Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,686 pages of information and 235,430 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Holt Town Mills

From Graces Guide

in the Beswick area of Ancoats, Manchester


Note: A variety of names appear as occupants of the various parts of the mills, and it is not always clear whether they are owners or tenants.

1785 Established by David Holt, and described as the only known example of a 'factory colony' in Manchester, that is, an isolated mill complex with housing for the workers [1]. A larger, better-known example is Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire. However, it is a fact that Chappell's Mill, ¼ mile away to the east, could also be described as a factory colony, having 27 houses associated with it. It may be that this mill was considered part of the Holt Town Mills complex, given that a 'Beswick Mill' was included in the 1828 sale notice (below), and described as 'being detached from the others'. However, against this is the fact that the 1849 O.S. map identifies the group of buildings at the west end of the Holt Town site (close to Beswick Street) as 'Beswick Mills', while an 1848 sale of workshop equipment was advertised at Beswick Mill, situate in Beswick Street [2]. These two facts suggest that Chappell's Mill was indeed an independent 'factory colony'.

1794 Mills (Old Mill and New Mill) advertised for sale following the bankruptcy of David Holt and Company [3]. See Sale Notices below. It is evident from the sale notice that the mill took in raw cotton and processed and spun it to produce yarn. In addition, the factory had the ability to produce textile machinery.

1801 The owners were Mitchell and Holt. They took legal action under the Act against Combinations, against some of their mule spinners who withdrew their labour. Three of the spinners, regarded as the ringleaders, were sentenced to three months imprisonment[4]

1818 It seems that David Holt had regained ownership of the mill [5]

1828 Advertised for sale following the death of the mill's owner, William Mitchell. See 'Sale Notices' for details. In fact, Mitchell had died in 1826[6], and the business was in the hands of a son and daughter, who let parts of the mills and machinery to Betty Buckley and Sons (who became bankrupt, leading to the Mitchells having to take legal action in 1826 to recover assets)[7]. In passing, it will be mentioned that William Mitchell instituted the Manchester Golf Society in 1814 [8].

1838 The mill was evidently owned by a Mr Guest, and now undertook weaving [9]

1839 A Manchester swimming enthusiast, Dr Bedale, took on a widely-reported wager to swim 250 yards in a certain number of strokes, and a 'Mr. Clarke, of Holt Town, politely offered Dr. Bedale the use of a large pond or reservoir, in his pleasure grounds.'[10]. The larger of the mills' two reservoirs fits the bill, and it is known that Joseph Bell Clarke owned or occupied part of Holt Town Mills in 1834. Thhis is known from answers he gave to the Factories Inquiry Commission's Report into the employment of children in factories in 1834. He stated that he undertook woollen spinning in an 'old mill, originally built for cottages'. It had an 8 HP steam engine and a 10 HP water wheel. He was quite open about his employment of children aged 7 and upwards, and showed apparent disinterest in some aspects of welfare, commenting that his business was not regulated by Act of Parliament.[11]

1844 Mr Guest was fined 40s for not having whitewashed his mill once in a period exceeding 12 months.[12]

1847 Advertised for sale. See 'Sale Notices' for details.

Layout and Locality

The dramatic changes which the Industrial Revolution brought to 19th century Manchester are well illustrated by reference to large scale maps showing Holt Town Mills.

Bancks's 1831 map shows Holt Town as a small collection of mill buildings and houses located by the winding River Medlock, in what was otherwise a largely rural area. The houses appear as block of 22 back-to-back houses, but we know from the 1794 sale notice that these had four storeys rather than the more typical two - a tenement block in effect.

Immediately to the north of the mill buildings was a reservoir, called Medlock Dam, and a large house and conservatory and gardens, as referred to in the 1828 sale notice. The reservoir/ornamental lake also featured an island, with a garden and what was perhaps a summerhouse. A sign of things to come was the Ashton Canal, which marked the northern boundary of the estate. The northern approach to the house crossed the canal by a narrow bridge. South of the mill buildings, across the road leading to Ashton, was a smaller reservoir. 1/4 mile to the east was a large square reservoir belonging to Manchester and Salford Waterworks.

Study of the topography indicates the reason for the old mill's location: it was in a shallow valley, with the mill buildings just above the level of the River Medlock. A weir was built about 1/4 mile upstream, and a mill race was taken off the river just above the weir. The race followed the contours to the mill. It skirted round the reservoir, rather than feeding directly into it. Evidently the mill race preceded the reservoir.

By 1848/1849, the O.S. maps show that the large house had gone, but the conservatory remained. The canal bridge, named Quakers Bridge, now led to Bradford Road, and a group of houses had been built nearby. There had been few changes to the mill complex, apart from some building extensions and the addition of gas plant with a gasometer. The largest group of buildings is labelled Holt Town Mills (Cotton), while a smaller group at the S.W. corner of the site is marked Beswick Mills (Cotton). The back-to-back houses fronted onto Mill Street and Pump Street. The reservoirs appear unchanged, but a small group of houses and Beswick Brewery had appeared immediately east of the small reservoir. The Ashton Road was now called Ashton New Road. The area to the immediate west of the mills now saw encroachment of houses and Manchester Gas Works No. 4. Mill Street joined Ashton New Road at Holt Town Bridge. Three other roads met here: Mitchell Street, Every Street, and Beswick Street. Presumably Mitchell street was named after William Mitchell, the mill owner up to c.1828. A pub on the corner close to the mill was called the Mitchells Arms.

1851 Adshead's map shows that part of the mill at the S.W. corner of the site was occupied by Mitchell & Co., while the larger part of the site is marked 'Hilton and Webster Holt Town Cotton Mill'. 'Medlock Hall Green Houses' are shown north of the large reservoir, and a new mill had appeared to the west of this, marked 'W. P. Clarke Wellington Mill'.

The 1891 (1893) O.S. map shows that the character area had completely changed, the former fields being occupied by housing and industrial premises. The reservoirs had been filled in. The mill buildings were now used for various purposes - labelled Finishing and Calendering Works, Gum Works, Dyewood Mill, and Picker Mill. The houses on Pump Street and Mill Street had survived. The part of Mill Street connected to the main road junction had been renamed Holt Town. The municipal reservoir had also been filled in, the land being covered by houses, railways, and roads. There was a reminder of the site's previous use, in the name Reservoir Mill (originally Chappell's Mill).

Old photographs in the online Manchester City Council Images Collection indicate that by the turn of 19th century the setting had lost some of its rural charm.[13] [14] [15]. However, even in 1911, Beswick wasn't entirely covered by houses and factories [16]

Now, in 2014, grass and trees have returned to the mill site. The site is now crossed by crossed by tram lines. Mitchell Street has been renamed Merrill Street. The Mitchells Arms building has survived, but has been boarded up. A few sections of cobbled streets provide a link with the past, and the River Medlock follows its long-established course, and the mill's weir remains. The area formerly occupied by the Manchester & Salford reservoir, and later by Reservoir Mill, is now dominated by the sports complex which includes Manchester City's Etihad Stadium.

Sale Notices

1794 Advertisement: 'HOLT TOWN COTTON MILLS To be Sold, by private Contract, Under the Direction of the Assignees of DAVID HOLT, and COMPANY, Bankrupt,……… ALL that substantial, and well built COTTON MILL or FACTORY, called the OLD MILL, being 53 yards in length, by 11? Yards in width, and six Stories High, …38 Water frames, carrying together 2736 spindles, 42 Sets Breaking and finishing Cards, 24 Heads of Drawing ………..
Also, 18 Mules, carrying together 3312 Spindles, all in complete repair, and now at Work, together with the necessary Preparations, consisting of 15 Sets of Finishing and Breaking Cards, 12 Heads of Drawing, 42 Cans for Roving, Cotton Cans, and other requisite Appendages. In the above described Premises, The Water Wheel, upright and lying Shafts are entirely New, and have a Supply of Water from a large Reservoir, contiguous to the Mills, and which (with a newly-erected and powerful Beam Engine, having a 60 Inch Steam Cylinder, for the Purpose of returning Water to the Wheel, when a Scarcity prevails) is capable of working upwards of 3000 Spindles, with the necessary Preparation for the same.
Also all that other newly-erected, substantial, and well-built Cotton Mill, or Factory, called the New Mill, situated at Holt Town aforesaid, and contiguous to the above described Premises. being 33 Yards long, by 13 and a half in width, and six Stories high, together with the Machinery, &c., therein contained, which consist of 8 Water Frames Carrying together 720 Spindles, 18 Sets of Cards, Breakers and Finishers, 6 Drawing Frames, 26 Roving Cans, a Roving Frame, carrying 60 Spindles, &c.
Also, 21 Capital Mules, carrying 3028 Spindles, three Stretching Frames, carrying 222 Spindles, together with a large Number of Cop and Bobbin Reels, the whole of which are in complete Repair. To the above last described Premises, is attached an excellent 14 Horse Patent Engine, erected by Messrs. Boulton and Watt, capable of working 1600 Spindles, and Preparation, having regular and ample Supply of Injection Water, from the Reservoir before-mentioned, without any Diminution to the Power of the Engine, by lifting the same.
Also all those substantial and well-built Dwelling Houses, 4 Stories High, situated contiguous the Mills, and erected for the Accommodation of the People employed in the Works.
Also all those other newly erected Dwelling-houses, two Stories High, contiguous to the before mentioned Premises, and also built for the Accommodation of the Work People.
Also all that Erection or Building at Holt Town aforesaid, comprising a good six-stalled Stable, Cart-House, Engine-House, Joiner, and Brass-Caster's Shop, &c.
Also all that Erection or Building at Holt Town aforesaid, with the Appurtenances and occupied as Print Works by Higginson.
Also all that other Erection or Building, called the small Mill, three Stories High, at Holt Town aforesaid, with the Water Wheel, upright and lying Shafts, with other the Privileges and Appurtenances, and particularly Supply of Water, sufficient to work a considerable Quantity of Preparation.
Also a large Quantity of excellent Materials and Implements, for the Purpose of Machine Making, and which consist of a large Assortment of dry Timber, of various Sorts, Iron and Brass, Smiths, Joiners, and Clock-makers Tools. .
Also all that newly-erected Capital Messuage or Dwelling House, pleasantly situated at Holt Town aforesaid, and commanding a most extensive and beautifully romantic Prospect. The House was erected for the managing Partner of the Works, and is very convenient for a large Family. .
And also all those several Closes, Fields, Parcels of Meadow and Pasture Land, together with a Quantity of Timber, thereupon growing, lying at or near Holt Town aforesaid, and upon a Part of which there is a valuable Stone Quarry.
Mr. Holt, who resides on the Premises, will shew the fame, which are subject to the two several Original Annual Reserved Rents, of 250l. and 175l.—All Applications respecting a Treaty for the same, must be made to the Assignees.' [17]

1828 Advertisement: 'Holt Town Mills, in Manchester
TO BE LET, for a term of years, and immediate possession will be given, all those highly valuable COTTON MILLS, at Holt Town, Manchester, called the Holt Town Mills, lately the property and the possession of William Mitchell, Deceased, consisting of the New mill, being six stories high and an attic, and being 31½ yards long, and 12¼ yards wide. The Fire Proof Mill, being six stories and an attic high, 18 yards long, and 18 yards wide. The old Mill, being six stories high, 47 yards long, and 9½ yards wide, and another building attached to the Old Mill, being three stories high, 16? yards long, and 12 yards wide, together with several outbuildings, used as warehousing, counting house, machine shops, and for other general purposes.
The mills above described, are turned by one new and excellent steam engine of 70 horses' power, which, with the mill geering, steam pipes, &c., will be let with the mills.
Also another Mill at Holt Town, called the Beswick Mill, being five stories high, 49 yards long, and about 8½ yards wide, which is now turned by a steam engine nearly new, and made by Messrs. Peel and Williams, of 8 horses' power, and also a water wheel of 6 horses’ power.
This mill being detached from the others, will be let either together with them or separately.
The tenant will have the option of purchasing the Machinery in the mills, which is in excellent repair, and a great part being quite new and constructed on the most recent principle.
All the aforesaid mills are heated by steam, and are supplied with condensing water from a large reservoir, which is so situated that it requires no power to lift if; they are also near to two excellent collieries, and within a few yards of the Ashton canal, where there is a wharf belonging to the premises, of which the tenants will have the exclusive use.
Also another Building near to the Beswick Mill, being four stories high, 48 yards long, and 23 feet wide, together with a new engine house, the whole being well calculated for a Power Loom Manufactory.
There are 27 houses and cottages adjoining the mills, which are suitable for the occupation of a manager and workpeople.
Also to be let, either together with the mills, or separately, the capital MANSION, {called Medlock House), with the hot houses, gardens, plantations, and ground belonging thereto.
For further particulars, or a view of the property, apply to Mr. FROST, on the premises, or Mr. Jacob Goodier, Auctioneer.' [18]

1847 Advertisement: 'Valuable Machinery for Preparing, Spinning, and Weaving Cotton ; 3000 Pieces of Gray Calicoes, Yarns; 16-horse Steam Engine by Galloway ; Steam Boilers, Smiths' and Mechanics' Tools, Hydraulic Press, Horses, Carts, Gears, &c. &c. By T. M. FISHER, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the November, and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of December, 1847, by order of the Assignees of Mr. James Guest, at the Holt Town and Beswick Mills, Manchester. Sale to commence each day at eleven o'clock.
THE Whole of the Valuable MACHINERY for Preparing, Spinning and Weaving Cotton: comprising two pickers, two 48in. Oldham willows; cone, ditto, six blowers each, with two beaters and laps attached, for 40in. cards; four ditto, each with one beater, and ditto, five double carding engines, each 40in.on the wire; thirteen single ditto, each 40 in.; twenty-seven ditto, each 39in. and 68 ditto, each 30 inches on the wire, with rollers and clearers; four grinding frames for 40 in. cards; drawing frame, six double heads; do. each, with four double heads; three ditto each, with three double heads; and two ditto each with single heads; Dyers' frame, 24 tubes; ditto ditto, each tubes; and ten ditto…… self-actor mules, Potter's patent, 880 spindles; four pair of ditto, each 640 spindles; two pair of ditto, each 624 spindles; and two pair of ditto, each 620 spindles; six pair of self-actor mules, Sharp's patent, ……; eight beaming frames; ….. power looms, with healds, reeds, beams and shuttles; 14 inch slide lathe, bed 20 feet long, by Lewis; three 10in. & two 8in. double geared lathes: three 7 in. single speed do.; cutting machine by Lewis; upright drill; turning tools, vices, castings, wrought and scrap iron, smiths' tools, 16 horse portable condensing steam engine, by Galloway ; two waggon-shaped steam boilers, warp drying machine, cylinders each, 12ft. by 22 in; ditto, with 23 cylinders each, 8 ft. in.; hydraulic press, 7-mch ram ; broad wheel'd lorry, two broad wheel'd box carts, two narrow wheel'd pack carts' three spring vans, gears, stable utensils. About 3,000 pieces gray calico, quantity of yarn, driving straps, skips, buffaloes, cans, spools ; counting-house fixtures ; quantity of new stores, and other effects. May be viewed on Friday and Saturday, the 26th and 27th days of November, 1847, and catalogues had on the premises from. P. Hobson, Esq., official assignee. George-street Messrs. ATKINSON, SAUNDERS, and ATKINSON, solicitors, Norfolk-street, or from the auctioneer, 21, Princess-street, Manchester.' [19].
It is clear from this advertisement that the mills carried out preparation of the raw cotton, spinning and weaving to produce unbleached calico cloth, and they had well-equipped workshops for repairs (and possibly some machinery manufacture).

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'A & G Murray and the Cotton Mills of Ancoats': I Miller & C Wild and S Little, R McNeil, K Moth: Lancaster Imprints: ISBN 978-0-904220-46-9
  2. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 17 June 1848
  3. Manchester Mercury, 23 September 1794
  4. Leeds Intelligencer, 9 November 1801
  5. Morning Post, 11 September 1818 - reference to the end of a strike at the mill
  6. Chester Chronicle, 3 February 1826
  7. Leeds Intelligencer, 31 August 1826
  8. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 30 September 1837
  9. Manchester Times, 6 January 1838 - reference to a turn-out of weavers
  10. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 18 July 1829
  11. [1] Factories Inquiry Commission: Supplementary Report of the Central Board of HM Commissioners…Employment of Children in Factories ..., Part II, 1834
  12. Leeds Times, 25 May 1844
  13. [2] Road junction at Holt Town Bridge, looking towards the mill complex, 1899. Manchester City Council Images Collection m12272. Click on images to enlarge
  14. [3] Decaying mill buildings in 1914. Behind the wall was the River Medlock. Manchester City Council Images Collection Ref. m12902
  15. [4] Holt Town Bridge, 1890. Mill site on right. Manchester City Council Images Collection Ref. m60917
  16. [5] Beswick, 1911. Manchester City Council Images Collection Ref. m12772
  17. Manchester Mercury, Tuesday 23 September 1794
  18. Manchester Mercury, 11 March 1828
  19. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13 November 1847