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Flourishing Mills

Village Had Eleven Flourishing Mills

Down Memory Lane

Burnley Express and News


Today sees the third in our series on memories of the "good old days" in Harle Syke, with Mr Rowland Kippax - better known as "Th'Owd Syker" - taking us for a walk down memory lane.
Although he now lives at Colne Road, Burnley, Mr Kippax is Harle Syke born and bred. He tells a fascinating story of how life in the village used to be, and introduces us to some of the interesting characters who lived there.
The series is illustrated by old pictures of Harle Syke, and some of our older readers may be able to recognise themselves.

The Strike of 1915

Looking back on my youth, one of the places that immediately comes to mind is the Co-op Recreation Room at the top of Towneley Street, which ran over the top of three shops in Burnley Road, now used by the old age pensioners.

As a youth I was allowed to go into the reading room or the billiards room with my friends. The caretaker was an elderly man named John Dobson, who would not stand any noise or nonsense. There were no warnings, you were out the first time you did anything which displeased him.
I remember a man who was a regular attender who was an international draughts player. His name was Arthur Ashworth and there were plenty of spectators when he was playing a game with any of the members. He always had a pencil and paper with him and appeared to jot down every move that was made in the game. In this room on most Sunday evenings in winter, there would be lectures by well known public speakers, illustrated with lantern slides.


Turning my thoughts to the mills in the village and the cotton trade, it is interesting to note that there were once 11 cotton manufacturing companies in the village, practically all built and financed by Harle Syke people. They were Harle Syke Mill, James Thornton & Co., Haggate Weaving Co., Althams, Hill End Mfg Co. (Loinbottom), Walshaw Mill Co., Frank Atkinson, James Hargreaves, Herbert Crowther (the last three in Primrose Mil), Mason, West and Bather (King's Mill) and Queen Street Mfg Co. The only one now in operation is Queen Street.

Part of Harle Syke Mill is a weaving mill owned by Oxford Mill, and King's Mill is a weaving mill now owned by John Grey Ltd, who used to own Livingstone and Cameron Mills in Burnley. Hill End has been demolished, Walshaw and Primrose Mills have been taken over by Hill's Pharmaceuticals. The mill occupied by Altham's and Haggate Weaving Company is now occupied by Bairdtex factory shop, Goldenlay, the Yorkshire egg producers and the third tenant is Redman's Grocers head office and warehouse.


The part of Harle Syke mill not occupied by Oxford Mill is now owned and used by Herbert Sutcliffe Ltd as packing warehouse for his antiques business. His head office is in Ing Hey which is in the Roggerham area. This firm exports antiques to America and the Continent.

There is a lot of history in the Harle Syke cotton trade. First let me tell you about the William West family. William West had one son, John, and eight daughters. The daughters were Mary, who married George Mason; Lily who married Alf Bather; Elizabeth who married James Hargreaves; Ellen who married Herbert Crowther; Clarissa who married Frank Atkinson; Tabitha who married Jack Edmondson; Maggie, who married Jack Duerden; and Annie, who married Dick Watkinson.
The Duerdens and Watkinsons moved to Southport and the Edmondsons moved to Poulton.

The West family built Primrose Mill and this ultimately was split up between Frank Atkinson, Herbert Crowther and James Hargreaves and for a period they worked as three different concerns, until about 1924 when James Hargreaves retired and his business and looms were apparently divided between the other two mills.

George Mason, Alf Bather and John West were the active partners in King's Mill but I believe that for a period the Edmondsons had some financial interest. This mill was registered under the name of Mason, West, and Bather, but to all Sykers it was better known as Dawdy's and retained this nickname right to the end, when it was sold to John Grey's. George Mason or "Dawdy" was a character in the true sense of the word.


The next historical point I wish to draw attention to is Harle Syke strike. This was in August 1915. Mills in Harle Syke were paying slightly less than what were known as list prices, claiming that they had extra carriage to pay and the union brought its members out on strike. Some of the mills, for example Queen Street, had a large percentage of their shareholders working there and they didn't come out. Also many of the operatives lived in the village and a a large percentage of their shareholders working there and they didn't come out. Also many of the operatives lived in the village and a percentage of these didn't come out. In my own case I was only a boy of 13, and my parents were shareholders, so like my dad I had to work.

The strike didn't last many weeks but I know that some workers who did not go out on strike got rough treatment when they went into town during the strike. Remember also at this time the first world war was on, and placards were posted up to encourage enlistment. One of these showed a little girl asking her dad "What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?" The Weavers'Union taking advantage of this, made a copy which said "What did you do in the Harle Syke strike, daddy?" And in large capital letters they added KNOBSTICK. These were handed out and pushed through letter boxes of people they knew were working.

The third historical point, was the fire which happened just before the armistice of the first world war, at Queen Street Mill. This reduced the mill which prior to the fire was a four-storey building, to one storey. The ground floor, on mill level, was the weft place, the second floor was the warehouse, the third floor was winding and beaming and the top floor was taping and twisting. Approximately 100 looms were taken out of what was previously called the parlour, and this became the warehouse. The remainder of the ground floor became winding and preparation. This left 1,040 looms, each tackler having 130 looms. As many weavers as could be accomodated were moved down to the bottom shop (Primrose Mill), until it was possible to re-accomodate them at Queen Street.

In December 1915, war bonus came into effect and weavers were paid this as a form of rise.


In about Burnley Fair, 1918, cotton control came into effect and weavers worked only four days per week, but they were paid some form of compensation for the lost days.
I well remember Mason West and Bather's King's Mill being built. I was only about 10 years of age, but I lived almost on the premises, being only four doors from the bottom of Queen's Street. When they were digging the foundations there were no machines in those days, and a ganger almost stood over the navvies every bit of the day. I don't think that there were any unions in control there. This mill began operation in September, 1912.

It was the practice in those days to name engines in factories and the following come to mimd. When built the engine at Queen Street was named "Prudence" after the wife of the engineer Mr Edward Crowther. The engine at Primrose Mill was named "Elizabeth" after the wife of the founder Mr William West. And the engine at King's Mill was named "William" after the grand old man of the family. After the fire at Queen Street the engine was renamed "Peace", as peace had only just been signed after World War 1.

Prior to the Harle Syke strike, the operation known as twisting was done by hand. When these men came out on strike larger mills bought Barber and Colman knotter machines which were operated by two men.
One machine could do all the twisting necessary for the mill, so when the strike was eventually settled the hand twisters were out of work.


George Mason had a lifetime in the industry and was still wearing clogs when he was at the mill right to the end. John West and Alf Bather had long years in the trade for their mill. Frank Atkinson and Herbert Crowther and his son Willie, also had long service at Primrose. Jimmy Hargreaves left before them. At Walshaw Bob Proctor had long service and at Harle Syke Mill, John Taylor, his son Hartley Taylor, Thomas Bannister and Harold Halstead all had long service. At James Thornton's, Mr Witham Halstead and his son William were long servers, all these never knew anything else only the mill.

Before I leave the cotton trade, I would like to mention some of those who left the village and built mills elsewhere. William Stuttard who started as secretary manager at Hill End became salesman at Walshaw, finally leaving there to take over a mill at Chorley, the Mayfield Mill. This was a company in which most of the shares were held by the Stuttard family and the family of Thomas Nuttall of Hill Farm, who was previously the largest shareholder at Hill end. West Grove Mill at Westhoughton was another mill which was in the main financed with Harle Syke money, as was Taylor and Hartley in the same town.
Regarding wages in the period 1913-1915, I am quoting these from the official minute book of Hill End Mill, a tape labourer and clothlooker were paid about one pound six shillings a week. These had risen slowly from one pound two shillings in 1905. A sick weaver was paid four shillings and two pence per day for ten hours on four looms. My wife tells me that as a half timer at Simpson and Baldwin's in Burnley she was paid three shillings and six pence a week. A four-loom weaver on plains at that period was a good weaver if she could average twenty-four shillings a week for 56 hours.


We've been in the mills long enough, let's have a breath of fresh air and go for a walk. I have previously mentioned Runklehurst Wood, let's go down there. I am writing of my boyhood days now. Starting from Mustealgh Farm (al Sykers called it Musteark), we go down the Ogglety Cogglety, I don't know who gave it that name but I have never known it by any other. This footpath was never created by man.
You needed to be as tricky and as active as a cat to go down hill, and as fit and active as a monkey to come up it. There were rocks as big as two feet high and holes as deep where they had come from all the way down. But in May when you got across the bridge at the bottom, it was just a sea of blue. Bluebells were there in their millions. The huge trees were coming into full leaf, the bracken was beginning to grow and the kingfisher and dippers were dipping and diving all along the river.


If you turned left when you crossed the bridge and walked about 200 yards, you would come to the monkey tree. This was not what is called a monkey puzzle tree, it was a grossly-deformed beech tree. The lower parts of the trunk were a mass of carved initials. If however, you had continued along the footpath towards Extwistle Moor you would be walking under very large trees the whole way to the moor. By the end of June the bracken would have grown about four feet high.

While mentioning these large trees, had you gone down to Netherwood Bridge, crossed the stream and then trespassed up to the Runklehurst Bridge, you would be walking under large trees and could continue right through almost to Cockden Bridge. Unfortunately the trees up to Cockden were cut down in world War 1.

In those days there were six wooden bridges crossing the stream including Netherwood, Runklehurst, Holme Royd, Battyhole, Elscar and Thrusden. There were also two main roads over the bridge one at Cockden and one at Thursden, also there was a weir at Thursden. The stream whose source was at Boulsworth, was named Thursden Brook, somewhere near Battyhole it became the River Don, and near Heasandford became the Brun, later the Calder and then the Ribble.

At Battyhole House there used to be gardens and as children we could earn a few coppers picking gooseberries, but those went a long time ago.

There was also Delmar Gardens which was near to Shorey Hey Farm, and quite a lot of picnickers went there even from Burnley.

I remember the fire which burned down the barn at Hanson's Tenement Farm, which was then occupied by Ike Hartley. I have confirmed this with Joe Hartley on of the sons, that the fire was in 1908. There was no means of communication by phone so the Hartleys' eldest son Harry, then aged eight, took one of the farm horses and rode to Nelson fire station from above Holt Hill and then rode back in front of the fire brigade which was drawn by horses and led them to the farm. There were three brothers two of whom are still living, Cecil, who was in my class at Haggate is retired from farming, but Joe is still farming at Lodge farm in Barden Lane, Harry I think was a butcher.


While we are at Thursden let me remind Sykers that originally the first water on tap that I remember came from the Jenny Spring in Thursden. Somewhere around 1910 it came through the reservoir at Herd House. This was a newly-built reservoir mainly lined with concrete. Who doesn't remember that period when you turned on the tap and got water that was the colour of milk? Who also doesn't remember the lining that it put into our kettles, what it did to our stomachs I don't know.

Anyhow, I remember a man named Arthur Barker giving a humorous speech, they called them stump speeches in those days and in this speech he called the reservoir "The White Elephant." Ask any native where White Elephant is and he will direct you to Herd House and not to a zoo. That name will be handed down from father to son for ever.

The late Mr Herbert Kippax OBE told me that there was once a spring in the field opposite to Hill Lane Chapel, and the water from this spring was sold by the land owners, the Parker family, to Burnley Corporation and this was piped into the area around Boundary Street.

Hill End Mill, better known as Loinbottom, was originally owned by a Mr william Stevenson Smith of Hill End House. This was bought by a locally formed company of which the main directors were William Nuttall, James Jackson, James Rushton, William Hartley and Willie Stuttard. The date was June 20th, 1905, and the purchase price was 7,781. This included buildings, 481 looms, and all machinery, goods and chattels. This mill is now pulled down.

A picture of Haggate choir around the turn of the century.

Haggate Choir >>

A new motor service to Harle Syke attracts the onlookers

Motor Service >>

With kind permission of The Burnley Express.

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