Dark Satanic Mills: Owners and Workers

Having written about my exploration of the canal and former mills in, and on the way to, Milnsbridge last month, I am now in the process of renovating a house in the village itself. One, moreover, with many connections to the mills and the wool and yarn trade: I’ve made some interesting discoveries about its former inhabitants and their neighbours by studying the records released from the 1911 Census. Before looking at those records, however, we need to look further back in the history of Milnsbridge to picture the full story of the people who previously lived on my new street.

Blue Plaque on Milnsbridge House
Blue Plaque on Milnsbridge House

Around the 1880s, the wealthy mill-owning Armitage family began selling off the land surrounding their then residence, Milnsbridge House, and houses were subsequently built on what became Armitage Road. The links between Milnsbridge House and the wool trade predate the Armitage family’s residence, since in 1812 the local Justice of the Peace (and owner of the house), Joseph Radcliffe interrogated the Luddites accused of shooting a mill owner, William Horsfall. The accused men were subsequently tried and hanged in York, while Joseph Radcliffe was made a baronet.

Former front of Milnsbridge House
Former front of Milnsbridge House

There’s an epilogue to the story and some pictures of Milnsbridge House on the Luddite Bicentenary Site here. Six years on from when the last of those pictures were taken, the ground floor of Milnsbridge House is still used by small engineering companies and the rest seems be in the same state of disrepair. What was the front of the house is now the back of the works, although I had trouble getting a good photograph because of the metal fence around what’s left of the grounds.

By the 1820s, the Radcliffe family no longer lived in Milnsbridge House, and it was occupied from early in the decade by Joseph Armitage, formerly of High Royd in nearby Honley, who went on to purchase the house in 1825. The Armitage family owned Milnsbridge House until the 1920s, although I can find no mention of them in the 1911 Census records for Milnsbridge.

View down Armitage Road
View down Armitage Road

Meanwhile, on Armitage Road, houses continued to be built up until the present day, resulting in long terraces containing smaller groups of houses of similar age rubbing up against each other in apparently random chronology. I’ve looked up the 1911 census records for three houses that would have been next to each other then, although the gap between two of them has since been filled in with more modern houses.

The oldest of the three houses, built in 1886, was inhabited by a married couple with a two-year-old son, born a year or so after their wedding. The household was completed by a domestic servant, aged 21, and the census also tells us that the man of the house was a Textile Yarn Manufacturer, who employed other workers as well as his household’s maid.

House entrance
House entrance hall viewed from outside

The adjoining house, built later but to the same basic floorplan, was home to a family of eight (or possibly nine). The husband and wife had been married for 22 years, and had children living with them ranging in age from seven to eighteen or twenty. Intriguingly, the details of their elder son (the 20-year-old) have been crossed out, possibly indicating that he was unexpectedly away from home on the night of the Census, but he is listed as a Motor Wagon Driver – quite a modern job for the era, and very different to his father, who was a Cotton Yarn Agent (an employee rather than an employer). The family had no servants, although one grown-up daughter’s occupation is listed as Domestic Duties, while the other was working as an assistant in a shop. They also had their five-year-old niece living with them at the time of the Census.

House Entrance Hall viewed from just inside
House entrance hall viewed from just inside

The third house I studied, now separated from the others by seven or eight newer houses, was home to a family of four: a couple married for 12 years, and their two daughters, aged 4 and 11. The husband is listed as a foreman-dyer in the woollen manufacturing industry, again quite an important role in his field. He was also born in the United States, although British by parentage.

Looking at all that, it becomes apparent that these families were relatively well off, as the size of the rooms in my house also indicates, with only the largest of the families recording that any of their children had died prior to the Census. Most of them were involved in the same trade as the family who gave their name to the road, although we have no evidence of which – or whose – mill they worked in or had dealings with. There’s more to follow on the Armitage family another time, as I’ve only just begun to find out details about their lives.

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6 thoughts on “Dark Satanic Mills: Owners and Workers

  1. Great research, Stevie – you’re one of life’s natural local historians! How wonderful to find out about your own home and its neighbours. I bet you’re watching “The Mill” aren’t you? Puts some of modern living’s annoyances into sharp perspective!

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  2. You make me wish that I had time to get back into genealogy research. I love digging into old census files and trying to figure out what life was like.

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    1. Hi Andi

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      We should have electricity at the new house by the end of next week, so that’s another step towards me being more communicative on other people’s posts as well as my own.

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