Development of Mills

A great deal of my family story concerns the textile industry, from early Shepleys who were fullers, "felting up" cloth, and that probable ancestor Thomas Sheard, who in his will described himself as a wool man, probably a merchant. to my father's trade. Much of the focus has been on the nineteenth century, a period of massive change, which saw the development of steam power, the introduction of Shoddy, and increasing mechanisation.

Batley, though well endowed with underground water which could be drawn on, lacked a river, and the Beck and associated streams were a poor source of water power. It seems that many took their cloth to the Dewsbury Mills on the Calder for fulling, but by the 1780s these facilities were overloaded, whilst output was reduced in dry summers. 1786 saw a petition to the lord of the manor from clothiers around the Batley/Birstall boundary for fulling provision there, but power remained a problem. A small mill built by Messrs Nussey and Clapham at Brookroyd may have been worked by donkey power, and was only for scribbling and slubbing, processes done to prepare wool for spinning.

It was steam that made the difference, and several steam powered mills were built in the district in the 1790s. A local one was that built at Birstall Smithies, which seems to have been roughly contemporary with the first in Batley itself, the Clerk Green Mill. This was very quickly followed by another Batley one in Havercroft, referred to at first as the Batley Subscription Mill, but by the 1830s called The Old Mill.

Few locally were in a position singly to make this kind of investment; these were "Company Mills" where groups of clothiers banded together, each putting in perhaps £50 or £100 towards these ventures.

New machinery was thus available to many, while the vastly greater output of yarn through the use of of new spinning machines, sometimes included, could make far more yarn available for individual clothiers to take away and weave.

Further enterprises owed their impetus to the development of Shoddy, Benjamin Law's invention. Hick Lane Mill, at first referred to as Batley New Mill, was the said to have been the first built expressly for the purpose of making cloth from Shoddy.

In 1826 Carlinghow Mills were built by John Nussey of White Lee, one who must have become aware of the possibilities of Shoddy by the time of his involvement in an enterprise in Berlin, while John Burnley, one of those involved in Hick Lane, set up his own business nearby at Hick Well Mill

Others were to follow in or near Batley, Branch mills, described as new in 1838, when Leonard Stubley's twentieth share was sold, and Spring Mill being other company ventures in Batley itself.