Family historians who discover links with nineteenth century Bradford are likely to discover textile workers. Manningham Mill was first a worsted mill and later the largest silk mill in Europe. Its owner, Samuel Cunliffe Lister was possibly the most gifted, and certainly the most controversial of the Bradford textile magnates. Today the remaining mill buildings are slowly being converted into dwellings. Manningham Mills was not the first textile factory to occupy the site at the corner of Heaton Road (Lilycroft Lane) and Lilycroft Road (Law Croft Lane). An earlier mill had been built shortly after Queen Victoria’s coronation. This was usually called Lilycroft Mill, its construction in 1838-39 pre-dated the incorporation of Bradford, along with Horton and Manningham, as a borough in 1847. The mill was built by Ellis Cunliffe Lister for two of his sons, John and Samuel. There were no worsted mills in Manningham before 1838, although there were 200 local hand loom weavers. It is known that wool-combing was the last stage of the worsted process to be mechanised. Activities within the first mill were highly significant to textile history since it was there that Lister experimented on the mechanical wool-combs that eventually earned him his first fortune. Lilycroft Mill caught fire on 25 February 1871 and was largely destroyed.
Samuel Cunliffe Lister had worked in partnership with his brother as weavers of worsted cloths, or correctly stuffs, for several decades. After the fire he built the present Manningham Mill, devoted to silk textiles, expending an estimated sum of £500,000 in the process. The buildings were designed for vertical integration with imported raw waste silk being cleaned, prepared, spun, woven, dyed and ‘finished’ on this single site. A notable feature was ‘Lister’s Pride’, an Italianate style chimney, which alone cost £10,000 to construct. The mill was designed by architects Andrews & Pepper to be fireproof, and had a working floor space of 26 acres. There were departments for spinning, sewing silk manufacture, pile fabric weaving, fancy weaving, dyeing, and finishing. From its elevated situation what remains of Lister’s creation still dominates the city of Bradford today. By 1888 Manningham Mill employed 4,894 persons. The new enterprise experienced nearly twenty years of progress and success and finally, in 1889, it was incorporated as a public company. Within two years, indirectly as a result of trade barriers erected in the USA, Manningham Mill was the site of a great strike. Although the workers were defeated the political consequences of the strike led directly to the founding of the Independent Labour Party.