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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

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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

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

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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.

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Ring frames

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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!

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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

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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!

http://www.mechanicallandscapes.com

gallerys

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

projects

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

exhibitions

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

talks

Talks – got a few coming up!

#461 – Chatterley Whitfield Revisited 2

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Institute shaft looming overhead.

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The view from the landscapes slagheap.

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The Chatterley Whitfield company logo, cast in iron.

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Platt Shaft headgear.

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The looming bulk of the Hesketh.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Same view as last time, well almost!

 

#460 – Chatterley Whitfield Revisited 1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

#459 – Bailey Mill Revisited

In the summer of 2007 I was on a bit of an exploration rampage, visiting over a dozen sites in a few months. One of my favourites was Bailey Mill in Delph. I’d been tipped off that the metal thieves had forced their way in and were just loading up their highly chromed Transits with copper and other loot, so the next day I finished work at dinnertime and legged it over to Saddleworth.  It was a warm, humid day in August and the sky was covered in an awkward flat cloud cover that I’ve been struggling to this day to get a decent picture out of.

The mill had been closed for several years but was in good condition, and contained some original machinery – not much, but enough to make it interesting. The photographs were good, with 3 featuring in the 20 photographs that make up my my Shadows of The North exhibition.

Thereafter the mill declined. Given the strange tendency (or not) of empty mills to spontaneously combust, I was surprised that Bailey Mill, with it’s wooden floors, had beaten this tendency. However, then came the news on Facebook earlier this year that Bailey’s luck had run out, and it was well ablaze.

I don’t live in the area, and don’t pass through regularly, so it took me until September to pay a visit, and I was surprised that not much appeared to have been done to clear the site.

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17th September 2016

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3rd August 2007

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17th September 2016

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3rd August 2007

In reality, the mills days were numbered. Permission to demolish the mills had been granted in 2015, so it was only a matter of time before they were to come down anyway, it just happened a little quicker and in a more dramatic fashion than anyone had anticipated.

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Quite literally razed to the ground.

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This was the doorway by which I entered the building in 2007- the door itself was lying on the floor that day as the metal thieves had been in the day before and I was fortunate to visit in their aftermath.

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The chimney remains intact.

#458 – Burnley Gas Holder Demolition

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Like a giant toy, the old gas holder at Burnley is being dismantled piece by piece. Unlike the demolition of buildings, gas holders are disassembled piece by piece (a great time lapse can be found here). Although I know that gas holders were slowly disappearing from our landscape (see my earlier post on the Blackburn gas holder) I didn’t realise this one was due to go until I drove past it on Monday whilst taking my family shopping in Colne, and saw the gigantic crane looming next to it.. Naturally, I didn’t have a camera on me, and even if I did, I don’t think my family would have appreciated it if I’d have pulled off the motorway to spend time photographing it!

So, a revisit on Friday found that demolition was well advanced, with around half of the structure gone.

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The rising dome can be seen behind the demolition equipment – this will be the last thing to be removed.

Burnley Gas Company gasworks, Burnley Lane, 1928

The gas works as it was in 1928. The above photos were taken from somewhere near where the buildings were on the left / centre of the old photo. These are obviously long gone, probably demolished when town gas was replaced with natural gas in the 1960’s / 1970’s. The land is now just fields, although I suspect they are heavily contaminated.

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The holder isn’t the easiest thing to photograph as it’s obscured by trees on one side, and it’s some distance from the main entrance. I quite liked this angle of it.

I’ve no particular interest in these structures as such, but their absence from the landscape is becoming noticeable. Some will be saved – the one just up the canal from Burnley at Brierfield is and will be dismantled and relocated as part of the development at Brierfield Mill, and English Heritage announced earlier this year that the famous gasholder that overlooks The Oval cricket ground has also been listed. But for the most part, these utilitarian structures, so familiar as to have become part of the backdrop to our urban landscape, will just fade from site forever.

#457 – Scunthorpe steelworks revisited

DSC_3431While the photographs I present on my websites etc are often heavily processed, they are all ‘straight’ pictures. Recently though, I have been experimenting with textures to see if the addition of these to an image can bring something else to it.DSC_3529

For this experiment, I selected my images of the steelworks at Scunthorpe, a set I took on a tour of the works in 2009. I wondered if the addition of textures would enhance the surreal feeling that surrounds the site – certainly straight out of camera pictures didn’t do justice although the monochrome versions in high contrast were an improvement. I also wanted to give the feeling of a journey of sorts, as they were taken from a train that was moving round the works. I was loosely inspired by the opening sequences of modern TV drama series such as Homeland and Deutschland 83, although I had a fixed number of images and couldn’t go back and shoot more to fill in any gaps in the narrative that I wanted to establish.DSC_3473

Starting with a monochrome version of the original image, I downloaded a texture from the internet, and then created a layer in Photoshop. I then adjusted the opacity and layer type.DSC_3486

I’ve put them all together into a short slideshow on YouTube, but the main output has been a small handmade book of prints – I still prefer the physicality of printed matter!