Written by Astrid Hansen
It is hard now to picture the beautiful, peaceful Hewenden valley, with its waterfalls and bluebell woods, as a hive of industry even though fascinating reminders of the past can still be seen.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, textile production in England gradually changed from a hand worked cottage industry, with spinning mechanised some years ahead of weaving. The first mills in the area of Harden and Wilsden were built in the Hewenden valley, their machinery driven by the powerful and reliable waters of Hewenden Beck.
Entering the valley from Cullingworth Road at Hewenden Bridge, the first of the mill complexes is soon reached. This is the site of the original Hewenden Mill. This however was not a textile mill but a water-driven corn mill, already in existence in the 13th century and still operating in 1792 when William Nichols of Farsley built his textile mill on a piece of land leased from Miss Mary Hodgson of Hallas Hall, together with rights to the water supply. The corn mill at this time was worked by John Hague who held a 60 year lease of his mill. William Nichols came to an agreement with him that gave him shares in the new mill and the use of one sixth of the water to operate the corn mill. The new Hewenden Mill was one of the earliest in the Bradford district for spinning worsted. Many other early mills round here spun cotton for at least the first few years of their existence.
William Nichols died in 1800. His eldest son had a farm at Cottingley Bridge and shares in another family farm at Beckfoot and it was the second son, Richard, who took over the worsted mill. The business prospered to the extent that he opened a London office. Richard’s younger brothers, Abraham, John and Samuel, were also involved in the business, but after a family disagreement in 1820, Richard paid them out and they built their own mill, Well Holes, in Wilsden Main Street.
Between about 1820 and 1824, the celebrated Airedale Poet, John Nicholson, worked as a woolsorter at Hewenden Mill and while there wrote one of his best known poems, ‘The Poacher’, based on local life.
When Richard died in 1830, his sons Richard Shaw Nichols and William Schofield Nicholls took over. By 1837 the mill was converted to steam power. The business did not survive the trade crisis of the 1840s and the brothers left, William to Bradford where he set up as a merchant and waste dealer, and Richard to Tasmania.
After this, parts of the mill were occupied by a variety of firms and there were periods of disuse. In the early 20th century the building took on a new and quite different life when it was opened as a roller skating rink. It was made attractive with lace curtains and paper flowers, and such pleasant and innocuous refreshments as tea, lemonade, buns and parkin could be purchased. This was a popular extra draw for the many families and young people who came on foot or by train to enjoy the countryside and the little pleasure garden at nearby Porky Park. From 1914 to 1918 a group of local men, Jos Craven, Arnold White and Harry Hainsworth, opened the mill for weaving. Mr White continued the business until 1925, even installing a modern turbine to make use of the water power again. Mrs Stow, born in 1905, started work there at the age of twelve and remembered it fondly as a nice homely place to work. Shackleton Bros. Wool Merchants were still using the premises in the late 1960s.
The story will continue down the valley to the mills at Hallas Bridge, see the next articles here: