My recent photos of the hilly landscape of Rotherham, and Jack Delano’s photograph of the Pittsburgh steps brought to mind the town of Darwen, a short drive from the Lancastrian flatlands of Chorley where I live. Like many northern towns, Darwen is in a valley, with some brutally steep streets heading up to the moors in the south east of the town.
Before we got married, my wife had a flat high up on a steep hill in Darwen (actually, all the hills in Darwen are steep), and we had the questionable pleasure of panoramic views over this old mill town. Above the rows of terraced streets, it was always the gigantic India Mill chimney that stood out.
I spent a few years living and working in Blackburn and Darwen before moving further west to the sun-drenched lowlands of Chorley, and I can confirm the local saying that there are only two types of weather in Darwen – raining, or about to rain. To be honest, that could be said about most of East Lancashire though which would explain the prevalence of the textile industry in the towns and villages of the area. Darwen though was best known for its paper and wallpaper – another industry that has virtually died out in the town – but India Mill was a textile mill and operated until 1991. A listed building, it has been renovated and is now occupied by an aerospace engineering firm as well as a number of smaller businesses. While the stone built mill itself is a handsome but fairly functional example of the genre, it’s the enormous chimney that is most celebrated and has the embellishments that the mill lacks.
This view is a repeat of one I first took back in about 2006 when I was spending a few days a week at my wife-to-be’s flat. Some areas of the town were undergoing a bit of regeneration so I took an old film camera out to capture it. India Mill wasn’t part of that regeneration (it had been through that in the 90’s after it closed as a textile mill) but its enormous chimney is well known and I wanted to capture its place on the landscape.
The chimney itself is a sight to behold and was designed in the style of an Italian bell tower or campanile. At 303 feet, it’s big for a mill chimney, and while it’s wasn’t the tallest in Lancashire (the Schwabe Calico Printers chimney in Middleton was 330 feet, and the Courtaulds Red Scar works chimneys were 385 feet), it’s the tallest remaining chimney in the county. That ledge around the top is pretty wide!
For a closer look at it, have a look at this BBC film of Fred Dibnah climbing his famous red ladders up the chimney.