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The Making of the North: 6 New Uses for Magnificent Mills

Across the north of England, buildings that formerly defined the landscape are now lying vacant and under threat. 48% of Greater Manchester’s historic textile mills have been destroyed since the 1980s – but these buildings could be so much more.

These mills represent a huge part of northern history, and have the potential to be brought back to life, to once again play a part in the communities that have grown around them.

Back in June 2016 we published a blog about innovative conversions of mills in Yorkshire. It’s about time we take a look at 6 examples of new uses for mills in the North West:

1. Booming Business

Arighi Bianchi, Macclesfield, Grade II* listed

AB wideshot 1
Arighi Bianchi exterior © Arighi Bianchi

Iconic Arighi Bianchi has long been Cheshire’s favourite furniture retailer, but it also stands a good claim for being the first ever mill conversion in the country.

Family owned for over 160 years, the story of Arighi Bianchi starts in 1854 when Antonio Arighi travelled on foot from the silk producing area of Lake Como, northern Italy, across central Europe to the silk town of Macclesfield. Arighi set up shop making clocks and barometers, before being joined by his friend Antonio Bianchi, a master craftsman from the same Italian village. They went into business producing handmade furniture upholstered in locally sourced materials.

In 1883 the booming business needed a bigger home. Arighi and Bianchi saw potential in a former silk mill, which they bought and converted, adding a stunning new showroom with Italianate plate glass windows.

c.1900 Store photo
Arighi Bianchi c.1900 © Arighi Bianchi

Now a landmark on the Manchester-London train line, the building was threatened with demolition in the 1970s. Fortunately, plans were stopped by a petition headed up by John Betjeman and supported by hundreds of locals.

You can read more about the family story on their website.

2. Making Use of Space

Holmes Mill, Clitheroe, Lancashire, Grade II listed

Holmes Mill
Holmes Mill interior © Holmes Mill

Holmes Mill, a textile spinning mill from 1823, was threatened with demolition in 2013. Fortunately, a Historic England-funded survey of Lancashire Textile Mills recognised the importance of the building, and helped to get it listed.

Holmes Mill exterior
Holmes Mill exterior © Holmes Mill

Since then, things have really taken off. Entrepreneur James Warburton saw what a fantastic location the mill could be for an array of tantalising food and drink destinations, as well as fitting in a hotel, spa, apartments and events spaces. Growth Lancashire helped to find a business development grant to kick start the project. Historic England offered support and the North West Steam Network advised on conservation of the steam engine which now sits in pride of place in Bowland Brewery’s brewery tap.

The mill is once again a hub of the local community and an attractive prospect for visitors and businesses.

3. Impressive New Homes

The Cotton Works (formerly Holden Mill), Bolton, listed Grade II as Astley Bridge Mill

The Cotton Works Bolton
The Cotton Works Bolton © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust

The last cotton mill to be built in Bolton, Holden Mill was constructed in 1927 for Sir John Holden & Sons ltd. It was one of the earliest mills designed from the outset to use electricity from the local power station, rather than housing a large boiler house. Cotton mill spinning came to an end in 1965, and the site was occupied as a warehouse.

An impressive conversion project has seen the site transformed into 282 stylish apartments. The enormous windows that once helped light the spinning operation are now key features of the sought after spaces.

4. Green Social Housing

Cavendish Mill, Ashton under Lyne, Grade II* listed

Cavendish Mill. Image by Clem Rutter

The striking octagonal turret on this former cotton spinning mill isn’t the only feature that contributes to it being listed as nationally significant. It was the earliest mill in Greater Manchester (perhaps even the world) to be constructed with fireproof concrete floors on steel girders, pioneered in the mid-19th century by architect Edward Potts.

Over 100 years later and converted into social housing, the mill is still a site of innovative technology. In 2013, New Charter Housing Trust invested in a renewable energy system for the 160 flats, thought to be the first housing association in the country to do so. The system is said to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by more than 40%, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Greenbuild Awards.

5. Business & Community

Lomeshaye Bridge Mill, Nelson, Lancashire

Lomshaye Bridge Mill after
Lomeshaye Bridge Mill following repairs © Lomeshaye Bridge Mill

Built in 1841 as a steam-powered cotton spinning mill, Lomeshaye Bridge Mill came under threat of demolition in 2000. Heritage Trust for the North West bought the mill in 1998, and with advice and support from the Princes Regeneration Trust and Historic England, spent 10 years working with the local community to fight plans for the mill and 400 houses to be knocked down. In 2003, Whitefield Conservation Area was extended to include the mill, giving it greater protection.

The Architectural Heritage Fund provided a loan to help towards repairs, and Lomeshaye Bridge Mill now provides a mix of business start-up units, meeting space and archive storage and will house a museum.

Members of the local Asian community, who played a key role in campaigning to save the building, have said that the mill represents a powerful symbol of their efforts, and a reminder of the cotton industry that brought them to the area they now call home.

6. Keeping the engines turning

Tower Mill, Dukinfield, Cheshire, Grade II listed

the new tower mill outside
Tower Mill Exterior © English Fine Cottons

Of all the new uses for mills, who would have expected to see cotton manufacturing moving back in? Built by Swiss-Italian cotton baron Christian Koch in 1890, Tower Mill has come full circle after it ceased cotton spinning in 1955.

Tower Mill English Fine Cottons interior
Interior of Tower Mill, home of English Fine Cottons © English Fine Cottons

In 2013, English Fine Cottons began a multimillion pound refurbishment programme to restore the building. With personal investment, as well as support from Greater Manchester Combined Authority and N Brown RGF6 Textile Growth Programme (TGP), the restoration is underway. Over 130 years after it was first built, Tower Mill is producing quality cotton in the North West once more, an example of traditional industry thriving in the modern age.

Tower Mill by S L Scott
Tower Mill by S L Scott. English Fine Cottons love their home at Tower Mill so much that they commissioned local artist Sue Scott to make this stunning artwork of the mill, which hangs in pride of place in the building, reminding colleagues of the heritage of their home.
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