Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Irwell Bleach Works

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in Pendleton, Salford

1850 'EXTENSIVE FIRE AT MANCHESTER About a quarter past two o'clock on Tuesday morning, the private watchman on the premises of a large property known as the Irwell bleach works, observed flames in the store, occupying the third, fourth, and fifth storeys, and lighted by three tiers of windows, and immediately gave an alarm. It is supposed that the stove or drying:room, had got overheated, and the goods in it being dried, would burst into flame almost like tinder; The fire was seen so distinctly from Salford, two miles distant, that Chief Constable Neal started with two fire- engines and complements of men, without waiting for an official summons; and soon afterwards Mr. Thomas Rose of Manchester, having been apprised of the fire, also set off with two fire-engines. At the time the fire-engines arrived, the entire of the principal building of the bleach works was enveloped in one mass of flames, and part of the roof had fallen in. The mill stands isolated from other buildings,, and was a conspicuous object for some miles distant, the people of Lower Broughton especially, being roused from their sleep, gathering along the slopes on the other bank of the Irwell, gazing at the spectacle for some time. From the fury with which the materials burnt, the fire brigades of Manchester and Salford had no chance of saving the principal building. Floor after floor of the building gave way, and fell with terrific crashes upon the burning pile beneath, sending up terrific volumes of sparks and flame, till the whole interior, including the charred and blackened remains of the cloth,. the wood work of the floors, and the machinery, were one unsightly mass of ruins. A considerable portion of the wall on the south-eastern side of the building fell about five o'clock, but fortunately that portion over the immense water-wheel, which is of great value, was kept together. The flames were not extinguished till about six o'clock in the morning when the only portions of the property found to be saved were the bleaching shed, water wheel, and packing room.'[1]

1850: Another report of the fire, included because it contains some interesting information, not least in its explanation of a 'stove' in this context. Typo errors not corrected:-

'DESTRUCTION OF BLEACH WORKS BY FIRE. DAMAGE, 6000l. MANCHESTER, Dec. 3, A fire broke out this morning at a very early hour, which has almost entirely destroyed one of our largest bleach works, and along with it, a great quantit — probably 6000 to 7000 pieces — of cotton goods. The property was known as the Irwell Bleach Works, and stood on the right bank of the River Irwell, at Douglas Green, Pendleton, about two miles from Manchester. The main building, which is that destroyed, was originally a cotton mill, and one of the largest of its day, having been erected nearly a century ago. It consisted of six storeys, and was a lofty pile of brickwork about 120 feet long and 24 wide, with its northeasterly end abutting upon the river. A few years since it was con- verted into a bleach works in connection with a large shed on its north-western side, and was filled with new and very expensive machinery for drying, calendering, glazing, finishing, and packing white goods, the building and business belonging to the firm of Messrs. Thomas Holmes and Sons. The machinery and gearing was of a very complete and expensive description, the first story containing a large glazing and calendering machine, two water and three stiffening mangles, with the necessary line shafting and gearing: the second story containing damping, stretching, and hooking frames; with hydraulic presses; and the floors having been removed between the third, fourth, and fifth storeys to convert the whole into one lofty apartment for drying the goods, technically called a stove." In one corner alone of this apartment 800 pieces of cotton goods were hanging to dry at the time of the fire. The upper storey of the building was occupied by hanging frames and of the mill, the water falling with a force equal to 90 horses power, but being generally regulatee to a force of 50 horses. The lower rooms and stove were heated by fires under the mill, hot air being conveyed by means of pipes through the various rooms. About 80 to 90 men are employed on the premises, but only a few remained at work during the night.

'About a quarter past two o'clock this morning the private watchman on the premises observed flames in the store (occupying the third, fourth, and fifth storeys, as before stated), and lighted by three tiers of windows, and immediately gave an alarm. It is supposed that the stove, or drying room, had got overheated, and the goods in it being dried would burst into flame almost like tinder. At the time the fire engines arrived the principal building of the bleach works was enveloped in one mass of flames, and part of the roof had fallen in. Floor after floor of the building gave way, and fell with terrific crashes upon the burning pile beneath, sending up terrific volumes of sparks and flame, till the whole interior, including the charred and blackened remains of the cloth, the wood work of the floors, and the machinery, were one unsightly mass of ruins. The flames were not extinguished till about six o'clock this morning, when the only portions of the property found to be saved were the bleaching shed, water wheel, and packing room. The fire engines left about seven o'clock. The buildings and stock were insured in the North British Fire Office for 1850l., and in the West of England for 4000l., and it is hoped that the total, or about 6000l., will cover the loss, though rumour had placed it at a much higher figure.'[2]

1883: Another major fire, destroying the beetling, making-up, and calendering rooms[3]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday 8th December 1850
  2. London Standard, Wednesday 4th December 1850
  3. Manchester Evening News, Wednesday 10th October 1883