Overwhelming Public Support for Saving England’s Mills Revealed

  • 85% of England’s population says they are against demolition and replacement of mills, with 70% saying they should be considered for new housing, offices and public amenities before constructing new buildings, and this number rises to 79% among those from the North of England
  • New report says almost half of all historic mills in Greater Manchester have been destroyed since the 1980s
  • Floor space for 25,000 new homes identified in Greater Manchester and Lancashire alone - Historic England calls mills ‘distinctive and character-filled’ and is against their demolition and replacement with new buildings where this is avoidable
  • Historic England calls for industrial mill buildings to be at the centre of regeneration and new publication showcases viable new uses for old mills
  • £252,000 repair grant awarded to Leigh Spinners mill, Lancashire

England’s textile mills, once the workshop of the world, were the original Northern Powerhouse. They define the landscape of the North of England, yet hundreds of historic mill buildings stand empty and neglected.

A new report published today reveals that Greater Manchester alone has lost almost half of its mills since the 1980s.

Historic England and YouGov asked the public for their opinions and found that 90% of adults in England believe that historic mills are an important part of the country’s heritage, story and character and 85% do not want to see historic mills demolished and replaced.

Also published today is a study, commissioned by Historic England, which explores viable new uses for old mills across the North West.

Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s Planning Director in the North West, said: "With their ability to accommodate wonderful homes, workplaces and cultural spaces, our historic mill buildings deserve a future and should not be destroyed. They helped make us who we are in the north of England and have a profound impact on the physical and cultural landscape.

Mills have so much to offer in terms of space, character and identity. By shining a light on successful regeneration projects, we hope to inspire others to recognise the potential of our former industrial buildings and start a conversation about their future."

Mill building with canal running alongside
Paragon Mill in Manchester has been restored and converted into apartments © Historic England

Losing our mills

A report by the University of Salford, funded by Historic England, has today revealed that nearly half of Greater Manchester’s historic mills (45%) have been destroyed since the 1980s. Salford is the borough which has lost the most, with 66% lost over the last 30 years.

There is calculated to be 1,996,597 square metres of vacant floor space in textile mills across Greater Manchester and Lancashire - equivalent to 25,000 new homes. Historic England believes that mills can and should accommodate the North West’s growth needs. Mill buildings are also distinctive, character-filled places which offer a connection between past and future generations.

Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, said: "It’s a real shame that half of Greater Manchester’s historic mills have been lost. These buildings are an important part of our industrial legacy – the original Northern Powerhouse. But equally they are an important part of our future, whether that’s creating new jobs for local people by investing in the industries of the future, providing much-needed affordable housing, or transforming these unique spaces into cultural destinations. I fully support Historic England’s plea to ensure our remaining mills have a key place in the developing fabric of our region."


Norman Redhead, Director of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Advisory Service, said:
"The historic textile mill is the iconic symbol of the region’s rich industrial heritage. It epitomises the successful introduction of the factory-based system for the production of textile goods, which from the late 18th century transformed the Greater Manchester area into one of the world’s leading manufacturing centres.

In 2016 Historic England commissioned the University of Salford to review the survival of mills in Greater Manchester to update a previous survey of the late 1980s. It was found that in the last 25 years there has been a loss of 45% of historic textile mills. The condition of the surviving 540 mills is variable, with 20% considered to be at high risk of complete loss and a further 28% vulnerable to change or loss. However, just over half of surviving mills are in good order and make a positive contribution to the economy. 90 of the most significant mills have been given statutory protection as listed buildings."

The magnificent Grade II* Leigh Spinners Mill in Lancashire, which has just received a Historic England grant of £252,000.
The magnificent Grade II* Leigh Spinners Mill in Lancashire, which is currently on the Heritage at Risk Register, has just received a Historic England grant of £252,000. © Historic England Archive DP196312

Grant for Leigh Spinners mill

Historic England today announced a grant of £252,000 to Leigh Spinners mill in Lancashire. Leigh Spinners was one of the last great textile mills to be built in the UK. It is one of the largest and most complete mills remaining in Greater Manchester and is ripe for redevelopment.

The Preservation Trust, which owns the steam engine and engine house, is in the process of securing match-funding so that, using Historic England’s expertise, vital roof repairs can be started to ensure the Grade II* listed building is wind and watertight and fit for future use.

Finding new uses for old mills

Mill buildings can once again be powerhouses for growth in the 21st century.

Successful conversions demonstrate that mills have the capacity to accommodate new and exciting uses, attract investment in area-wide regeneration, create jobs and give rise to the homes and businesses of the future. They can also play a positive role in place-making and local identity, providing inspiring places for people to live, work and relax in.

Historic England’s new publication Engines of Prosperity: new uses for old mills focuses on the North West and showcases successfully repurposed textile mills alongside other potential mill conversion opportunities.

Historic England is seeking to galvanise owners and developers to fulfil the great potential our historic mills can offer and has invited representatives to Manchester’s beautifully converted Chorlton Mill on Wednesday 22 November 2017.

The North West publication is the second in the 'Engines of Prosperity' series, and follows a 2016 study of West Yorkshire’s textile mills. Both reports were commissioned by Historic England and produced by Cushman & Wakefield and Lathams Architects.

Grade II listed Holmes Mill, Clitheroe. Part of the mill has been converted into a popular brewery, restaurant, hotel and leisure venue.
Grade II listed Holmes Mill, Clitheroe. Part of the mill has been converted into a popular brewery, restaurant, hotel and leisure venue. © Historic England Archive DP196292

Case studies

Housing - The Cottonworks, Bolton

The Cottonworks (Holden Mill) is a Grade II listed cotton spinning mill dating from 1926 that has been repurposed for residential use. The development demonstrates the importance of a bespoke approach to conversion of a historic building. By removing glass from all of the external windows of the mill, internal terraces could be created for the apartments, set back three metres from the facades of the building. The development comprises 275 apartments for a mix of sale and rent and 300 car parking spaces.

Work space - Castleton Mill, Leeds

A Grade II listed original flax mill, Castleton Mill has been repurposed as a collection of creative work spaces and studios that are high quality and affordable. Built in 1836, Castleton Mill was designed for steam powered flax spinning, in the 1850s a weaving shed was added for wool and linen manufacture. It is one of three remaining mills of its type in the UK.

Throughout the renovation of the mill, the developers’ key aim was to restore and enhance the original features, as well as promote the cultural significance of the building – both past and present. By combining high-spec facilities with an inspiring setting the mill offers an ideal environment for fast growing creative businesses.

Leisure - Holmes Mill, Clitheroe

The Grade II listed former James Thornber & Co mill dates back to 1823 and comprises a wide range of buildings relating to the textile manufacturing process. In 2015 it was transformed into an exciting leisure destination that employs 180 members of staff. The heritage of the mill has been incorporated into the design of the revived space as much as possible, including the restoration of the Clayton, Goodfellow & Company cross-compound horizontal engine, which was originally installed in 1910. Holmes Mill is now a popular and versatile venue which plays host to weddings, parties, live music events and corporate functions.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2028 adults, of which 1,742 were in England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th – 11th October 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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