When Mills Wooled the World
David Smith, former headteacher of Settlebeck School, and a current trustee of Farfield Mill shares the impact and importance the milling sector has had and will continue to have on the landscape and livelihoods in the North of England.
"And what a wonderful old mill it is. Preserved by the people of Sedbergh to bear witness to those days when the sheep on the dales provided wool, which was woven to make the cloth that kept the local economy alive and well."
I come from Oldham, and spent my early childhood in Dobcross in Saddleworth. Both of these areas were at the forefront of the industrial revolution, born in the cotton mills of Oldham and the woollen mills of Saddleworth.
During my teenage years I had holiday jobs in a woollen mill in Diggle and Park Mill in Rochdale, a huge cotton mill. My mother was a mill girl in Oldham, leaving school at 14 to become a beamer, where she learned to tie the broken ends of cotton threads with one hand at amazing speed. These were formative years and the mills of Oldham and Rochdale were an important part of my childhood.
There were literally hundreds of them with tall chimneys responsible for the black buildings and, most likely, the colour of the inside of my lungs.
If you visit Oldham or Saddleworth now many mills are still there. Some of them have become warehouses, a few have been converted into desirable blocks of flats, one or two have become museums charting the history of those important times, but most have either disappeared or have become wrecked and empty shells.
I always had a soft spot for Saddleworth, where my dad’s family still live. The woollen mills there didn’t have the same dark feel about them, nestled in beautiful dales, skirted by high hills and bleak moorland.