Sometimes windows of opportunity open and you happen to be in the right place at the right time. This was the case when I explored Bailey Mill in Delph in 2007. I’d seen a couple of report on the place on 28 Days Later, and got in touch with the last person to explore it. He said that gypsy’s were actively stripping the place of copper, but it did mean that there was walk in access as they’d just ripped the from door off the place. I decided to go take a look.
As I did a bit of a walk round before going in, I noticed that I was being watched by a resident from an adjacent house, doubtless suspicious due to the recent activity. I opted to make myself more conspicuous by putting up my tripod and spending some time taking photos from the outside, hoping to make it abundantly clear that I wasn’t intent on robbing or vandalising the place.
After a while, I moved on, venting into the complex itself, almost tripping over an old handcart tater the gypsy’s had used to move the copper down from the mill to their transits.
The mill had a fair size dye house at one side, but there was precious little of interest in there, and no access was possible to anywhere else from here, so I continued up the cobbled slope to the main courtyard. As a I walked round, I almost tripped over the front door that lay propped up against the wall, thus affording me easy access to the mill. I entered, and as is the norm, I headed up to the top floor first. It was here that I stumbled across my first surprise, a single loom had been left in the corner of the top floor, complete with threads. Quite why it had been left was unclear as the rest of the floor was largely empty apart from pigeon guano and a room full of wool that the local kids had decided to cause as big a mess as possible with. At this point, I was still using film and digital cameras when I explored, and my old Nikon fm was loaded with some nice Ilford XP2 film and had a fast 24mm f2.8 wide angle lens, a useful combination for exploring, so maybe my favourite photo from this floor was this one, taken on film.
I started to make my way downstairs, the other floors were largely full of mill related stuff and rubbish, with precious little of anything remotely interesting. However, something caught my eye, and it was a basket full of spindles that had been knocked over. The spindles had spilled and were scattered in front of it, and I knew there was a photo in there somewhere, a landscape composition didn’t work, so I put on my super wide sigma 10-20 on the Nikon D70 I was using at the time, and tried something else. The resultant photo was not set up, it’s exactly as I saw it, and remains to this day one of my all time favourite photos, as well as being one of the most popular on my website. The beauty of the 10-20 lens is it’s ability to get things in the immediate foreground, although I did have to tilt the camera slightly, hence the converging verticals. It’s a composition used a lot by landscape photographers, but there’s no reason why it can’t be adapted for other genres. This photo has always done well in competitions as well, and I’ve titled it ‘The fall of king cotton’, a slight lie as Bailey mill was a woollen mill, but the fall of king wool just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Sadly this and the next floor had limited photo opportunities, so I made my way back to the door and prepared to leave. I then realised that I’d actually entered the mill on the first floor, and that there was at least one floor I’d not seen. So I carried on going down the stairs into a darkened basement like room. I rooted round my camera bag and found a small LED torch that I carried as a back up to the Maglite that normally accompanied me, but that I’d left in the car as I didn’t think I’d be needing it.
As I shone the torch round in the near total darkness I realised that most of this basement level was actually full of machinery. In the gloom, I could make out large carding engines that for some reason had been left behind. Setting up my tripod, again, I attempted to light paint, but my small torch was barely capable, but summats better than nowt as we say round here.
After doing what I could, I headed again for the door. I put my gear away, but then I was hit with a nagging doubt that something was missing. What could it be? I checked everything and realised that I was missing the Nikon fm. Shit. Somewhere in this four storey mill building was a black camera. Relying purely on intuition, I went back upstairs and somehow managed to go straight back to the spot I’d left it. Amazing how panic can bring clarity to the mind sometimes. So for the final time, I made my way to the door, content that I finally had everything.
Before leaving I decided to check out the small office complex. This probably warranted more time as it was full of all sorts of documents and interesting things, but I was slightly spooked by the site of a sleeping bag and someones personal effects. I suddenly felt uncomfortable and decided to leave, a convenient juncture to end the explore.
As I write this in august 2011, the mill remains empty, and is in an increasingly poor state judging by recent reports. That’s a great shame, it’s a real landmark building in a lovely little village that deserves better really. Here’s hoping that the place can be renovated soon!