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
(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
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.
MODERN MACHINERY c.1900
| Huge numbers of
hosepipes are needed in times of war or disaster.
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
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.