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Cottoning on to Farfield

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.

Farfield Mill
"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.

After years living in the south I returned ‘up north’ and found my very own Saddleworth in Sedbergh. It could almost be Uppermill, with high hills, a swift river, auld grey buildings, a town band and even its very own woollen mill – Farfield Mill.

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.

They were hard times indeed when you look at the harsh conditions which the workers, including women and children, had to endure. The heritage floor of the mill bears witness to those times and the smell of the wool is imbued in every rough-hewn wooden beam and floor board.

Farfield Mill is one of the few remaining working woollen mills in the north of England. A wonderful Dobcross loom, after all these years, is still working and producing cloth.

Come and see for yourself. Feel the past in every pass of the shuttle.

Also marvel at what has developed out of that basic raw material as you wander round the studios of the twenty artist/makers working in the mill to produce the most astonishing range of beautiful textile art, and see the wonderful exhibitions of national and international repute in textiles and other mediums.

Sadly the mill is now in danger of closing unless money can be raised to invest in the building, the attractions, and to make it more commercially viable.

It mustn’t be allowed to close and become another victim of neglect. It is vital that Cumbria preserves its industrial and cultural past.

That was the great message of the Lake District’s successful bid for World Heritage Site status. Although Farfield is in the Yorkshire Dales, not the Lake District, the message is the same.

Future generations would never forgive us if we don’t champion the skills imbued by the arts and crafts. No one who visits Farfield and other mills could fail to be inspired by our industrious past.

Visit the mill, invest by buying shares and enable it to live on.

Time is short and we hope to raise the £300,000 minimum the end of November. Find out more by visiting and to invest go to

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