North Brook Street Mill

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I should like to show you another mill in Bradford. This plan is included in the Local Studies Library reserve collection but it is neither named nor dated. It is not easy for a non-textile specialist to interpret but even an attempt to do so is a good introduction Bradford as it was ‘the day before yesterday’. If I am correct there is another another multi-generation textile family involved. When examining such a plan you have to ask yourself three questions. Where was it? When was it? Whose was it?

Firstly then, where was this mill sited? Remember that Canal Road and Valley Road are the two long sides of a scalene triangle that meet near the city centre immediately west of the final stretch of the canal. On this analogy Holdsworth Street is the shorter side that completes the triangle. It is just south of a very famous place indeed, Josiah Ambler’s Midland Mills which are still visible, in a sadly derelict state, today. The mapped complex was constructed some time before 1871 since the block plan of the buildings in this location are very much the same as those drawn on the 1871 Borough plan, and also in the OS map of 1889. The mill section may well have been completed before the first OS in the late 1840s but if so there must have been subsequent redevelopment of the weaving shed, and we may even know when this occurred. In a 1864 Bradford Observer advertisement an architect requested tenders for reconstruction work at ‘North Brook Mill’; it is just possible that our plan shows what he had in mind. North Brook Street itself is not named but it would have been at the very top of our plan.

The plan as drawn would seem to show the integrated premises of a worsted manufacturer who has a spinning mill and a weaving shed, both with their own steam power. The cottages included would not have housed more than a tiny fraction of the workforce. Perhaps they were used for watchmen, ostlers, and so forth; men whose permanent presence on site was desirable. A substantial warehouse is included, presumably both for raw wool and finished cloth. There is no dye-works and so, as was common practice, woven stuffs must have been sent to commission dyers. A counting house was essentially a works office and the value of a weighing machine is obvious, both for imports and exports. I was puzzled by the sizing room but it seems that weaving warps were treated, or sized, to make them stronger. It is not easy to see how you gained access to the site but there is a ‘passage’ from Valley Road / Holdsworth Street in the extreme bottom left.

What can be learned from the surrounding area? The Bradford Beck, which flows through the city centre, is now concealed in a culvert. Evidently at the time of the plan survey it was open and visible at this location, which would fit a period any time up to the 1890s. A nearby land owner is the Bradford Gas & Light Company. This was founded in the 1820s and the area involved remained the site of the Bradford Gas works for many decades. The mill is also adjacent to the William Rouse estate. It will be helpful if I describe the Rouse family.

William Rouse snr. (1765-1843) was a significant name in Bradford textile history. He developed a wool combing factory in the years before this process was mechanised. With his son John (1794-1838) he employed hundreds of hand combers who worked for him producing the wool ‘tops’ that were needed for the worsted process. By the time of William’s death the writing was on the wall for the poorly paid hand combers whose trade was effectively destroyed by mechanical combs in the 1850s. It is known that the business continued despite the deaths of William and John. The 1853 White’s Leeds & the Clothing District Directory does not record Holdsworth Street as a Bradford thoroughfare name, but does mention a William Rouse, spinner & manufacturer, of West Lodge, Great Horton Road. His company is Wm. Rouse & Sons, Old Market & Canal Road. So there clearly was a William Rouse jnr. (1809-1868) who succeeded his father.

In the 1851 census Rouse reported employing 400 combers, 100 boys & 150 girls. As I have said life was hard for hand combers In 1845 the wretched John Garth did not return 80 lb of wool given to him to comb. He claimed that he had ‘lameness of the fingers’ but merely received the choice of a £20 fine or a month in Wakefield gaol. Rouse may not always have been as tough as this makes him sound. On a Saturday in September 1849 there was a works outing to Clapham by special train. Some employees saw the famous caves and others played cricket. All enjoyed a good dinner and were safely home by 10 pm. William Rouse jnr. did everything expected of a successful textile man: church warden 1847, town counsellor 1848, magistrate 1852, and Poor Law overseer 1860. By 1861 he was living in Burley House, Burley with his wife, children, and six servants. He died in 1868.

By the time of the 1879 PO Bradford Directory Holdsworth Street did exist but an unnamed ‘mill yard’ is the only relevant entry it boasts. Wm. Rouse & Sons, manufacturer, are still trading and are now placed at North Brook Street Mills. Remember that North Brook Street joins Canal Road north of our map. North Brook Mills are mentioned in Yorkshire Textile Mills 1779-1930 (RCHME). It was located at SE 1649 3372 and has a monument number of 62519. Unfortunately it had already been demolished when the mill survey was undertaken in the early 1990s.

Our site is recorded in the 25 inch OS map of 1891. The mill itself is now a warehouse and the weaving shed is divided up between a repository and an engineering shop. Helpfully Wm. Rouse & Sons is included in The Century’s Progress, an 1893 work of self-publicity produced for Yorkshire industry. It was seemingly run by John, Frank and Herbert Rouse, sons of William Rouse jnr. The company is said to have had ‘a vast home and export trade’ and evidently had 40,000 spindles and 900 workers. The section describes the company occupying the ‘Old Mills’ and the ‘New Mills’ acquired half a century earlier, that is the 1840s. It describes the New Mills as being in North Brook Street. I imagine that at some stage they had acquired the premises illustrated in the above plan but I would welcome further information if any reader can provide it.

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