Written by Astrid Hansen
In the early years of the 19th century, Hallas Bridge was a prosperous hamlet. Today’s secluded country cottages once housed workers at two more of the valley’s cotton spinning mills, while others would have walked in from surrounding villages.
It is hard to say exactly when Bents Mill was built. Some sources date it at 1810 but this is more likely the date at which it was enlarged by William Wilkinson and his son-in-law John Knowles.
Dr. George Ingle, in his fascinating book ‘Yorkshire Cotton’, says that according to replies to the Factory Enquiry Commissioners in 1833, it was built in 1799. John Knowles ran the mill with a partner, John Smith, up to 1809 and after that with his son John Wilkinson Knowles.
Bents was a big mill housing a lot of machinery, powered at first by water only and later with the addition of a steam engine. Knowles was known as one of the largest makers of cotton goods in these parts, putting out his yarn to at least twenty groups of hand-weavers and delivering the finished product to the Manchester market.
Hallas Mill was only 200 yards downstream, again water powered with a wheel recorded as being 18 feet in diameter. There must have been agreements between the mill owners about control and availability of the water supply. This mill must have been built before 1802, for at that date the partner ship running it was dissolved. The initial partnership consisted of Jonas and Abraham Foster of Denholme and Joseph Foster of Wilsden. It was Joseph who left the partnership but the other two seem to have struggled to keep the business going until it was taken over by John Knowles sometime after 1811. The mill had changed to worsted spinning by 1829 and was later demolished.
In the 1830s cotton spinning vanished almost completely from this side of the Pennines and Bents Mill too changed over to worsted. This mill survived under various owners, housing a textile firm well into the late 20th century. The building can still be seen, beautifully restored and converted into holiday accommodation. The mill pond, no longer a reservoir for the original vital source of power, has become an ornamental feature as part of landscaped grounds that would astonish any time-travelling mill worker of 200 years ago. They would be equally amazed that the three days it took to transport John Knowles’ fabrics to Manchester have shrunk to less than a couple of hours, bringing this now peaceful valley within reach of so many, not looking for work in the mills but seeking to explore our villages, moors and tourist attractions.
Next time, a look at the mixed fortunes of Goit Stock Mill, see part 3.
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