Textile History in Lancashire

June 26, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Posted in Museums and Exhibitions | 1 Comment

I’m back from my yearly mostly textile-related expedition to England, and what a fun time it was! Apart from the obvious places with great special exhibits this year (Quilts at the V&A, Classic American Quilts at the American Museum) I was pleasantly surprised when visiting some of the more hidden gems I found on my rambles through the internet. England has a rich history regarding industrial textile production, and both the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and the Queen Street Mill Textile Museum do a brillant job showcasing that history. I was blown away by what was on offer!

You really need a car to access those museums, but I was lucky enough to have a friend driving me around. We started at Helmshore Mills, which, as it turned out, was the perfectly right order to see those two places in! The museum actually consists of  2 different mills, one used for cotton and the other for wool. The main attraction for me was the cotton spinning machinery located on the first floor, all in working condition! There are regular demonstrations that show the different carding and spinning machines working, a really impressive sight. There’s still cotton thread being produced here, even if it’s very little, and we found out what it’s used for a little later in the day.

The wool mill has as its main attraction a waterwheel from 1850 that’s in working condition and used to drive the fulling stocks. The whole process of finishing the woven woollen cloth and the machines used for it are explained.

In addition to the parts of the museum with working machinery there’s a gallery telling the story of the inventors of the first spinning and weaving machines and the history that surrounds those inventions. There’s quite a few video presentations and hands-on exhibits as well. I enjoyed it very much!

So, what happens to the cotton yarn that’s spun at Helmshore Mills? It gets woven into fabric at the Queen Street Mill Museum, so we headed over there (quite a bit of a drive) to find out more.  And it was here I was really blown away. It’s one of the things you can read about as long as you want, but seeing and experiencing it is a completely different ballgame. This is the only place in the world left where they use coal to heat the water in a big boiler, that’s used to drive a real beauty of a steam engine, and that steam engine drives the transmission that used to supply the whole Mill with the energy needed to drive all the looms, and there were a lot of them. One of the weaving sheds is still full with more than 300 looms, and it gets really loud in there once the engine starts running! Have a look at a few of the pictures I took:

In other places you might see a few looms working, or a steam engine, but the whole process from coal to woven cloth all in one? This is the place you need to go to if you want to experience this. It’s absolutely worth it.

And, lucky me, there even were souvenirs! They sell quite a few ready-made items from the fabric that’s woven at the Mill, but there were also lengths of fabric to be had for very reasonable prices, and being the quilter that I am, that was my choice:

Both of those museums are absolutely worth a visit if you are in the area. They can be done in one afternoon with a bit of organisation, and it’s a very well-spent afternoon at that. My thanks go to all the people that keep those places running, and enjoy showing and telling visitors the story of cotton production.

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1 Comment »

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  1. Very nice blog post. I certainly love this site.
    Continue the good work!


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