Former Gidlow Mill


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Bridgeman Terrace, Wigan, WN1 1TY


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Statutory Address:
Bridgeman Terrace, Wigan, WN1 1TY

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wigan (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


An integrated cotton spinning and weaving mill of 1866 to 1868, with late-C19 additions, comprising spinning and weaving blocks, a reservoir with an oversailing vaulted structure, a railway viaduct, a chimney, and a decorative boundary wall with railings.

Reasons for Designation

The former Gidlow Mill, an integrated cotton spinning and weaving mill of 1866 to 1868, with late-C19 additions and alterations of the C20 and C21, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as an example of a mill complex with good-quality design and polychrome decoration unusual for its period, particularly to the spinning block with its towers and cupola, and the chimney; * designed by George Woodhouse, a notable and innovative architect who has several listed buildings to his name; * for the completeness of the original integrated mill complex, which despite later additions still allows the process flow to be read, including the spinning and weaving blocks, reservoir with warehouse vault, railway viaduct, chimney, and boundary walls; * for the retention of surviving interior historic fabric including fireproof construction on all floors of the spinning block, much of the weaving-shed structure, substantial elements of the original planform, power-transmission features and internal historic finishes including historic joinery, lath-and-plaster ceilings and lime-washed walls.

Historic interest:

* as the centre at the height of its success of John Rylands and Sons’ internationally-significant textile business.


At the beginning of the C19 Wigan was the centre of Lancashire coal-mining, and it also became an important centre of weaving cloth as well as spinning cotton. From 1819 John Rylands and Sons (‘Rylands’, originally of St Helens) operated their linen and calico weaving business from Wigan. However, the bleach-and-dye works they bought was on land found to be rich in coal, and they also opened a colliery. After around 1825 Lancashire began to see integrated mills being built, with both tall blocks for spinning, and top-lit (and hence usually single-storey) sheds for weaving. The weaving sheds had distinctive saw-tooth roof profiles with the ridges aligned roughly east-west, to allow an even light in through the north-facing glazed pitches. Later in the century Lancashire’s textile industry became more specialised, with weaving concentrated in the district around Burnley (with 65% of the county’s looms by 1900) and spinning in the Manchester area (with over 80% of the county’s spindles).

In 1865, perhaps to take advantage of an anticipated resurgence in the cotton industry following the conclusion of the American Civil War and the associated ‘cotton famine’ in Lancashire, Rylands began planning an integrated mill on part of the colliery site. Building began in 1866 and finished in 1868. An 1868 invoice shows that the mill buildings (including manager’s house, chimney, reservoir (lodge), railway bridge, walls and railings, and machinery) cost around £141,000 – equivalent to over £16 million in 2021. Over half of this was spent on the spinning and weaving blocks. The Earl of Derby described the mill as ‘a pleasure for the eye to rest upon, so well has the architectural effect been studied in its construction’. The use of such polychromatic brickwork for mills was unusual at the time.

The mill was designed for throstle-spinning, with throstle frames at ground and second floor, and a carding room at first floor level. Throstle-spinning varies from mule-spinning in being a continuous process of drawing and twisting a roving, and winding the resultant yarn onto a spindle (a mule draws and twists with one stroke, and winds on a return stroke). Like ring-frames (which developed from them), throstle-frames were easier for a largely female workforce to operate than mules. Wigan’s coal-mining industry occupied many male potential textile workers, and this might have been a factor in choosing these machines. The carding machines and throstle frames were made by Howard and Bullough of the Globe works (Accrington), and Parr, Curtis and Madeley of Phoenix Works (Ancoats, Manchester) also supplied some mules. J Musgrave of the Globe ironworks (Bolton) supplied the structural ironwork, and the steam engines.

The mill had its own railway sidings off the London to Preston railway, and the sidings were also connected to the colliery. Doors in the warehouse gave direct access to railway wagons standing on the viaduct over the lodge. A gas-works in the north-east corner of the site supplied the mill’s lighting. Raw cotton was taken in at the second floor above the boiler house, and prepared here and on the floor below before being transferred to the carding room, from where after carding it went up and down to the spinning floors, and then as thread to the weaving shed to be woven into cloth. Coal was brought from the owners’ colliery by tramway and originally unloaded directly into the boiler house through ground-floor openings with massive stone surrounds, from the yard between the spinning and weaving blocks.

The stone boundary wall to the park, with spearhead iron railings, might date from the creation of the park in 1878, but also might be the wall and railings referred to in the 1868 invoice. By 1894 additional weaving-shed space had been added, filling in the yard between the two main blocks. This obscured the original principal entrance, which is now (2021) internal, as are the south-west windows of the first weaving shed. In 1905 a replacement weaving-shed engine house was added to the west side of the shed. In 1915 the mill was converted to electric power, and a sub-station built on the western side of the site. The original double-height internal engine house was then horizontally divided, probably before the Second World War. Also possibly at this time, the chimney lost the original cap which was supported on columns, giving an appearance similar to a belfry or lighthouse. Near the sub-station is the access to Second World War air-raid shelter tunnels.

Rylands was taken over by Great Universal Stores (GUS) in 1953, and Gidlow mill closed for cotton manufacturing in 1954. GUS demolished the mill-manager’s house to the south-east of the mill and replaced it with a two-storey office, linked to the first floor of the spinning block by an enclosed bridge. They added another stair and hoist, enclosed in steel, at the north end of the spinning block. They also demolished the warehouse block above the eastern part of the lodge and built new portal-framed sheds off the original stone piers and brick vaulting. They probably also demolished the original entrance gates and their piers, as well as altering the roof to the original ancillary block south of the weaving shed’s engine house, making it flat.

Wigan College of Technology bought the building in 1986. They added a steel-framed glazed extension containing stairs and lifts on the south-west side of the spinning block, and replaced some timber windows in pvc. Partitions and suspended ceilings were also added. A staircase was also inserted at the south end, cutting through the floors. The mill was listed in 1996. Since listing, the chimney has had a steel cap added with a safety balustrade, to prevent water ingress.

In 2006, the college (by now Wigan and Leigh College) left for new premises nearby, and the mill was later bought by MCR property, but remained vacant and undeveloped after the 2008 financial crisis. Fire has damaged the north end of the spinning floor, and much of the roof here is now missing; half of the roof of the north wing of the main building is also missing, including the lantern over the engine house. Since 2009, the GUS office block and its linking bridge, and the modern warehouse buildings over the eastern part of the lodge, have been demolished. The site is, in 2021, in private ownership.

George Woodhouse (1829 to 1883) was articled to the Bolton architect James Whittaker and then James’ brother John Whittaker before commencing his own practice in 1852. He practised from Bolton for most of his life, occasionally entering into partnerships with others, in parallel with his own practice. A prominent designer of chapels and mills, he was an early user of mass concrete for buildings, including a chapel at Westhoughton, Bolton in 1868 (demolished), and designed Peel Mill number 3 in Bolton (demolished) with two walls of curtain glazing in 1876. He is attributed with several listed buildings, most notably Victoria Mill (Miles Platting, Manchester, 1869-1873, National Heritage List for England - NHLE - 1197924) and Bliss Tweed Mill (Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, 1872, NHLE 1198094). This is the only such polychromatic mill by Woodhouse in Britain, although his obituary suggests that others were built abroad, including in Canada.

Gidlow mill was for some time the centre of John Rylands’ extensive textile business. When it was built, Rylands were the world’s largest manufacturers of cotton fabric, and by the last quarter of the C19 they were one of the largest commercial concerns of any kind. They were unusual among textile makers in ‘vertically integrating’ by also making finished clothing, in Manchester (Longford Mills and Medlock Mill), Crewe, and London (Commercial Road and Bethnal Green). John Rylands (1801 to 1888) left an enormous fortune to his third wife, who used part of it to build the Grade-I listed John Rylands Library on Deansgate, Manchester (NHLE 1217800) between 1890 and 1899.


Integrated cotton spinning and weaving mill of 1866 to 1868, by George Woodhouse for John Rylands and Sons, with alterations.

MATERIALS: red, yellow and black brick, stone dressings, slate roofs, and a cast-iron frame with brick jack-arches.

PLAN: a reverse-L plan with a spinning block aligned north-west to south-east, and a north wing comprising boiler and engine houses with a mechanics’ shop and preparation rooms. There is an attached weaving shed to the north-east.

EXTERIOR: (not inspected, information from other sources). Forming a very striking feature on an elevated site immediately north of the Grade-II registered Mesnes Park, with the spinning block forming the north-east boundary of the Mesnes Conservation Area.

SPINNING BLOCK The spinning block is of three storeys (with a basement boiler house), in an Italianate style. It is built of red brick in English Garden Wall bond with three courses of stretchers between header courses. It has a chamfered plinth, broad polychrome bands in black and yellow brick linking the heads of the windows on all floors, black crosses at first-floor level and geometric patterns to the upper stages of the turrets. The roof is concealed by a parapet but consists of multiple hipped ridges with a Welsh-slate covering, in 2021 overlaid with bitumen.

The principal front is the south-west, facing the park. This is 392ft long, of 36 bays, with projecting square turrets in bays (from the left) 1, 6, 11 and 36. The left and right turrets comprise corner privy towers which project above the parapet and have corniced copings. The other two turrets project slightly higher and have similar copings; these flank the four bays of the original engine house. The eight bays immediately to the right of bay 11 are obscured by the full-height 1980s steel-framed stair tower with some pastiche geometric brickwork, and (in 2021) missing its glazing. The ground and first floors have large segmental-headed twelve-pane timber windows, the second floor has pairs of round-headed windows, and all have polychrome heads; some openings have been altered.

The south-east wall is 108ft wide and of nine bays, including a corner turret at the left and a larger stair tower at the right. The middle floor of bay 3 has an altered opening where the bridge to the GUS office once connected.

The north-east wall is largely obscured at ground level by the second-phase weaving shed which abuts it. The south-east tower adds a bay at the left, and bay 8 has a hoist tower which projects slightly above the parapet. Beyond bay 27, the four-bay engine house and the six-bay boiler house advance, with a corner turret, and a turret spanning the junction between them, with a water tank at roof level. The boiler house has a roof tower where it meets the spinning wing, with a cupola. Each face of the cupola has a deeply-moulded corniced pediment, a window with a deeply-moulded arched head with keystone, a moulded band at the springing point of the window arches, and a sill band. The tower windows retain geometric glazing bars. The boiler house has a symmetrical five-bay frontage between the flanking turrets, with a second-floor taking-in door in the centre bay with a shouldered, rusticated stone surround.

WEAVING SHED An inner weaving shed which is rectangular in plan, links the spinning block to the original, outer, trapeziform weaving shed of 30 bays. The brick walls have stone copings, and the north-east wall has a saw-tooth profile rather than a parapet, and polychrome brick decoration matching the spinning block. The roofs retain some Welsh slate and glazing. The engine house attached at the west is dated 1905 on its gabled west wall. To the south of this is an attached ancillary building of unknown purpose (now with a flat roof), and polychrome decoration matching the original buildings. It has loading doors to both of its two storeys.

CHIMNEY The freestanding chimney to the north of the spinning block is of red brick with polychrome decoration and stone cornices. It is of three unequal stages, with a square base, octagonal second stage and wide round shaft. The base and second stage have recessed panels (including round-headed blind windows to the second stage, with striped heads) containing geometric patterns, and each stage has a moulded cornice. The shaft has one moulded stone band and two friezes of black-and-yellow brick lozenges between black bands, plus 14 steel belts and modern metal cap with balustrade.

RESERVOIR The substantial mill reservoir along the north of the site survives intact. This is stone-lined and enclosed by a stone boundary wall to the site boundary. It is more than half-covered by a brick vault built off 74 stone piers, now with a concrete slab above it. A railway viaduct, also built off stone piers, runs along the west wide of the vaulted structure. It retains some of the timber railway superstructure. A further stone wall with spear-head iron railings forms the boundary with the park.

SUB-STATION The electricity sub-station of 1915 stands near the north-west corner of the spinning block, faced in red brick and of two storeys with large segmental-headed windows and a flat roof.

INTERIOR: (not inspected, information from other sources). The spinning block is of fire-proof construction based on brick jack-arches, supported on cast-iron columns and beams (some marked with the maker’s name J Musgrave of Bolton). The column heads have plates for attaching line-shafting fixings, and some power-transmission features survive such as bearing boxes. The ceiling of the upper floor is of a vaulted form fixed directly below the roof tie-beams, with boxed-in timber beams and cast-iron ties, on cast-iron columns. All ceilings have a lath-and-plaster finish, some of which survives. Staircases are stone, with dry risers in the centre with shafts for carrying water for fire-fighting, and some associated historic joinery. A full-height brick firewall separates the spinning wing form the north wing. Ashlar stone blocks can be seen embedded in the walls of the engine house at ground-floor level, and the stone engine-beds may survive in the basement.

Large stone surrounds to the original boiler-house loading doors are visible from within the weaving sheds, as is the original principal entrance with rusticated stone surround. The weaving sheds retain their cast-iron columns and timber beams, and most of the timber roof structure (in poor condition, in 2021). The weaving-shed engine house has a full-height interior retaining some steel beams and other fixings relating to the installation of the steam engine.

The sub-station retains cream and brown glazed tiles to the internal walls, and two cast-iron staircases.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Jones, E, Industrial Architecture in Britain 1750-1939, (1985), 144-145
Williams, M, Farnie, D A, Cotton Mills in Greater Manchester, (1992), 34-35, 97-98
local history website showing railway wagons on the viaduct over the lodge, accessed 23/04/21 from
Victorian Architects in Greater Manchester entry for George Woodhouse, accessed 23/04/21 from
Barter, Marion (Architectural History Practice), Pagefield Building, Wigan: historic building appraisal and impact assessment (2009)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 27 Aug 2007
Reference: IOE01/15303/23
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr John Riley. Source Historic England Archive
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