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British Industrial History

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Beehive Mill

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Beehive Mill (the tall building) in 2010, looking south east along Radium Street (formerly German Street). The hump in the road is the former branch canal bridge. Turning right at the far corner would take us along Jersey Street, where the front of the attached 1824 building can be seen, complete with date stone.

of Jersey Street, Ancoats, Manchester.

Also known as Bee Hive Mill.

The first part of the mill was built in the early 1820s on Bengal Street in Ancoats, Manchester, in three sections to facilitate three different owner/occupants. The roof was supported on iron trusses, with cast iron used for the compression members (slender arches), and wrought iron for the tension members. This arrangement gave an unobstructed attic floor. This part of the mill was badly damaged by fire in 1841 (see below).

Another, smaller wing, the Jersey Wing, was added in 1824. This was of 'fireproof' construction, one aspect of which was the use of floors made from large square stone flags laid on a grid of cast iron beams, with no woodwork at all. This was a very early example of this type of grid construction. The fish-bellied cast iron beams ran longitudinally and transversely, and were supported on slender cast iron columns at the junctions of the beams. The beams were of T-section, and included a socket at mid-span to support the end of lighter cast iron joists. [1][2] This form of "fire-proofing" was to catch on, and many subsequent mills, factories and warehouses were to employ the system.

A third wing, the Bengal Street block, was added c.1848.

We regret to state that a dreadful fire broke out on Saturday evening, in the Beehive Mill, Jersey-street, in this town, the property of Messrs. Copley, Barrow, and M'Kinley, which laid the greater part of the building, and the valuable machinery with which it was stocked, in ruins. The Beehive Mill is situated on the western side of Jersey-street, and extends backwards to the east bank of an arm of the canal. It is bounded on the north side by German-street; and Bengal-street runs parallel with it a little to the south. The front of the building, facing to Jersey-street, consists of six stories; but the right wing, which was the main part of the building, and formed the whole of the south side of German-street, from Jersey-street up to the canal, was only five stories high, and it is this portion of the mill which has suffered from the fire. The building is supposed to have been found to be on fire about twenty minutes to seven o'clock on Saturday evening by the engineer, and about the same time an alarm was given by one of the watchmen on duty. The engineer, it appears, about that time wanted some waste cotton, and after looking in the engine house went into a room used as a mechanics' shop in search of some, but to his surprise found it full of smoke. Unfortunately information was not at once conveyed to the town's yard, but the engineer went in search of his assistant; and after a loss of some time they proceeded together to the room, having a bucket with some water in it, and tried to enter, but the smoke was so dense that they found it impracticable. They now despatched information to the Police-yard, where it was received about a quarter-past seven o'clock, and a little before half-past Mr. Rose, superintendent of the fire engine department, arrived in front of the mill with his most a powerful engine, the Niagara, and a company of firemen. By this time the fire had attained to a considerable height, and the flames were issuing from the third and fourth stories. A further slight delay was here occasioned by the want of water. Information had been sent to the Waterworks Company, yet on drawing the plug in German street no water could be obtained, and the Niagara had to be moved round to the canal, and the hose conveyed into the yard of Messrs. Elce and Co. Though the least possible time was consumed in bringing the engine into play, Mr. Rose perceived with regret that there was now no chance of saving the main body of the mill- the whole range of building from the engine house, and rooms over it, on the canal bank to Jersey-street being one mass of flame. Under these circumstances his attention was directed to cutting off the progress of the fire at either end, and preventing its communication to other buildings. Amongst these the buildings on the opposite side of German-street, including St. Paul's Sunday School and some cottages, were in the must imminent danger, and the Sunday School was several times on fire during the evening. Indeed the heat was so intense here that the firemen were several times obliged to withdraw from the street; and it was fortunate they did, for the northern wall of the building fell outward directly afterwards, and one of the watermen had a very narrow escape of his life. In addition to the Niagara four other engines, the Vesta, the Water Witch, the Neptune, and the Thetis (the most powerful engines in the police yard) arrived in succession before the premises, and took up the most convenient positions for playing upon the fire with effect. The position of the mill extending along German-street is from 200 to 250 feet in length, and about eight o'clock it presented the appearance of one complete sheet of fire, visible for many miles round, especially on the Ashton and Denton side of the town. Floor after floor gave way in rapid succession, and, together with the heavy machinery in the different rooms, fell with heavy crashes into the vortex of flame beneath, till the work of destruction was completed. Before midnight the greater part of the mill was a heap of ruins - two small portions only, one fronting to Jersey street, and another on the canal bank, with the engine house, having escaped.
The whole of the surrounding property, though very near to the mill, escaped, except St. Paul's Sunday School, and here even the damage sustained was slight, some parties connected with it having deliciously removed the windows, the frames of which were scorched by the heat, and were several times on fire. The roof of this building was also on fire at one time, but owing to the care of Mr. Rose the flames were speedily extinguished. The damage done to the school probably will not exceed more than £40 or £50. The building destroyed is the property of Messrs. Copley, Barrow, and M'Kinley, engravers, who, after it was first erected, let it off, with power, to different parties; but on its subsequently becoming unoccupied, they took it into their own hands, and commenced manufacturing themselves. They have now had it six or seven years on their own hands, letting off only part of the two lower stories, and what is termed the "fire proof" mill, to Mr. Charles Pooley, for spinning. The gable of the wing destroyed fell outwards, into Jersey-street, but fortunately broke in its descent, or in all probability the cottages on the opposite side of Jersey-street would have been destroyed and buried beneath it. A quantity of cotton was got out during the fire, belonging to Mr. Charles Pooley; and also some piece goods belonging to Messrs. Copley and Co., who were insured in the Phoenix fire office, for the building and stock, to the amount of £10,000. Mr. Charles Pooley was insured in the Imperial and Royal Exchange to the amount of £4,000. The machinery and building are said to have cost originally £17,000. The fire is supposed to have originated in some waste tow, in the machine shop, having spontaneously ignited.
About two hundred spinners belonging to Messrs. Copley and Co., and from twenty to thirty other workmen, together with sixty or seventy spinners in the employ of Mr. Pooley, have been thrown out of work by the sad calamity, and these, we regret to say, have no insurance. They have been "thrown upon their own resources," to use the expression of the landowners, at a time too, unfortunately when bread is at an extremely high price, and when work is so scarce as to leave them but faint hopes of finding an opportunity to earn it.
Both the workmen at the mill and the people who were attracted to the spot evinced the greatest readiness to lend a helping hand to the firemen, double companies of whom were attached to each engine till the fire was got under. Great credit is due to Mr. Rose and his men, for their unremitting exertions during many hours at their laborious and dangerous employment, and the public owe to them the salvage of much of the adjoining property, which would otherwise have been destroyed. The police also rendered effective service by keeping back the pressure of the crowd, and making room for those whose assistance could be effectively brought to bear upon the fire. Though the flames might be said to be completely mastered by twelve o'clock, an engine was kept to play upon the ruins during the night and greater part of the next day.'[3]

1843 Advertisement for sale of valuable freehold land, Bee Hive Cotton Mill, warehouse, cottages and buildings, with the privilege of precuring water from a branch of the Rochdale Canal. ..... 'And also the unconsumed and remaining part of all that MILL or FACTORY, called the Bee Hive Mill, lately used for the purpose of Spinning and Weaving Cotton. And also all that and those the fire-proof WAREHOUSE, and Two several Messuages, Cottages, or Dwelling-houses, with the Steam Engine Houses, Boiler Houses, Cotton Sheds, and other erections; together with the STEAM ENGINES, BOILERS, and fixtures, now standing and being in or upon on, the said mill and premises, the said mill having lately been partly burnt down, and which said mill and premises were late in the use and occupation of Messrs. Copley, Barrow, and M'Kinley, and their undertenants. The mill might be rebuilt in a moderate space of time, and the steam engines are in good repair and condition, and ready for work. The Shafting, Pulleys, Hangers, and Wheels, and iron floors, and other utensils, may be taken by the purchaser at a valuation, if he shall think proper. For further particulars and to view the premises apply at Messrs. Barrow and M'Kinley, Engravers to Calico Printers, Lloyd-street...'[4]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Cotton Mills of Greater Manchester' by Mike Williams with D. A. Fairnie, Carnegie Publishing, 1992
  2. [1] Looking at Buildings website, Beehive Mill
  3. Manchester Times - Saturday 13 November 1841
  4. Manchester Times - Saturday 18 February 1843