Mills have left their mark on the Dales

Reported by Bill Mitchell

Dr George Ingle, of Ilkley, recalled the days when virtually every village in Craven had one or more cotton mills when he inaugurated the new season of lectures. The talk was delivered before a packed audience in the Village Hall at Long Preston, the village which -- said Dr Ingle -- had two such mills. His illustrated talk, based on his recently published book ‘Yorkshire Cotton’ concentrated on the early cotton industry in the county from 1780 to 1835.

Slides were screened of present day buildings on which were blocked-up windows and other tell-tale signs of their mill ancestry. The mill-owners had drawn on a relatively large population and an abundance of child labour. In the early days, 12 hour shifts were the norm, the mill being operated around the clock.

In a comprehensive review, Dr Ingle described the use of water power and the introduction of steam-driven machinery. He observed that the association in people’s minds of Lancashire with the cotton industry, and Yorkshire with the woollen industry, ignores the expansion of the cotton industry across Yorkshire in the years around 1800.

The development of mechanised spinning by Arkwright, and the money he and his partners made, prompted many enterprising Yorkshire folk to build mills and start cotton spinning. Craven in particular took to the new industry with enthusiasm, with cotton mills in most towns and villages. Changes in agriculture meant that former mill sites became available with water power, and hundreds of handloom weavers in the area were quick to change to the new fibre.

Spinning mills were built from Skipton to Sedbergh with many in the Dales at places like Malham and Arncliffe. Eventually, however, newer, larger mills in Lancashire were built. The local industry declined, although some examples remained until modern times, for instance in Skipton.

Dr Sylvia Harrop (chairman of the Trust) introduced and thanked the speaker.