The Story of Mellor Mill

Mellor Mill

Mellor Mill was built by Samuel Oldknow in 1790-92 and was burnt out in 1892.  It was the largest cotton mill of its time and the template for the architecturally impressive mills that spread through the region.  Following Oldknow's diversion of the River Goyt, it was the final flowering of water power, with large stone-built tunnels for water and drive shafts.  The site now looks like wild woodland until you walk in and find the deep holes of the wheelpits and cellars. In 2009, excavations at the south end of the mill, in the car park near the millpond, uncovered mill walls, steps down to a cellar with two blocks for mounting machinery and bits of a singeing frame (for removing projecting hairs from a cotton yarn to make it smooth). Subsequently walls at the north end of the mill have been uncovered. In 2011, a grant from the Association for Industrial Archaeology enabled 120 tons of debris to be cleared from the Wellington wheelpit under the centre of the mill and open it for public view. Volunteers have continued to clear the cobbled area in front of the mill, a stable for visitor's horses under the central projection and the 100-metre tunnel for the drive shaft from the Waterloo wheel.

There is more than the mill. Nearer the river, there is the Waterloo wheelpit, the sites of workshops, stables, and gasworks and a tunnel under Lakes Road to Oldknow's mansion and garden. The heritage also includes Bottoms Hall, with Oldknow's model farm and the apprentice house, and the transformation of the south millpond into the Roman Lakes Leisure Park. In September 2012, after two unsuccessful bids, HLF granted £45,000 towards the development stage of the porject "Revealing Oldknow's Legacy: Mellor Mill and the Peak Forest Canal in Marple". The main bid, to be submitted in May 2013, will be for £1.2M jointly with the Canal and River Trust, reflecting Oldknow's promotion of the canal. If approved, the whole industrial complex will be uncovered and opened to the public, plus an innovative approach to digital learning as well as more traditional ways of displaying information.

Samuel Oldknow's Mellor Mill

GMAU Report 1986

Letter Phil Mayes to John Davis1986 Letter from Phil Mayes, DIRECTOR G.M.A.U to John Davies The Director of Development and Town Planning SMBC.

Re: Stockport Archaeology Working Party

Attached is a short report on the site of Mellor Mill. As you are aware we believe that the remains are a highly significant monument of regional significance and because of this would hope to be able to pursue a programme of  survey, research, excavation, conservation, and presentation on the site and its immediate surroundings. Under these circumstances I would be grateful if copies of this report could be circulated to the Working Party and a meeting convened.

The Report:

Mellor Mill, Stockport


Samuel Oldknow of Stockport acquired the Bottoms Hall Estate in 1787 and acquired other adjoining properties in the years following. Between the years 1790/1792, Oldknow constructed Mellor Mill on his estate in the valley of the River Goyt together with ancillary buildings, mill ponds and leats. The history of the mill has been outlined by Unwin (1920) and by Ashmore (1977).

Read more: GMAU Report 1986

Trial Dig 2009

Featured Article : Report Summary, Trial Dig 2009

Mellor Mill PostcardThe University of Manchester Archaeological Unit (UMAU) and Mellor Archaeological Trust (MAT) carried out an archaeological evaluation in April/May 2009 at the site of Mellor Mill, Marple Bridge, Stockport (centred on the National Grid Reference of SJ 9670 8845). The evaluation was carried out as part of the Mellor Heritage Project (MHP); a three-year Heritage Lottery funded community archaeology project. A photographic survey and visual inspection of Mellor Mill's wheelpits, drive and access tunnels was also carried out during the works.

Mellor Mill was built between 1790 and 1793 and was part of a large estate centred here, owned and first developed by the important industrialist Samuel Oldknow.  The mill itself measured c.400 feet long and 42 feet wide with six stories and was one of the largest water-powered mills in the country when first built. Oldknow was a manufacturer of cotton, and in particular muslins, who later became a partner to the significant figure of Richard Arkwright Jnr. After Oldknow's death, the estate and mill continued working in cotton manufacture until a disastrous fire in 1892 which partly destroyed the main mill building and caused the mill to cease operations. The mill stood as a ruin until the 1930's when demolition of the remaining above ground remains took place.

Read more: Trial Dig 2009

Trial Digs 2010 - 2011

Report Summary of 2010 dig

In early November 2010 a group of volunteers spent five days attempting to find some trace of the main structure of the mill at its northern end. Initial clearance of a section soon found an area of laid setts and after extending it further west it was found to partly overlay brick walling. The team concentrated on this and found a square brick structure with walls four bricks wide and a central area a little under two meters square.

Following this down it was found to be ½ meter deep (six layers of brick) with a brick floor. A small drain was located in the northeast corner. The lower fifteen centimetres of the fill overlying this floor was primarily composed of coal dust. Above this was a quantity of brick rubble and it was noted that many of these bricks were curved, possibly indicating the remains of a barrel roof.  From the eastern face a further wall appeared to extend for a short distance and this was found to be a double wall with a void between them.

Examination of the 1898 O.S. map of the area shows “W.M.” in the area where we were working. Does this mean we had uncovered the remains of a “weighing machine”? Quite possible. In which case the main mill building is still to be pinpointed.

The mill was originally water powered and it seems that water remained the main source of power throughout its life, but a pair of auxiliary compound steam engines built by Goodfellow of Hyde with an associated boiler was added in about 1855. Steam power was intended for use in the event of the river running low, and the engines and boiler were housed in a purpose built building at the north end of the main mill. The position of this building has been identified and there are several substantial vertical steel rods and stone grooved blocks remaining in place that would have secured the engines. There are also the remains of stone walling at the rear now overgrown by a large sycamore tree, and behind that the almost buried entrance to the flue that carried the smoke from the furnace to the chimney, which was situated some distance up the hillside.

On our last day, a small area south of our excavation was cleared and a cobblestone surface revealed. It is likely that this is part of the yard in the front of the main mill building.

Thanks are due to owner Bernard Sewall for permission to excavate and to the volunteers who endured some uncomfortable conditions during the week. One full day was lost due to heavy rain.

Click here to read a full pdf copy of the following year's dig, the 2011 Structural Survey of Wellington Wheel Pit by Salford University

Roman Lakes

Roman Lakes Leisure Park

This article contains the coming of the Roman Lakes as described by John Hearle in Mellor Through the Ages, with additions from Rachel Sewart’s article on the history of the Lakes in The Stockport Heritage Magazine of spring 2010. Rachel was advised on the history of the Lakes by Ann & John Hearle.

On the 1st July 1865 railway line from Compstall to Marple and New Mills was opened. Various engineering problems had delayed the construction.

As Victoria’s reign neared its end, the numbers of visitors to Marple increased.  In 1884, a newspaper reported that

“Marple Station was greatly thronged on Good Friday…between two and three thousand visited the place by ordinary and special train”. 

Pubs arranged popular attractions, tea-shops opened and cottagers sold pots of tea Tea Rooms , Roman Lakesat their front doors, farmers opened their fields for picnics.  On a Saturday in June 1896, 3000 visitors came from Oldham alone and, according to a newspaper report,more than 20,000 people visited Marple Bridge on Good Friday,1933. The destruction of Mellor Mill had led to the biggest attraction.

At Christmas 1892, Edwin Furness, who had been manager of the mill, sat in the parlour of his home at Strawberry Hill,with his brother, who was Chairman of Ardwick AFC, which had that year become a founder member of the Football League and two years later would become Manchester City.

“What shall I do now?  We’ll soon have cleared up what we can at the mill.  Mr Arkwright won’t want me after Easter.”

“I’ve been thinking about that.  You know, pleasure parks are becoming popular.  Couldn’t you have one here?”

“Well, maybe!  I suppose we could use the millponds for boating.”

“You need a good name.  Why not call them the Roman Lakes.  People aren’t to know that they weren’t dug by the Romans.”

“I think Arkwright would lease me the land.  It’s not worth much.”

So the Roman Lakes Leisure Park was born and the old packhorse bridge across the Goyt became Edwardian Ladies test load the Roman Bridgethe Roman Bridge. The Park prospered. In 1867 the estate was up for sale, by the Arkwright family. This did not succeed. The Furniss family,acting as agents for the Arkwrights, first leased and then purchased the grounds and established the Roman Lakes Company Ltd. People headed for the Roman Lakes to listen to the band, join the dance, row on the lake and play on the slot machines. In winter with the water level lowered, ice skating could be enjoyed on those freezing days.

A resident of Hyde recalled in 1983

“the happy memories of those halcyon days before the last war, which I spent in Marple Bridge and the surrounding countryside…On Sundays, thousands of day trippers arrived in Marple all bound for the Roman Lakes where they picnicked in the nearby fields, and rowed on the Lake, and spent their pennies in the slot machines..”  

By the end of the 1930’Boating on Roman Lakess, as buses and cars made it easier to go further into the countryside and cinemas provided entertainment in the towns, the popularity declined, but revived during the Second World War when cars were deprived of petrol.  Boating reached a high point of 68 rowing and motor boats, but its demise was caused by the conflict of the needs of anglers, enjoying the enrichment of the lakes waters by coarse fish, and the oarsmen.The decision made led to the end of an era of summer boat trips. Bands, dancing and slot machines have gone but the present owners, the Sewarts, continue to run the Leisure Park, with an income from fishing and sale of refreshments and a welcome for walkers and cyclists. In the early days of their ownership, in the first years of the 1950’s, the site was a prime destination for vandals and thieves, with the latter’s targets being the penny slot machines and stocks of tobacco and cigarettes. Sydney Sewart, Bernard Sewart’s father, finally resorted to sleeping onsite, despite his early 4am opening time. With the strong support of Bernard Sewart as chairman and Rachel as secretary, the newly formed Friends of our Valley are enhancing the opportunities to enjoy the beauty of this section of the River Goyt and its wildlife. 

The band at Roman Lakes

Roman Lakes Leisure Park website

Roman Bridge album on marple-uk virtual tour

Roman Lake and beyond album on  marple-uk virtual tour