I grew up in Bolton, a Lancashire (or Greater Manchester) mill town, although by the 1980’s – a time when I hit my teenage years and became more aware of the built environment around me – most of the mills had closed and many had been, or were being, demolished. There were well over a hundred mills in Bolton, and these were big affairs, employing hundreds of people with some of the bigger complexes had more than a thousand. And of course there were the associated bleachers and dyers as well as the vast textile machinery works of Mather and Platt and Dobson and Barlow, and boilermakers such as Hick Hargreaves. The painting ‘Bolton From Queen’s Park‘ in Bolton Art Gallery represents this industrial landscape well, and shows the level of air pollution in Victorian times. It was said of Bolton that the only time you could get a clear view across the town from the surrounding hills was during the annual wakes week when the factories had their annual shutdown. Indeed, this was true of all the local towns, and the amazing ‘Oldham Panorama‘ was photographed during Oldham’s annual wakes week.
The Lancashire textile industry began to decline in the 1950’s and large numbers of mill shut as a massive consolidation began. Some continued for a few years beyond that including the massive Swan Lane Mills in Bolton. It continued in use until relatively recently – indeed it was sold by Courtaulds as a profitable going concern as recently as 1996 and it closed in 2001. Like many of the remaining mills, it is now in multiple occupancy and consequently not in particularly good condition, indeed, No. 3 mill is on Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ register.
Swan Lane consists of one double mill (no. 1 and 2) and a single mill (no.3), with the single mill undoubtedly the most architecturally interesting. The complex is somewhat hard to photograph, partly because of the sheer size and partly because you can’t really get far enough away. Consequently I have gone for a few alternative views, taken on a damp, miserable day in January.
Re-use of mills is a tricky subject – a lot depends on the developers in question and the are in which the mill is situated (and the consequent value of the land). I blogged a couple of years back about Beehive Mills, another giant Bolton mill that has since been demolished, despite its listed status. Like Swan Lane, Beehive Mills was not in a desirable or up and coming area and consequently, a renovation project – like those seen in Ancoats in Manchester, simply isn’t going to happen. So this controlled decline is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
This BBC News online feature is a good introduction to the challenges these mills face: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-51051256