Canal history

© Copyright Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Use courtesy of Mrs Duly© Copyright Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Use courtesy of Mrs Duly

Mills on the Rochdale Canal

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, textile mills have been situated in the Calder Valley. At first these were all water-powered mills, built beside the small but fast-flowing streams that descended from the hilltops, such as the mills in Luddenden Dean and Colden Clough, or beside the larger but slow river Calder. The design of each type of water wheel was very different; the hillside mills normally had large-diameter wheels which were quite narrow and overshot or breast-shot, dependent on the gradient of the stream. Mills along the River Calder tended to have very wide wheels, often undershot, as the fall of the river would not permit a higher water supply to the wheel.

With the development of steam power the combination of cheap coal, a ready supply of water and good transport made the canal side a desirable location for a mill. The Rochdale canal was often used as a water supply even when there were rivers nearby, and was only gradually supplanted by the availability of a Corporation-piped supply. Consequently, there was a complex scheme of charging each mill for the water it used, and its usage checked by an inspector from the canal company.

A large supply of water and coal was needed to keep the mill engines turning. Water was required for everything from heating the mills and running the boilers, to “flushing the water closets” (at an extra charge of £10 per annum). From Sowerby Bridge to Summit Pool, 33 firms used canal water for engine or manufacturing purposes, and from Summit Pool to the junction with the Bridgewater Canal 119 used a canal supply, including the mill belonging to Daniel Jones Crossley and Sons on Hebden Bridge.

Travelling west from Sowerby Bridge to Mytholmroyd, the type of fabric produced by the mills changed as the canal travelled through the woollen districts of Yorkshire to the cotton mills of East Lancashire. However, not all industrial premises alongside the canal were involved in the textile trade. Another important Halifax industry depended on the canal; that of toffee-making. Toffee as it is known today was invented at the end of the 19th century by Violet Mackintosh and after her factory opened in Halifax the district rapidly became a centre for making toffee and other sweets (or ‘spice’).

Many of the mill buildings along the Rochdale canal have since been demolished, but some have survived and been put to a new purpose. The mill at Hebble End in Hebden Bridge is now the Alternative Technology Centre, and the Central Dye works and Woodhouse Mill near Millwood have been redeveloped as apartments.