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British Industrial History

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Cambridge Street Mills

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Looking east from the railway viaduct: the building occupying half the picture on the left was latterly the Hotspur Press, but had been the Medlock Mill of John Fairweather in the first half of the 19thC. The building immediately behind the 1853 chimney was originally Birley & Co's mill. The car park had been the site of Gaythorn Gas Works
Former Macintosh & Co works on west side of Cambridge Street
Looking east from Cambridge Street: the empty land was once occupied by Birley & Co's weaving shed. Oxford Road station to left of modern tower. The girders once supported a building above the River Medlock, the river curving off to the right, in front of the brick wall

in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester.

This entry covers several mills which developed on Cambridge Street. The 1849 O.S. map identifies one of these as Cambridge Street Mills (at the junction of Cambridge Street and Chester Street), with other larger mills shown as Chorlton Mills and Cambridge Street Works.

Bancks & Co's 1831 map shows two mills on the east side of Cambridge Street. At the north end is Birley's Cotton Mill, bounded on the south by Hulme Street, and to the north and east by the River Medlock. The course of the river was shaped like a question mark here, and the builders managed to fill the looped part with a weaving shed. To the south, across Hulme Street, was another large mill complex identified as Marsland's Cotton Mill. This was owned by John Marsland.

Birley's Mill was established in 1814 by Birley & Hornby. Hugh 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 first phase of Birley's mill, of 'fireproof' construction, had eight storeys (two of which were below street level) and twenty loading bays along Cambridge Street. A further block was added later, in 1845.

The 1814 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.

In 1829 a 600 loom shed was added to Birley's mill. It was powered by a Boulton & Watt side-lever engine located in the former gasometer room at the north end of the mill, which had insufficient height for the usual type of beam engine. Compact side-lever engines had been originally been developed for paddle steamers.

In the 1830s Birley's mill employed 2,000 people in spinning and weaving, and was probably the largest mill in Manchester.

On the west side of Cambridge Street were the works of Charles Macintosh and Co. These suffered a serious fire in 1838, when several people were killed. [1]

By the 1860s the mills were owned by Charles Macintosh and Co, producing rubberised fabrics, including waterproof cloth (the word mackintosh becoming the generic term for waterproof over-garments). The 1896 O.S. map identifies the mill buildings on both sides of Cambridge Street, to the north of Hulme Street, as Cambridge Street India Rubber Works.

The three large mills on Cambridge Street were interconnected by tunnels, with tramways, to ensure rapid transit through the new factory system. Goad's insurance plans for 1928 show three tunnels close to the south west corner of 'Birley's Mill] under Macintosh & Co's ownership. Two tunnels went under Cambridge Street to the former Cambridge Street Works, and the third went under Hulme Street to the former Marsland's mill.

See Historic England listings for Chorlton New Mill and for Chorlton Old Mill. These are, respectively, the mills identified on the 1831 map as Birley's and Marsland's.

Beyond Cambridge Street

Immediately east of Marsland's mill were Chatham Mills, at the junction of Lower Chatham Street and Chester Street.

On crossing the River Medlock, Cambridge Street became Kenyon Street. Immediately to the north of the river were 'Medlock Mills'. This mill was owned by John Fairweather in the 1830s, and was badly damaged by fire in 1837. In 1851 it was occupied by Thomas Fairweather & Co as a cotton mill in 1851. Latterly the premises became Percy Bros' Hotspur Press. Note: In 1802 Machinery at 'Medlock Mills' was advertised for sale by order of the asssignees of Robert Forgan(?), a bankrupt.[2]

1847 'Convictions under the New Factory Act.
Yesterday, at the Borough Court, before Mr. Maude, the sub-inspector of factories, Mr. Graham, appeared to prefer an information against Mr. Robert Fairweather, cotton-spinner, of Kenyon-street, for "that on the 24th July he did employ for more than 63 hours in the week ending July 24th, six young females" whose names were set forth in the information, by which he had incurred (in each case) a penalty of not more than 60s. or less than 20s. Mr. Graham stated when he visited the mill, half an hour after the proper time to cease work, he found not only the six females, but the whole of the hands employed cleaning and oiling the machinery. He said he had power in such a case to summon Mr. Fairweather for the whole of the hands so employed, but he had only taken the names of six — Mr. Fairweather's brother, who appeared on his behalf, said it was done in ignorance of the law, as he laboured under the impression that the engine being stopped, it did not constitute a breach of the act. Mr. Maude said he could scarcely be in ignorance of the provisions of an act so recently passed ; and as Mr. Graham asked for a penalty in each case, he (Mr. Maude) must order a conviction of 20s. in each case.'[3]

Bancks's 1831 map identifies another mill belonging to Fairweather, east of Runcorn's Chatham Mills, bounder by Chester Street, Great Ormond Street, the River Medlock, and Oxford Road Mill. The 1849 O.S. map shows that these two mills had been combined as 'The Oxford Road Twist Company's Mills'.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Times - Saturday 1 September 1838
  2. Manchester Mercury, 1 June 1802
  3. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Wednesday 11 August 1847
  • [1] Victorian Mills
  • 'Cotton Mills in Greater Manchester' by Mike Williams with D.A. Farnie, Carnegie Publishing Ltd, 1992