Setting the wheels in motion – The Birth Of Armley MillsThe earliest record of Armley Mills dates from the middle of the sixteenth century when local clothier Richard Booth leased 'Armley Millnes' from Henry Saville.A document of 1707 provides the first description of the mills. 'That Fulling Mill in Armley... containing two wheels and four stocks... also the water corn mill and all the fulling mills... containing one wheel and two stocks.' By 1788 Armley was equipped with five waterwheels powering eighteen fulling stocks.
'Fulling' is one of the final processes in cloth production, it involves pounding the cloth with large hammers in pits filled with a mixture of water, urine and 'fullers earth', causing the fibres to mat together or 'felt'. Fulling was the earliest process to move into purpose-built mills.
Reason to Be Selected
In 1804 Benjamin Gott agreed to buy Armley Mills from Colonel Lloyd, but in November 1805 the mill was almost entirely destroyed by fire.
Gott re-built the mill from fireproof materials, using brick and iron wherever possible. It is Gott's mill which survives largely intact to this day. Gott was a major figure in the history of Leeds and the wool industry in general. He was active in local politics, becoming Mayor in 1799 and was also a leading and enthusiastic patron of the arts.
Although Colonel Lloyd re-built Armley Mills in 1788 he did not personally run the Mills. Instead they were leased to Israel Burrows and Christopher Hill. Hill was later replaced by Israel's brother John and the pair lived in two newly built semi-detached houses above the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
The central part of the house was composed of living rooms and bedrooms, while the shorter wings at either end contained kitchens, cellars, and on the first floor loom shops where the brothers are believed to have made their own cloth for fulling in the nearby Mills. The lower northern wing of the house has since been demolished. The current displays are not intended to reproduce the original décor but to highlight the differences in lifestyle between a wealthy mill manager and a working class weaver.
Victorian Innovation – Full Steam Ahead
Armley Mills prospered under Gott's management, exporting its wares to North and South America, Europe and the Far East. Gott became one of the largest employers in Britain, as well as one of the most wealthy. He died in 1840 and his sons John and William took over the business. They introduced the first steam engine to Armley Mills in 1850 to supplement, not replace, the waterwheels which continued operating into the 1860s.
From the 1860s the mill was leased to Kinnear, Holt and Company who installed spinning machinery. During the 1880s and 1890s various tenants occupied the mills engaged in a variety of trades usually, though not always, related to the textile industry. Then in 1907 the firm of Bentley and Tempest took over the whole building.
Carding was a method of straightening and arranging woollen fibres, using machines such as this, to prepare it to be spun into yarn. It could be dangerous work. In 1822 George Dyson, age 13, was killed at Armley Mills after being trapped in a Carding Engine.
Warping Mill. From this piece of equipment the yarn was wound round a beam and loaded onto the loom.
Decline and Closure
In 1907 the woollen clothing manufacturers Bentley and Tempest, who had been one of several tenants, became the sole occupiers of Armley Mills.
Ironically one of the firm's founders, Steward Tempest, had begun his working life at Armley as a 'half timer' at the age of 6 in the 1840s.
Like many other textile mills, Armley could not cope with the combination of the loss of markets as the British Empire split up, the increase in competition from abroad and the increasing use of man-made fibres.
In 1969 the mill finally closed as a business and, in recognition of its historic importance was bought by Leeds City Council, re-opening in 1982 as Leeds Industrial Museum.
Leeds - (City IQ)
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