From early times, the River Wenning provided power to run small corn mills, grinding wheat between flat stone wheels to make flour. This freed local people from the drudgery of grinding their daily bread by hand, so we were able to develop skills, and make a living through spinning and weaving cloth using wool from our many sheep, and flax. So the technology, materials and skills were already available when the Industrial
Revolution began in these parts.
 A Mediaeval Undershot Water-Wheel

 
(broadband users click this picture)

Making cloth by hand was a slow process. Now cotton and silk were arriving at Liverpool by ship from the new "colonies" in huge quantities, and the north-west's damp climate proved ideal for processing these fibres. Bigger machinery was suddenly urgently needed.

Meanwhile, thousands of families had lost their land in the Enclosures, and could no longer feed themselves. Suddenly they had to find work for wages, which the new mills provided. The better-off bought their own looms; in the downstairs rooms of the Lairgill houses, they wove the immense sails for the great trading ships and the British Navy.

 
By the 1820's, steam power was helping to turn the machinery, but much work was still
human-powered, in savage conditions. The bleachers stood barefoot in stream water winter and summer, and many were crippled for life. In 1878 a Quaker family, the Fords,
bought the Low Mill for silk production. Their enlightened treatment of employees, with sick pay, pensions, and paid holidays, was a brand new idea - revolutionary at the time. Quakers, the "Society of Friends", originated in this area in the late 1600's and they have played a big part in shaping Bentham's values, helping us to become the unusually equal, tolerant, good-humoured and broadminded society we are today.
 Huge numbers of hosepipes are needed in times of war or disaster.
 

MODERN MACHINERY c.1900

  In 1750 the High Bentham Mill was founded, and another in Low Bentham soon after, working in tandem. The High Mills (spinning) stretched downstream from the present Station Road, where Holme Park is now, with Bleach Works on the site of the Riverside Caravan Park. Linen cloth was stretched on tenterhooks in the fields beyond for finishing. The looms were mostly at Low Mills, powered initially by a system whereby river water was diverted under the mill by a weir (destroyed by floods in 1964) at Wenning Bridge.



 In 1904, George Angus & Co bought the High Mill and worked here until their new premises, the buildings you see today, were built next to the Railway in 1908. They produced, firstly, cotton and later artificial silk, and closed in the 1970's. Under their various owners and assorted names ( including Ford Ayrton's, Angus Fire Armour, and presently Kidde's) the Mills of Bentham have led
a chequered history, but have evolved into probably the world's leading fire-hose manufacturer. This was thanks to a lucky invention by one George Phillipson of Bentham, who built an astounding eight-treadle loom which could actually weave tubes. Worldwide, thousands of lives have been saved by fire-engines equipped with hosepipes invented and, still to this day, made in Bentham.