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New Islington Mill

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in Ancoats, Manchester


Maps of the late 18th century apply the name 'New Islington' to a small plot of land in Ancoats, while on 19th century maps the name is given to a specific road in the same place, which ran east/south east from Union Street to Canal Street.

The 1848 O.S. map[1] identifies a mill as New Islington Mill. The remains of this mill were demolished in the 1970s, and in recent years it has been the subject of much attention, including archaeological excavation. However, the picture is somewhat clouded by uncertainties about the early history, and by the fact that there were other mills in the immediate area which were certainly 'New Islington mills'. In an effort to clarify matters, or not, the identified mills or factories will be designated as A, B, C and D. The letters do not imply chronological sequence.

Mill 'A' - 'New Islington Mill'

This is the mill shown on the 1848 O.S. map, and whose buried remains were subject to much scrutiny, being regarded as an early example of a steam-powered cotton mill in Manchester.

A book published in 2007 gives an excellent account of the findings relating to New Islington Mill (and to the nearby Waller's Mill and Salvin's factory), and traces the history of the area and its industries [2]

The investigation was also featured in a 2008 book [3], which puts the mill in the broader context of Manchester industrial and social history. The mill was described as one of eleven or more cotton mills which had been built in Manchester by 1788.

Perhaps the most interesting finding discussed in these two sources is clear evidence of a waterwheel, and the conclusion that this would have been served with water by a Savery-type pump of the type made by Joshua Wrigley. Such engines would have been cheap to buy, but expensive to run, being very inefficient.

In preparing this entry for Grace's Guide, additional information has been identified which broadens and complicates the picture somewhat.

Early References to Mills at New Islington

1788 Map

A map in Lewis's Manchester Directory for 1788 clearly shows a building straddling Shooter's Brook at New Islington. The brook evidently passed through the building, about half way along its length, and there can be little doubt that this was a mill of some description. Surprisingly, there is no evidence of a dam or reservoir upstream, but this apparent lack also applied to Salvin's cotton works downstream. No scale is given on the map, but by comparison with other features on the map, the length is estimated at about 100 ft, and the width slightly less than 20 ft. The building was L-shaped, although the short leg only projected about 10-15 ft. A track passed immediately to the north of the mill, heading across fields to Bradford Road. The alignment of the mill and the track are such as to cross the brook at right angles. The cotton mill shown on later maps (Mill A) is aligned at a slightly different angle to the '1788' mill, suggesting that it was not developed from the 1788 mill. This presupposes that the 1788 drawing is an accurate representation. It should be noted that this mill is completely absent from Green's 1787-1794 map and from Laurent's 1793 map. However, these maps do show an L-shaped building straddling Shooter's Brook further downstream, close to Salvin's Mill. Therefore, either Lewis's map is wrong, or the '1788' mill was demolished before the other maps were drawn.

In either case, it follows that this 1788 mill, 'Mill B', is not related to the 'New Islington Mill' (Mill A) which was the subject of archaeological investigation.

Mill advertised for sale in 1794

'.....Lot 2. All those Several Plots, Pieces of Land or Ground, situate at a certain Place called New Islington, near Ancoat's-lane aforesaid, (Part of a Close or Field called the Great Field) containing in the whole 14960 superficial square Yards, or thereabouts; subject to a yearly Rent in Fee of 93l. 10s.

'Also all those Six well-built Houses, standing on Part of the last-mentioned Plots of Land, and all let to good Tenants, at yearly rents amounting to 50l. 8s.

'And also all that substantial well-built Factory, with the Stable, and other Buildings thereto belonging, also situate and standing on the same Plots of land, and now let to Robert Gibson, at the yearly Rent of 18l. 18s.

'The Rochdale Canal will come through this Land ….. and the whole of the Land is advantageously laid out for building upon, well-soughed into Shooter's Brook ; and is bounded by a well paved Street called Union-street, which leads into Ancoat's-lane, and the other Side by Pitt-street [Pott Street], which is also very near the Line of the intended Ashton Canal. …..' [4]

Comment: Being bounded by Union Street and Pott Street, this is not 'Mill A'.

Mill advertised for sale in 1797 and 1798

1797 Sale Notice:[5]

'.....Lot 1st. All that commodious Messuage or Dwelling-house, with the Garden and Stable thereunto belonging, situate at New Islington, near Ancoats, Manchester, late in the Tenure or Occupation of John Lees, deceased, his Assigns or Undertenants.

'And all that Building now used as a Cotton Factorv, and adjoining the said Dwelling-house, together with Machinery therein, consisting 1292? Water Spindles, 1400 Mule spindles, Carding Engines, Roving Frames, &c. in Proportion, all in present Use and good Condition; together with Smithy, Shop, and other extensive and commodious Outbuildings; and also, a large ? belonging to the said Factory, which said last-mentioned Premises were late also in the Tenure or Occupation of the said John Lees.

'And all that Steam Engine, upon Messrs Boulton and Watt's Principles and Construction, and having the Power of twelve Horses, together with a Reservoir for the Supply of the said Steam Engine with Water. …..[Rent]….

'Lot 2d. All those ten Messuages or Dwelling-houses, (with a Yard and other Conveniencies belonging to each, situate at New Islington aforesaid, and near to the above-mentioned Premises, which said last-mentioned Dwelling-houses, are now all tenanted and let together at the clear yearly Rent of 92l. and are all conveniently adapted for the Residence of Persons employed at the said Cotton Factory ; and all that large Garret, extending over the Whole of the last-mentioned Dwelling-houses together with 18 Mules therein contained, all in present Use and good Condition. ….Payment ….

'For further particulars enquire of Mr. Daniel Lees, and Mr. Joseph Dunkerly, of Oldham, Executors of the said John Lees, deceased ; Mr. William Leigh, at the Premises, who will show the same, or Mr. Jones, Attorney at Law, Manchester.'

1798 Sale Notice [6]

'To be peremptorily Sold by Auction, and entered upon immediately, At the House of Mr. Joseph Richards, the White Bear Inn, opposite the Infirmary, Manchester, ….Lot 1st., all that large and new-erected Messuage and Dwelling House, situate standing and being at a certain Place in Manchester, called NEW ISLINGTON, together with the vacant Land to the Front thereof; and also all that large and commodious Building near the same lately used as a COTTON FACTORY, together with the Reservoir, Mill Yard, Patent Steam Engine, of the Power of Twelve Horses, and all the going Geer, Engine House, Stable, Smithy, Joiners Room, and other the Edifices and Buildings thereto belonging.

'Lot 2d. All those Ten new-erected Messuages or Dwelling Houses, with two Cellars and Twist Room over the Gateway situate standing and being at New Islington aforesaid, with a large commodious Garret over the whole of them. The Premises were late the Property of Mr John Lees, late of Pit Bank, near Oldham, in the said County, Merchant, deceased, and conveyed to him Fee Simple, under annual Ground Rent of twenty eight Pounds and one Shilling, the Lot first is intended to be charged with.

'Mr. John Burton, No. 10 Allum-street, will shew the Premises, and any further Particulars may be had, by applying to Mr Dunkerley, and Mr Daniel Lees, both of Oldham, in the said County, Executors of the said John Lees, deceased, or to Edward Heelis, Attorney at Law, in Oldham aforefaid.'


This will be designated 'Mill C'. It is probably the same as that advertised for sale in 1794.

Green's map of 1787-1794 shows no buildings at the site of the '1849' New Islington Mill (Mill A). However, there is a group of buildings shown immediately to the west of that site, at the junction of Union Street and a short un-named street (which became New Islington). The name New Islington appear alongside this block of buildings. This group includes a fairly large house, a garden, ten buildings (almost certainly houses) with extensions at the back, several other connected properties, and a larger building. There is no obvious sign of a reservoir, but otherwise, this group is not inconsistent with the descriptions in the sale notices. In fact it is not obvious from the map how water would have been fed from Shooter's Brook, which appears to be at a lower level than the buildings.

Note: A group of buildings is also shown at this position on Lewis's 1788 map, although the scale is too small to show useful detail. However, a point of interest regarding water supply is the presence of a small, sinuous stream which approached the buildings more closely than did Shooter's Brook. In fact, Laurent's 1793 map shows two ponds immediately across Pott Street from the buildings.

If this is indeed 'Mill C', then an interesting aspect is the presence of garret workshops over the houses, containing mules, in a steam-powered mill, especially in view of the shape of the group, which formed three sides of a 'right trapezium'.

The statement in the 1797 advertisement Steam Engine, upon Messrs Boulton and Watt's Principles and Construction might imply that the engine was not actually made by B&W. If so, a likely candidate maker would be Bateman and Sherratt, who 'pirated' Boulton & Watt's design features.

1800 - 1831

Bancks's 1831 map shows that mill buildings had now been built at the location recently subjected to archaeological investigation (Mill A). They are identified as Johnson & Brooke's Cotton Mill. There is a small reservoir at the eastern (Shooter's Brook) end. The postulated industrial building and the larger house and garden in the 18th century maps are no longer present, but the houses in that block, on Union Street and New Islington, remain. Another cotton mill is shown on the opposite side of New Islington.

When was 'Mill A', as shown on the 1831 map, built? Ref. 2 refers to factory buildings shown on the site on Bancks and Thornton's map of 1800, and a Mosley Estate plan of 1805-8 also shows the buildings, together with a small pool adjacent to the mill, served by Shooter's Brook. A 'Pocket Plan of Manchester and Salford' published in 1800 shows no mill here, but, of course, it may not have been absolutely up to date when published. Aston's 'A Plan of Manchester and Salford' 1804 does show 'Mill A'.

The earliest identified plan showing the basic layout of Mill A dates from c.1822 [7]. This shows the main building, running along New Islington, as two connected factories, both of 5 storeys. In addition, parallel and to the north of them, is a long narrow two storey 'Batting Shop' and a small stable. Connected to the NW corner of the main factory is a building marked as 'House', with another house projecting from the SW end, its end wall being next to the brook. Behind this house, and against the factory's end wall, is the engine house. In the angle between the engine house wall and the back of the house is a building marked 'Kitchen'.

Bancks's 1831 map shows another cotton mill (we shall call it 'Mill D') located at the junction of New Islington and Pott Street, directly across the street from 'Mill C'. Some excavation of the site was undertaken in 2004, and the findings and other information are discussed in Ref. 2, where it is referred to as Waller's Mill. A notable finding was the relative paucity of demolition material, implying careful dismantling, possibly for reuse of materials. This statement is significant in relation to information which has been found relating to an 1838 sale of building materials (see below).

The c.1822 plans referred to above include Waller's Mill (Mill D), identified as the factory of T. R. and S Waller[8]. The longer part of this mill, designated as a Factory 'b', had 6 storeys and a loft, while the smaller western end had 4 storeys and was identified as a Factory 'a' and machine maker's shop.

1836 - 1838 Sales Notices: Mill 'A'

The following advertisement was printed in 1838[9], but similar adverts had been placed periodically from 1836 onwards[10]

'Sale by Auction. To Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers by Power.—Valuable Cotton Mills, Steam Engines, Warehouses, and Cottages, at New Islington, Ancoats, Manchester.—Exempt from Duty. By Mr. WINSTANLEY, by order of the assignees of Messrs. Welch and Sells, bankrupts, at the Blackfriars Inn, Blackfriars Bridge, in Manchester, on Tuesday the 4th day of September inst., twelve o'clock at noon precisely and subject to such conditions of sale as will be then and there produced:

'Lot 1. A PLOT of LAND, near Ancoats-lane, Manchester, bounded on the north by and extending three yards into Boond's-row, on the south by and extending four yards into Islington-street, on the east in an irregular line by Shooter's Brook, on the west by and extending two yards into Pott-street, and containing on the north 18 yards, on the south 80 yards, on the east in irregular line 48 yards, on the west 45 yards, and containing in the whole 3711 square yards of land; and also all those two Cotton Mills or Factories, with the engine-house, a steam engine of 20 horses power, by Boulton and Watt, already set up; and another of 16 horses power, partly set up; boilers, mill gearing, steam and gas pipes, warehouses, and other erections and buildings to the said cotton mills belonging, the whole of which were late in the possession of the said Messrs. Welch and Sells. — And also all those thirty-two Dwelling-houses, standing and being upon the said land, and fronting into Islington-street, Factory-yard, Boonds-row, and Pott-street aforesaid.—The land is freehold of inheritance, and is subject to the payment of small yearly chief rent of £43 13s. 1½ d., reserved by feoffment, dated the 30th August, 1798, and will be sold subject thereto, and to the powers for recovery thereof, and to the performance the several covenants, &c. therein contained.—The cotton mills are well and substantially built, each five stories high, and one with attic; one is 81 feet long and 48 wide, and the other 54 feet long and 30 feet wide; they are completely cellared under, are situated in a very populous and improving neighbourhood, and are well worth the attention of spinners, manufacturers, and capitalists.—The cottages produce an annual rental of £194 2s., and are in good repair. Two of the rooms in the small factory are let to a tenant, at the annual rent £201, and turning to another tenant for 25 looms, at a rent of £75. A very large portion of the mills are unoccupied, but may be immediately let to respectable tenants, at good rents, and the present tenants hold under such arrangements will enable the assignees to give possession shortly after the sale, if required.

'Lot 2. The INTEREST of the said assignees in LETTERS PATENT, dated the 5th day of October, 1834, granted to the said Thomas Welch, for his invention of a new method of taking up for Power and Hand-looms. This invention a very valuable improvement in the manufacture of light fabrics by power loom. The premises may viewed on applying at the Cotton Mills; and further particulars obtained by applying to Messrs. ATKINSON. BIRCH, and SAUNDERS, Solicitors, 3, Norfolk-street; or to Messrs. PEET and HOBSON, Accountants, St. James's-square, Manchester.'


This evidently refers to 'Mill A', based on the stated boundaries - Boonds Row, Pott Street, 'Islington Street', and Shooter's Brook. The 'feoffment date' suggests that the mill was established in 1798.

We know from the above that the main mill buildings had five storeys. However, we know from Goad's Plans and from a 1967 photograph that the buildings on the site were shorter than originally built, and that the building which survived at the S.E. corner only had two storeys plus a basement. Commenting on the 1967 photo, Ref 2 observes that it is impossible to ascertain whether this component of the building was a reduced element of the original structure. In fact information has now been found which indicates that the mill was demolished, and that this was done as early as 1838. The incentive for demolition has not been established. Perhaps it was not 'fireproof', and difficult to insure? The evidence for demolition is presented below:-

1838 Sale Notice [11]

'Building Materials, Steam Engine. Boilers, Shafting, Mill Gearing, Gas Meter, Pipes and Burners.
By T. M. FISHER, on Monday, the 22nd day of October, on the premises; sale to commence at ten o'clock precisely:
THE Excellent BUILDING MATERIALS of the Cotton Mill, situate in New Islington, and lately in the occupation of Messrs. Welch and Sells, consisting of upwards of four thousand six hundred square yards of brick work, 800 square of slate, 2800 square yards of wood roof and flooring, 130 wrought uprights, 160 lineal yards of ridge tiles, 170 sash sheets, lintels, and sills; ledge and folding doors, flightsof stairs, pillar stones, dressed Yorkshire flags, iron palisading, and lead and wood spouts. Also a good 24-horse hand-gear Condensing STEAM ENGINE, two STEAM BOILERS, one 18 feet 9 in. by 7 feet, the other 15 feet 4 in. by 7 feet, with steam and condensing pipes; six ranges, comprising about 1000 feet of 1½, 1¾ , 2, and 3 inch wrought-iron shafting; bevil, spur, and mitre wheels, pullies, pedestals, hangers and wall boxes, all in good working condition.—May be viewed on Friday and Saturday, the 19th and 20th days of October, and on the morning of sale; and catalogues may be had on the premises, or from the Auctioneer, Newall's-buildings, Market-street, Manchester.'

We cannot be sure that it was 'Mill A' that was demolished. We do know that 'Mill D' had been demolished by 1848 (see below), and Ref 2 considered that it had been carefully dismantled, possibly to re-use building materials. On the other hand, the 1838 advertisement for the sale of materials does appear to relate to 'Mill D', based on the statement that it had been occupied by Welch & Sells, who, we believe owned 'Mill A' (based on the 1836-1838 sale notices). Also, archaeological evidence, summarised in Ref. 2, found evidence of only one boiler at Mill D, whereas two were included in the 1838 sale of materials notice. Fothergill's map of 1844 shows 'Mill D' still there, but this map does not give the impression of a particularly reliable source.

1848 - Mills A and C

The 1848 O.S. map identifies 'Mill A' as New Islington Mill, having two long buildings. Although it seems that the mill had been demolished in 1838 (see above), one half of the southern building of the two is very similar in plan shape to the 1831 mill, but the eastern end has been extended over the former reservoir. This begs the question of whether only part of the mill had been demolished in 1838. However, the sale notice included 160 yards of ridge tiles, which seems consistent with wholesale demolition.

In fact although there is an apparent resemblance to the western half of the southern building in 1831 and 1848, the shape of the building as a whole in 1831 suggests progressive enlargement, while the the building in 1848 appears more uniform and monolithic.

Additional support to the assumption of progressive enlargement is obtained by going further back in time, from an 1828 advertisement:-

'To be Let, on reasonable Terms, a small Entire FACTORY, with good Turning, five stories, seventeen by nine yards, late in the occupation of Messrs. Welch and Sells, at New Islington, Ancoats ; or three Rooms in the adjoining larger Factory, each twenty-seven by sixteen yards.— Inquire of JOHNSON and BROOKES, on the Premises.'[12]

Although the 1831 map is not of the same quality as the O.S. map, a check by scaling suggests that the advertisement refers to western end of the main (southern) building. The advertisement also illustrates that the building was then owned by Johnson & Brookes, but rooms were let out for cotton production. This was a common arrangement, the expression 'good Turning' suggesting that the owners supplied the power for the machinery.

Regarding 'Mill C', the space vacated in the established block, referred to in the '1831' entry above, had been filled by Queen's Foundry by 1848.

'Mill D' has disappeared from the map. A 'Machine Manufactory' is now shown on what had been a yard and/or vacant land west of Mill D.


Adshead's 1851 Maps of Manchester, Map 15, shows New Islington Mill (Mill A) as Armstrong & Hirst’s cotton mill. The S.E. end wall was angled to suit the line of Shooter's Brook, which passed under this end of the building. As a result, the S.E. corner of the building was 'chamfered off', and the chamfer remained until demolition of the building. After passing under the end of the mill, Shooter's Brook remained culverted until it made a brief appearance at at the former Sandford & Green's cotton mill (being used as a fever ward in 1851). At the west end of the New Islington (street), at the angled junction with Union Street, was a smaller cotton mill, under the name J & J Armstrong (Mill D). The Queen's Foundry, at the junction of New Islington and Pott Street, was occupied by Adam Woodward.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Godfrey Edition Old Ordnance Survey Town Plans: Manchester Sheet 25: 'Ancoats (North) 1848 [1]
  2. '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
  3. 'Manchester - The Hidden History' by Michael Nevell, The History Press, 2008
  4. Manchester Mercury, 18 November 1794
  5. Manchester Mercury, 10 October 1797
  6. Manchester Mercury, 22 May 1798
  7. [2] Plan for Johnson & Brooke's factory situated between Pot Street and Shooter's Brook in 'Plans of all the Spinning Factories within the township of Manchester', c.1822. Online in the John Rylands University Library Image Collections
  8. [3] Plan of T R & S Waller's Factory in 'Plans of all the Spinning Factories within the township of Manchester', c.1822. Online in the John Rylands University Library Image Collections
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 1 September 1838
  10. Manchester Times, 29 October 1836
  11. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13 October 1838
  12. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 1 November 1828