My house was built around 20 years ago on the site of the above cotton mill which was demolished in 1971. The local area
where the mill stood is known as “Hurst” and forms part of Ashton which is in the North West of England. The house
is sited at the very “back end” of the original mill, and there are only fields to the side and back of the house.
John Whittaker, born 1803, had a considerable spinning and weaving business which had been founded in 1806 by his father.
The machines were water powered by steam engines which required a constant supply of water. There were two man made reservoirs
created to supply the water. Eventually Watt invented a rotary steam engine which powered the machines directly and only needed
coal, not water.
Working in the mill was extremely hard. The day began at 5.00 am and didn’t finish until 7 pm. The only breaks were
half an hour allowed for breakfast at 8 am, then one hour at 12 noon for lunch. Workers could not leave the mill before 7
pm and if they arrived late, they were fined. Children made up one third of the workforce because they represented cheap labour
and worked “shorter” hours - starting at 6.00 am instead of 7.00 am!! The working week was Monday to Saturday.
The air in the whole mill would have been thick with cotton dust and the noise was deafening. Many of the workers leaned
to lip read because talking was impossible and they suffered from various illnesses such as chest complaints, headaches, and
In 1833 the new factories act decreed that children aged 9 to 12 years could only work a 9 hour week. Children aged 13
to 18 could only work a maximum of 10.5 hours. At this time, the majority of mill workers were illiterate.
In 1847 the law changed and a ten hour working day was introduced for everyone over the age of 13 years. At this time,
mill workers decided to work longer hours Monday to Friday in order to finish work at lunchtime on Saturdays, thus having
a slightly longer weekend.
The laws continued to change and in 1870, the Education Act decreed that education would be compulsory for all children
up to the age of 12. In 1918, the school leaving age was raised to 14 which meant that children working in the mills was now
at an end.
John was known as a very generous and sympathetic mill owner and looked after his employees as far as he was able. In the
1860s, during the period of the “Cotton Famine” caused by the war in America, the mill workers presented him with
an “Award” for his generosity. He had organised soup kitchens for the unemployed mill workers which saved them
from starvation when the mills had been forced to close down.
You might wonder what the mill workers did in their “leisure time” such as it was! Bull baiting was quite common,
as was drinking alcohol in one of the many pubs in the area!! By the mid 1800s, every cotton town in the North West of England
had a “Wakes” or “holiday” week when the mills closed and workers saved up all year to go to the seaside
for a week. Since 1821 there have been the annual “Whit Walks” - where all church denominations got together and
held a joint procession through the town. The children all had new white clothes and this was their opportunity to show off!!
By the 1920s and 30s, 16 mills closed down in the Ashton area due to competition from Japan and India. By the late 1930s,
cotton was no longer produced in any of the mills and some mills began new businesses. Whittaker’s mill stood empty.
Just up the main road from my house is Ladysmith Barracks which has long since gone, but the fašade remains as a Grade
II listed building. During World War 2, the barracks were swamped by soldiers coming home from various battles and there was
no room for them all at the camp. Consequently, the Army took over Whittaker’s Mill as a sort of bivouac to house the
soldiers. Since the mill was at least six storeys high, it is impossible to imagine the whole building packed with soldiers
home from battles.
Since I moved in five years ago, the house has become more active as time has continued. I’ve seen a little girl
in my lounge and she’s also been seen/heard in the houses at the other end of the mill site (the front end). I used
to live in a house at the “front end” of the mill (No 4 Waters Edge which faces what is left of the original reservoirs)
but eventually moved to my present (smaller) house. Whilst living in these houses, I’ve experienced small pools of water
appearing on the floors at both which I am still at a loss to explain.
My present house continues to surprise me and mostly in the early hours of Monday mornings - which is when the mill would
have been “starting up”. My next door neighbour (we’re in a pair of semi detached houses) has also experienced
the loud knocking and banging which usually wakes us up around 4 or 5 am. My neighbour has also woken up to his bedroom being
full of mist - and indeed I have captured evidence of this in my house photographs! Strangely, both houses are fairly “quiet”
on Sundays - the only day that the mill would have been empty……