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Monday, 5 September 2016

Lancashire's Heritage Crisis

Weaving shed, Queen St Mill.
On Saturday we visited Queen Street Mill at Harle Syke, Briarcliffe, near Burnley. This amazing site is Lancashire's last surviving steam-powered weaving mill.

The mill, a Grade I listed building, is home to a nationally important collection of textile machinery, along with its sister site, Helmshore Mills at Rossendale (another fantastic museum, which I visited while researching my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives).
The mill chimney.

Queen Street Mill originally housed 1,000 powerlooms; it was built in 1894 for the Queen St Mill Manufacturing Company.

You can see 'Peace', the 500hp engine which powers the weaving shed, and the boiler house is still home to the original Lancashire boiler. It was stiflingly hot in the boiler house (2 newer Lancashire boilers, made at Hyde in 1901, heat the water for the engine). Water is supplied from the mill pond.
When the engine is 'in steam', you can see several looms at work; the weaving shed houses about 300 looms. The noise was absolutely deafening, so it must have been unbelievably loud when all the looms were in use. The warehouse has several examples of different looms, including a Jacquard loom capable of weaving a tapestry. I was also very interested to see a demonstration of terry-towelling weaving, which I haven't seen before. You can buy towels, aprons and fabric woven at the mill in the gift shop.

Lancashire boilers need a lot of coal for fuel.
Peace, the 500hp mill engine.
I am sorry to say that Queen St and Helmshore both face imminent closure, along with three other Lancashire heritage sites  - victims of council cuts necessitated by Tory austerity policies which have disproportionately targeted the north and inner-city regions. The other Lancashire museums now at risk are the Judges' Lodgings, Lancaster; the Maritime Museum, Fleetwood; and the Museum of Lancashire, Preston
The closure of these five museums - now in a last-ditch fight to save their collections - will save the council just £64.2million, according to the Museums Association.
It seems a relatively small price to pay to keep these irreplaceable heritage sites open to the public, so if you happen to be a multi-millionaire or billionaire philanthropist with some spare cash, please contact the museums if you would like to help.
Queen St Mill and many other sites nationwide are open free of charge next weekend as part of the Heritage Open Days event, so do take this opportunity to visit.

Terry-towelling loom at Queen St mill.
Jacquard loom at Queen St Mill.
I am desperately saddened by the prospect of these museums' closure, and I sincerely hope that a way can be found to preserve them for future generations, so that tomorrow's children can see how their Lancashire ancestors lived and worked.
All photos © Sue Wilkes.

1 comment:

Tony Grant said...

Hi Sue. Thank you for posting this article. What a shame if these five museums are closed. Museums and the stories they tell and the information they hold are so important to the well being and understanding of a healthy society. We need to know our past. When I was a school teacher every term I would take my class or a whole year group to our local museums and planned these visits into cross curricular learning. Museums and talking about the past has enthused me all my life.( I always tell children to talk to their grandparents!!) I felt so inspired I did a masters degree in using museums in education at the Institute of Education.