#466 – Return to Grove Rake 1

I rarely return to places I’ve explored, primarily because they tend to be demolished, regenerated or burnt down in the time that follows my visit. I made an exception this week to revisit Grove Rake Mine on the windswept wastes of County Durham, a place I previously explored in November 2008. The place was as bleak as it has been 8 years ago, with the car temperature gauge indicating 1.5C and a howling wind blowing across the treeless moorland.

The mine had re-appeared on my radar when I noticed a lot of hits to the Grove Rake pages on my website. A spike in interest usually denotes some kind of incident or event in the news, and a quick Google showed that the headframe has been threatened with demolition, so as I’d finished early for Christmas it seemed an opportune time to visit.

The site had been cleared since my previous visit, with all the outbuildings and other structures removed, leaving just the headframe and a couple of acres of landscaped soil. My intention had been to photograph the headframe in the landscape, so given that there was nothing else to photograph, there was little option but to focus on that. Meeting up with Cumbrian explorer Jane, we made our way to a ruined farmhouse and worked our way back from there.

I won’t go into the site history here, there’s a write up on The View From the North.dsc_3606-edit

This old farmhouse looked to have been abandoned for many years, and much of it’s roof had gone, no doubt destroyed by a combination of age and weather.


The site appears to have been levelled at some point by building up the land near this little stream. I presume it was mining waste from the many other mines in the area.


Caterpillar tracks? If you look back to 2001 in Google Earth, it shows an area at the end of this road that looks like it was used for storage of equipment. We didn’t walk that far, but it may have been used by the demolition team to dump the rubble or store their own gear.


And again using a slightly different perspective.


A babbling brook.

#465 – Shadows of the North Second Edition now on sale!!

I am pleased to announce that having sold out the first run of Shadows of The North, I have produced an expanded second edition, with many new photographs from 2016 including Brierfield Mill, Hope Mill, Ancoats and several others. I’ve also had a shuffle round of the existing images.

The book is now 94 pages (up from 70), and as such I’ve had to increase the cost slightly to £15.

While I was extremely proud of the first book, I think that the second edition is even better, and the book feels more complete and better structured, thanks to the addition of the new photographs and the lessons I’ve learnt in putting books together.

I hope you’ll take a look at the sample and if you like it, please buy a copy!


#464 – Shipbreaking in Morecambe

The Sands, Morecambe, Showing The Majestic- At Wards Yard.jpg

Quite how I came across the fact that Morecambe was once a major shipbreaking port is unclear. I think it was through researching something vaguely related but several steps later I stumbled across it somewhere en route. Either way, there’s not a whole lot of information on the net, but I found out that a book had been published by Lancaster City Council on the subject some years ago and was long out of print. I set up an ABE Book search alert and several years later a notification came through that a copy had surfaced at a Dutch bookshop.


Furness Withy ship Sachem, in May 1927

Today, Morecambe isn’t known for much really. It always played second fiddle to Blackpool in the battle for Lancashire’s seaside tourists, and today there is even less to see of merit other than the fabulously restored art deco Midland hotel, and of course the bronze statue of Eric Morecambe.

The town wasn’t an obvious choice of location for shipbreaking, but came about due to the Midland Railway steamer services vacating the stone jetty for nearby Heysham. The jetty was offered for lease, and Sheffield based TW Ward moved in, in 1905.


Majestic (1889) near the end of the Stone Jetty in May 1914. See my other blog ‘Planes, Boats and Trains‘ for a picture of her in her prime.

Understandably, this was not exactly a popular move. The town was a seaside resort, and the noise, smells and burning were not really conducive to attracting more holidaymakers to the town. The council and townsfolk were equally unhappy about the large level crossing over a narrow main road that linked the railway to the yard (and used to transport trainloads of scrap to steelworks such as the Haematite Iron Company at Barrow) However, Wards started to offer tours of the ships before demolition started, with proceeds going to charity. This was a great PR exercise, and lucrative as well. The yard also gave employment to around 90 local men, which unlike most side town work, was not seasonal. After an arrangement between the council, wards and the midland railway, the contentious road issue was resolved by reducing the crossing to a single track and widening the road to 80 feet.

Work was hard, dangerous, and not that well paid. A 6 day /47 hour week was standard, and injuries were not uncommon, some leading to deaths.


Not all the ships Wards bought could be broken here, although Morecambe was just one of the five yards the company owned, the others being in nearby Preston, Inverkeithing (Scotland), Briton Ferry (Wales) and Grays (Essex).

As time wore on, the council’s grudging tolerance of the yard evaporated, and they moved to purchase the area from the midland railway. Clearly Wards were not happy, as the yard was a profitable operation, but in 1927 an agreement was reached that the yard would be vacated in 1931, thus giving the company time to wind down their operations. By 1930, the price of steel had collapsed, and the loss of capacity due to the yard closures did not have a major impact on Wards. The last ship to be brought to Morecambe was Fisgard II in 1932, although this was transferred to Preston shortly afterwards.

In total,  58 ships were broken up at Morecambe, and today, there is no evidence of the operation. Following closure, the land was cleared and tidied up, and the midland railway, by then the LMS, took the opportunity to build a grand new hotel, called the midland. This still survives and has recently been restored to its former glory, but that’s a story for another day!

As mentioned, Wards also had a significant shipbreaking yard down the coast in Preston – this was much longer lived, (1894-1970) and much better documented. There are many photographs of this yard in the Preston digital Archive on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/albums/72157609589780964/page1

Further reading: http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/nostalgia/looking-back-love-hate-history-of-wards-shipyard-1-6324182



#463 – English Fine Cottons – a tour of Tower Mill


If, on the off-chance you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might recall me mentioning on a number of occasions that the only things made in Manchester these days are cornflakes and Coronation Street. I’m only half joking here – large scale manufacturing has been decimated while new industries such as media have prospered.

It was a pleasant surprise to read  then that cotton spinning was going to restart in Manchester, 30 years after the the last mill closed. Tower Mill in Dukinfield had been bought by its neighbours in Tame Valley Mill, Culimeta Save-Guard. Culimeta still process synthetic yarn next door and are one of the few remaining Manchester textile mills.


English Fine Cottons was formed by Culimeta to produce the highest quality Cottons for use in high end clothing, and nearly £6 million pounds has been spent on refurbishing Tower Mill (which last spun cotton in 1955) and equipping it with the very latest textile machinery. Alas, this is German made as along with the closure of the Lancashire textile mills went the machinery manufacturers as well.

As I follow English Fine Cottons on instagram, I was pleased to see that an open day was being held, so I put my name down for a spot to see what a new mill looked like.


Externally at least, little has changed – it is a listed building after all – but a keen eye will notice the new window frames on most of the windows and the air of tidiness about the place typical of a factory owned and occupied by one and the same entity (I’ve never seen that in a place in multiple occupation).

Leaving the somewhat battered goods lift that took us upstairs to the second floor, we exited into a white painted room and entered the new canteen for a briefing and separating into groups (there were probably 60+ people present), and then off on the tour.


Despite being stuffed full of the latest technology, a spinning mill is still quite noisy process, albeit not as deafening as it would have been when 80 years ago. To that end, I didn’t hear an awful lot of what Jim, the production manager, had to say which was a great shame as he had spent his entire career in the local mills and clearly had an immense knowledge of the process. Plus, I was busy wandering round taking things in and making some photographs.

I’ve taken the captions for these pictures from a video on the company website, it’s well worth a look: https://www.englishfinecottons.co.uk/manufacturing/a-21st-century-mill/


Bale plucker. A real futuristic looking thing. ‘The bale plucker opens and plucks the cotton fibre, moving along the bales and taking small sections from the top of each. It then sends the fibre through the transportation ducts to the blow room where it’s cleaned.’ according to the company’s website



Lap forming (I think). This winds parallel slivers around a plastic core to form a continuous sheet, or ‘lap’ to feed the comber.


Cans of slivers feeding the speed frame. This reduces the thickness of the sliver, applies a ‘holding’ twist and wraps it around ‘roving’ bobbins for spinning.



Ring frames


Autoconer – the last stage in the process. This winds the yarn from cops on to cones.

What stands out most was the modernity of the place. OK, so production had only been going a few weeks, so it was still immaculately clean, and no doubt the challenge will be to ensure high standards of housekeeping to keep it that way. But as much of the machinery was shrouded in metal cabinets it looked like a Formula 1 car factory or the aircraft industry. And the level of automation on the machines was staggering. I’m sure that in an ideal world, the company would have chosen a large, single storey portal frame shed to reduce the amount of travel between floors, but that may well have incurred other problems. And it almost seems right that a cotton spinning mill should be somewhere like this, rather than on an anonymous out of town industrial estate. 

It was disappointing that all the machinery was German, Japanese and Swiss, I presume because there are simply no British textile machinery manufacturers left.

I’m sure that some clever people have done the calculations and are confident that the business is profitable and sustainable. The market for textiles has clearly changed since the last mills in the area shut in the 80’s with a tendency to more high end clothes and textiles (the market for the high quality fine cottons being spun at Tower Mill) being manufactured in the U.K. nowadays. But with some product being exported, and more machinery on order a promising future could be on the cards.

So thank you to English Fine Cottons for allowing us to mooch around your ‘new’factory, I hope that it becomes a huge success!


Ray Mill, just round the corner. It was built later than Tower Mill (1908) and was electrically powered from the start. It closed as a spinning mill in 1982, probably one of the last in the area.

#462 – Mechanical Landscapes Website Relaunch


So after two years of wrestling with my Zenfolio hosted http://www.mechanicallandscapes.com, I’ve ditched it and moved to Squarespace. While I can’t fault Zenfolio’s customisation options, it drove me round the twist sometimes, and despite doing everything recommended on the SEO front, traffic was next to nothing.

So I’ve cut my losses and built a much simpler site that looks broadly similar but has been much easier to setup and seems to be a lot smoother to navigate. As a concept, it’s the same format as before – a showcase of a selection of my black and white work, plus one or two other bits and bats that I will be adding to over time.

Please have a look and let me know your thoughts!



Gallery pages. I might well add some more to this, but am tempted to keep it simple.


Projects and commissions – only one so far, hope fully more to come…


Exhibitions – three so far, need to pull my finger out with arranging some more!


Talks – got a few coming up!

#461 – Chatterley Whitfield Revisited 2


Institute shaft looming overhead.


The view from the landscapes slagheap.


The Chatterley Whitfield company logo, cast in iron.


Platt Shaft headgear.


The looming bulk of the Hesketh.


And another one, a little further away. I wanted to frame it between some of the surface buildings to give it a little more context.


Steam boilers. These weren’t the main boilers for the Hesketh winding gear, but they received exhaust steam from the winding engine. This was then used at low pressure to generate electricity through mixed pressure turbine sets. Information from Tarboat’s picture in Flickr.


Similar aspect to last time, but I just couldn’t get the composition. This of course is in a different orientation, best of a bad bunch, I didn’t like any of the portrait format ones.


Same view as last time, well almost!


#460 – Chatterley Whitfield Revisited 1


I rarely go and revisit places that I’ve photographed, with only a handful of exceptions e.g. Bailey Mill last week. Partly this is due to sating may curiosity first time round, and partly due to my usual modus operandi of being one step ahead of the demolition crews. In Chatterley Whitfield’s case, my curiosity wasn’t sated, and I’m hoping the demolition crew are a long way off – but I’m not overly optimistic.


The mine was one of the most productive in the country, and the biggest on the Stafforshire coalfield. There has been mining on the site for hundreds of years, but the name Chatterley Whitfield is a comparatively recent one. It came about due to the acquisition of the Whitfield colliery by the nearby Chatterley Iron Company in the 1870’s. The iron company folded in the early 1900’s but the mine survived through various changes of ownership into the 1970’s. It was certainly a very successful mine, being the first one in the country to produce a million saleable tons in a year in 1937. However, the infrastructure was aging and the colliery’s best -and most productive days were behind it. It was becoming less economic to extract the coal and output dropped to 408000 tons in 1965.

Coal drawing stopped in 1976 and coal from the Whitfield mine started to be extracted from the nearby Wolstanton Colliery. Thereafter, the mine became a visitor attraction but closed in the early 90’s, since when it has been left to rot.

Tours are organised once a year as part of the annual Heritage Open Days and these are led by the Chatterley Whitfield Friends group who do a sterling job. They also have an excellent website that has been massively improved of late and is well worth a visit.


I found this quite humbling – 60 years of service. And by the time this certificate was issued, he was 73 but note that it says ‘he is at present employed on the surface as a General Labourer’ (my emphasis) – the implication being that he was still employed. I know of plenty of people at my workplace with 25 year service certificates on their desks, and a few with 40 year certificates, but not many of the latter as they’ve usually taken redundancy by that stage. But 60 years? That’s impressive, especially for a career in an industry so fraught with danger as coal mining, in an era when safety standards weren’t anything like they developed into in the latter years of the 20th century.





Apparently, this roadway through the site was once a road through the site that anyone could use to walk or drive across the site.


The giant chimney that dominates the site. There’s talk of it not being in a good state and may have to be brought down at some point in the next 5 years – don’t know how true that is. In fairness, most of the brick structures on site are in poor condition, but chimneys are a slightly different proposition.


I don’t know what the future holds. Most of the buildings are listed but appear to be in a poor state of repair, and very few are accessible. The Hesketh engine house still has its steam engine intact, but is not accessible unfortunately.