Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

I meant to write about Helmshore Mills Textile Museum a while back, when we visited it in March. I have lived in Lancashire since I was a young woman and, to my shame, had never got round to visiting the museum. Some of you may know from personal experience how this happens. When I lived in central London I rarely stirred myself to visit galleries even though they were pretty much on the doorstep. These days, when it is much more difficult, I regularly go to great effort and expense to go to London.

The thing that goaded me into actually visiting Helmshore Mills was news of its imminent closure as a result of funding cuts. It was threatened with closure on 31st March 2016, so we decided one day to make the effort and just go before the opportunity disappeared, possibly forever. Well, it was enthralling and I’m so pleased I didn’t miss it. You can read about it here and here, or if you’re in the area you could go and see it as there’s now been a reprieve until September. Helmshore Mills was both a spinning and weaving mill, for both wool and cotton, at various points in its history, but latterly was a spinning mill until its closure in 1978. There is a big exhibition about the history and development of spinning and weaving and then you move upstairs to where the machines are still in place and are still working for demonstration purposes. Unfortunately, the day we went, the big spinning mule machine (see photo below) was not working, so we saw only part of the demonstration. Still, even the bit we did see helped me to understand the nature of the processes which were dirty, noisy and dangerous. The place was a death trap where people, including children in the earlier part of its history, could be crushed by machinery, lose fingers and limbs and inhale sufficient cotton lint to kill them from respiratory diseases. In order to keep the cotton sufficiently flexible the factory had to be kept humid and at a high temperature, so working conditions were distinctly unpleasant. Helmshore mill spinning mule

The machine in the picture is the spinning mule which was developed from Hargreaves’ spinning Jenny. The machine required constant attention from the workers to keep it clear of snags and problems. I won’t attempt to describe how it works – but have a look at the Wikipedia page if you’re interested, where there is a video of the machine in motion.

Having now got my act together to visit this outstanding museum I am most put out that it is quite likely to close because of lack of funding. This is a really significant part of our heritage. Indeed, given the spread of these machines around the world, it’s really a heritage site of international importance. I’ve signed a petition to try to keep it open. And I will be visiting the related Queen Street Museum in Burnley before the end of September closure date. Queen Street is the weaving museum and I’m sure it will be worth the trip.