#470 – Best of 2016 part 3


So a (belated) third part to my 2016 retrospective continues with a quick look at Mutual Mills in Heywood – not an explore, more a drive by as I was in the area. I’ve a few more from the Manchester area that I’ve not yet got round to posting up – I’ll put these up some time this year (they’re also in this gallery on www.theviewfromthenorth.org)

I last visited Chatterley Whitfield in 2007, and not much has changed, except you can’t go in the bath house now, which is a shame.




Gas holders are an increasingly rare sight in Britain now, and this one in Burnley was in the middle of demolition when I had a quick look.


I was pleased to visit English Fine Cottons to have a look round their impressive mill. While the textile industry hasn’t died in manchester, it’s a fraction of the size it once was, so to see a spinning mill re-opening was a real treat.


And finally the year ended with a trip back to Grove Rake, a place that unlike Chatterley Whitfield, had changed quite a lot since my first visit in 2008.

Finally, I published the second edition of Shadows of the North, on sale here if you are interested!


So, quite a productive year, more so than the previous few! What will 2017 bring……?


#468 – Best of 2016 part 1

So, it’s a few years since I did this, but as 2016 has been a productive year photographically, I think it’s time for a retrospective.

I guess it’s down to the fact that over the past few years I’ve been busy with my career and family has meant that taking photographs has not been a priority, but a combination of opportunities, a change of job and my daughter becoming more independent has freed up a little more time to take pictures rather than just write about them and reprocessing old ones!


Rossendale Mills – I spent some time looking at the remaining mills in Rossendale, nothing really stood out photographically, but I do like the fact that in an age of meaningless company names and branding, there is still a business called the Lancashire Sock Manufacturing Company.


Next up was Albert Mill in Haslingden, which I wanted to photograph in the mist, but by the time I got there it had started to lift. I opted for a different look in post processing and made them very high contrast instead of the misty low contrast I had in mind if the weather had held.



And then over to Brierfield for a mooch around Brierfield Mill, just before redevelopment work started. It’s not always easy to photograph a building that is totally stripped, and this was no exception – 400000 square feet of nowt, but I managed to get a few good ‘uns I think.






Finally, a bit further up the road is Colne, another old declining mill town. 


#467 – Return to Grove Rake 2


Something I found on the photographs from last time was that they suffered from the lack of dynamic range of the sensor in my Nikon D70. I did bracket many of the images but not all, and consequently, some of the images were technically lacking, but I like to think I captured the spirit of the place. Since moving to a full frame camera in 2009 I’ve had fewer problems with dynamic range, and now that I’m using a Nikon D810, the problems are even less, especially at lower ISO’s, and I slightly regret not revisiting earlier when the site was more intact.



Taken from a broadly similar viewpoint as last time, you can see how much has changed on this picture.


Scrap. Surprised the traveling community haven’t relocated this.


A small moat is forming round the head frame.



Taken from a broadly similar viewpoint as this from last time, albeit much later in the day, on the way home.

There’s some nice old photos of the mine on aditnow.co.uk here.

#469 – Best of 2016 Part 2

20160307_070141-EditThe early year tour of mills in monochrome, came to a shuddering halt when I was approached by a PR company to do an urbex style shoot using the new Samsung Galaxy S7.

London Road Fire Station in Manchester was the first location, a magnificent late Victorian building that was last used in the 90’s, but had closed as a fire station some time before that. It’s been empty and decaying ever since, but has recently been bought for renovation.





What was intended to be a one day shoot encompassing two sites in Manchester and London became a two day shoot of 5 sites. Having spent the morning at London Road, we hurtled down to London on the train to the next location but unfortunately redevelopment work was underway and the place was a building site, so there were no usable photographs from here.


I returned to London at the end of the week to photograph 3 more places – St.Clements Asylum, Caroline Gardens Chapel, and Crossness Pumping Station.



A most rewarding exercise both photographically (seeing some places I’d never have seen otherwise, at someone else’s expense) and financially (it funded a new camera!). It was also likely a once in a lifetime opportunity – how many more offers am I likely to get, to get paid to shoot my favourite subjects…..?!?!

#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