ELHAS Meeting Report - September 2011

Meeting Report - September 2011

The first meeting of the Autumn season saw 44 members and guests gathered to hear an illustrated talk by Dr George Ingle on the history of Yorkshire Dales Textile Mills. Having retired from a lifetime of working in higher education, George was able to indulge his interest in the history of the textile industry and mills, and since his retirement has published three books and numerous articles on the subject. He is also secretary of the Upper Wharfedale National Trust Volunteer Group and works as a dry stone waller for them.

Before showing us his extensive collection of images of the Dales mills he told us of the background to the growth of the mills in the area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We were amazed to hear that there had been over 70 mills in the area, and their development had relied largely upon the extensive waterpower available, good communications links from the canals, and access to an untapped pool of labour.

George explained that prior to 1780, although there was quite an extensive textile industry in the Dales with all family members being employed, this was still mainly a manual operation largely home based. But the opening of Low Mill in Keighley for the preparation and spinning of cotton yarn, using machines developed by Richard Arkwright, was to change all that.

Gayle Mill, near Hawes

Showing us many photographs of mill buildings in the Dales brought home to us how extensive the industry was, and many of us realised that we had passed some of these buildings many times and never realised their industrial heritage. George told us how the mills were mainly staffed by women and children working long hours in extremely hard conditions and how it was common practice to bring pauper children from London to be apprenticed to the mill owners. He also explained that many of the mills used were converted corn mills, and over the years changed from cotton, to wool or flax and some eventually ended up as paper mills after the decline of the textile industry.

Today there is only one mill, Airebank Mill at Gargrave, which is still producing textile fibres. George's interesting and informative talk made us all think that an area which we now regard as unspoilt countryside mainly relying on the tourist industry was indeed a part of our industrial heritage and played as much a part in the industrial revolution as big cities like Leeds and Bradford. The talk ended with a lively exchange of questions and answers.

The next meeting on Monday 31st October 2011 will be an illustrated talk by retired Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Bryan W Fowles on the life of Horatio Nelson "England Expects".