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In 1814, Hugh Birley began the building of a mill complex on Cambridge Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. Birley was a local magistrate and one of the commanders of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry responsible for the Massacre at St Peter's Field in 1819. The mill had six storeys and two basements with 20 loading bays along Cambridge Street. A further block was added later, in 1845.
This mill was one of the first in Manchester to use cast iron columns and iron framing, in-filled with brickwork. The mill was driven by a beam engine made by Boulton and Watt and had gas lighting, supplied by its own gas storage tanks in the basement. The several mills on Cambridge Street were interconnected by underground tunnels and rail tracks to ensure rapid transit through the new factory system.
By the end of the 1830s, Cambridge Street Mill had a 600 loom shed and employed 2,000 people in spinning and weaving - at that time probably the largest mill in Manchester. In the 1860s the mill was bought out by Charles Macintosh and Co to produce rubberised waterproofs, for which he subsequently became world famous, the word mackintosh becoming the generic term for waterproof over-garments.