavers. Four Acre was owned by local farmer John Howarth, who had the 'Great Lodge' constructed not far away, at the marshy source of the Cheesden, 1,478 feet above sea level. This lodge later allowed for a consistent head of water along the length of the brook, enough for Four Acre to have a waterwheel 4 feet wide and 36 feet in diameter. (See 'The Lodge at Four Acre')

Four Acre Mill, circa 1848 (see it in the original map here).

Located a few hundred yards downstream were two mills built by the Ramsbottom family - the Cheesden Pasture Mill (c.1810) and the Lower Pasture mill (open by the 1830s). The first mill initially spun and carded wool for domestic outworkers, but was spinning cotton by 1838. These two mills were not actually powered by the Cheesden, but instead by reliable springs which kept the lodges well supplied. At one point the mills contained 3-4,000 spindles and employed about 40 workers, and a row of cottages were built close by to accommodate them. One room at the mill contained a day school. By the end of the century, however, both Four Acre and Lower Pasture mills were no longer in operation.

Cheesden Pasture and Lower Pasture mills, circa 1848 (see them on the original map here).

The next cotton mill downstream, by what is now Edenfield Road, was Bridge Mill (also known as Cheesden Bar), which was open by 1840. This was a two-storey mill, at one point being used for woollen manufacture upstairs and cotton spinning downstairs. It was later used for waste twills and calicos, and closed in 1898 after the water rights were sold for the construction of the nearby Ashworth Reservoir.

Bridge Mill c.1848 (see it on the original map here).

Very close to Bridge Mill were Cheesden Lumb Higher (cotton mill, opened 1845) and Cheesden Lumb (woollen, open circa 1786).

Cheesden Lumb Higher and Cheesden Lumb mills c.1848 (see them on the original map here). 

Croston Close Upper (cotton, open by 1810, also known as Middle Bottoms) was another mill owned by Croston Close farmer John Howarth, and one that was probably established as a woollen mill, spinning and carding wool for the nearby cottage weavers. Most of the workers at these smaller mills in the valley were - like the owners - from the local farms. The mills in this area closed during the 1890s, although the cottages at Croston Close were occupied until 1922.

Croston Close Upper c.1848 (see it on the original map here).
Directly below Croston Close Upper was Croston Close Lower, also known as Lower Bottoms. This woollen mill was owned by George Howarth (brother of John) and open by the 1830s. It was reported that a 'new mill' here was washed away by flood waters in 1834.

Croston Close Lower Mill c.1848 (see it on the original map here).

Long Land Mill (aka Longlands) opened as a cotton mill at Buckhurst circa 1838. It came under the ownership of Barlow and Jones during the 1880s and was probably converted to a new process of cotton waste spinning around that time. The mill, however, had ceased operations by 1893.

Long Land Mill c.1848 (see it on the original map here).

Daniel and Kay established a cotton-finishing mill at Deeply Vale in 1801. This was Cob House Nab Mill, a printing works with adjoining cottages. It was two storeys high, and by 1813 the surrounding 30 acres of land contained reservoirs, drying houses, dye houses, stables, and a ‘colour-shop’. This mill was washed away in 1828 by the storm-swollen brook, and while it was being rebuilt the new owner, Mr Earnshaw, was killed after he fell into the gearing.

Another mill was developed on Deeply Hill, a few hundred metres to the north, in 1834, and a few years later it was combined with the lower mill to become the Deeply Vale Printing Co. By 1846 the new mill had two printing machines and 100 handblock tables for making cloths with three, four or five different colours. Later known as Hardman's Mill, it was closed by the 1890s.

Deeply Vale Print Works, c.1848 (see them on the original map here).

Just below Deeply Vale was Lower Wheel Mill, also known as Washwheel Mill. This was built in the second half of the 19th century and taken over by Joseph Shepherd during the 1880s for the bleaching of cotton waste. In 1919 this became the last mill in the valley to close, and its chimney stack can still be seen there today. (See 'Washwheel Mill').

Washwheel Mill c.1848 (see it on the original map here).

Birtle Dene Mill was a large complex built in 1824 and owned by the Ramsbottom family for most of its life. This was a full-scale 4-storey cotton spinning mill and weaving shed, The mill produced its own gas and was powered by a large waterwheel and auxiliary engine. Thomas Ramsbottom also owned three mines above the mill. It was built in a narrow, steep part of the valley which made access difficult, and goods had to be hauled up and down the slopes with a windlass. There were also three rows of cottages built for the workers. The Ramsbottom family ran the mill until 1890, when it was taken over by Goulden, Adams and Company until its closure at the end of the century.

Birtle Dene Mill c.1848 (see it here on the original map).

A fustian mill was built at Kershaw Bridge around 1780 by Thomas Allanson, and probably employed about 10 people. By the 1840s the mill was a dyeworks, but in 1845 it was taken over by the Whitehead family and converted for cotton production. In the early 1850s it became the first mill in the valley to cease production. Kershaw Bridge itself was once a pack horse bridge.

Kershaw Bridge c.1848 (see it here on the original map).

The Cheesden Brook mills survived for over half a century against growing competition from their urban rivals to the south. Many developed as cotton-waste spinners, and these boomed during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, which was caused by a blockade against raw cotton leaving the Confederate States during the American Civil War and caused many larger town mills to close. Deeply Hill had one of the heaviest concentrations of housing in the valley, with 32 cottages set in four rows. Children went to nearby Buckhurst School, which had opened in 1840.

The Deeply Vale works became a paper mill in 1870, but by that time the Cheesden mills were struggling again and by the end of the century they had all but vanished. Deeply Vale Mill was one of the last to go, the last being the nearby  There was still some life in the valley, however, and the Deeply cottages remained in use until the 1950s, some of them as holiday homes, and the Buckhurst School was open until 1960, but eventually the mills crumbled away. The once-thriving communities are gone and what remains are the occasional remnant of a wall or chimneys, and the weirs and the lodges favoured by local anglers. Deeply Vale, however, was to get a short-lived burst of fame in the 1970s.

   Related pages   

  • Owen Ashmore, Industrial Archaeology of North-West England, Manchester University Press, 1982. 
  • Cheesden Valley (website) 
  • Cotton Times, 'Life in the Moorland Mills'.
  • Margaret Davies, 'A note on an early group of cotton mills', Geography, Vol. 29, No. 2, June 1944. 
  • Hannah Haynes, Heywood, Chalford Publishing, 1997. 
  • Andy Marshall, 'Cheesden Valley Project'. (website) 
  • AV Sandiford & TE Ashworth, The Forgotten Valley, Bury and District Local History Society, 1981.


Lapinbizarre said…
Did my A-level Geography thesis fifty years ago on the geomorphology of the Cheesden Valley (glacial overflow). Wish I still lived within walking distance. Dandelion & Burdock at the Nab's Wife tea-room is a fond childhood memory. My memory is that the walls of the Birtle Dene mill were largely intact in the early 60's. Has it been leveled since then for the stone?
Dustie Hickey said…
What a lovely page, wish I had the internet when I was doing a school project on the valley and mills. This is so interesting and a delight to read. I was born here above Wash Wheel Mill. I learnt to swim in the lodges. Happy days.
Anonymous said…
Great Great uncle worked at Deeply Vale Mill aged 12 in 1851 & lived in one of the mill workers cottages in 1871.
Anonymous said…
Hello, I would love to hear more on this story, how interesting. I have played in and around the ruins. Some stone steps remained at one cottage and "my" how I imagined days gone by and what it may of been like to live there when it was a working mill. All but gone and trees now grow where I imagine your Great Uncle once slept.
Anonymous said…
Now then Dustie Hickie, you must be the same DH from RMBC... think we've both left by now, anyway, have a great fascination for this area myself, done some photography in the area, especially the mill ruins in the woods, there seems to be remains of houses too, would that be Longlands or Deeply Vale mill?. Thanks, Chris Whitaker.
Anonymous said…
I walked here last sunday. I've put the link to your blog on my facebook so other people can read it.
Unknown said…
My great great grandfather was born in Harwood Fold while his family, who were shipped up from Suffolk in 1835 by the Poor Law officials, worked at Birtle Dean Mill.It is great to read this blog and get some insight into what their life was like. We visited a month ago and I wish I'd read this first
Unknown said…
Does anyone have any photographs of Buckhurst school or the old Norden Primary school please
Liam RT said…
Cheesden Lumb lower mill was also fed from Kill Gate brook via a lodge which is still present at the north west corner of Ashworth reservoir. The brook is presently culverted into the reservoir, but the lodge still holds water.