Waterside Mill and the Walsden Water Weir

Waterside Mill in Todmorden was originally named Laneside Mill and was located next to the present day Laneside cottages.  These cottages are sited just off the road to Walsden in the area known as Langfield.

During 2011 the site of the original mill became part of the ongoing flood control work being done in the valleys surrounding
Todmorden.  Volker Stevin, on behalf of the Environment Agency, was t contractor carrying out the work.  Archaeological Services WYAS were asked to carry out an excavation of the site to establish if anything of the original mill remained.

The story of the mill began in 1782 when a local man Joshua Fielden of Edge End Farm decided to abandon the cottage industry, where manufacturing took place in the home, and instead develop a different approach where items were made in one place by employees.  His decision was probably helped because so many inventions made their appearance at this time.  Amongst them was Richard Arkwright’s Water Frame, so called because it used a water wheel to drive many spindles.

Joshua moved from the farm on the moorland down to the valley floor and took up residence at Laneside.  He then converted three cottages into a small hand spinning business.  The business started to expand and outgrow the original space and so a small water-powered mill was constructed towards the end of the 18th century.  This building was called the Old Mill.  Interestingly water wheels had been used in the valley before but for grinding corn and not for driving textile machinery as now.  Therefore there was a history of using Walsden Water as a source of power.

The arrival of the Rochdale Canal in 1804 improved transportation links and allowed the business to expand rapidly.  The water wheel was still the major form of power for the textile machinery with sluice gates, constructed of cast iron and timber, being used to divert water to the wheel and back to the river via a series of goits (the local name for man made channels).

After Joshua death in 1811 the business was renamed ‘Fielden Brothers’ and was run by his five sons.  They decided that the reliance on waterpower with its seasonal fluctuations could not cope with their ideas for expansion.  In the late 19th century a New Mill was built, the water wheel was disconnected and steam power introduced.  This New Mill operated until 1961 and started to be demolished in sections thereafter.  The Old Mill was demolished in the early part of the 20th century following a fire, which caused extensive damage. 

 A supermarket, Morrison's, has now been built on part of the site.

What emerged from the weed-covered ground was a series of huge stone walls that marked the foundations.  These foundations would have carried the weight of the heavy stone walls above. There were also the stone blocks, which were used for the exterior walls of the Old Mill, there to support a tall four-storey building.  Also there were remnants of stone-flagged floors and iron fittings that  would have been used to anchor down and support mill machinery.  Buried underneath the floor and walls was a system of stone lined channels called goits that were used to take water from the site of the water wheel back to the river.  It was also possible to detect a layer of burning just above the large stone foundations, evidence of the fire of 1901.  The photograph shows an area called the "Scutching Mill".

There were also some remains of building materials used for the construction of the New Mill.  This was a single storey, which was made from steel beams set upon concrete piles.  Even under this there was evidence of the goits.  These have not been destroyed in the present day work, but have been exposed and strengthened by the contractors.

Additionally work has been carried out to move the sluice gates and weir that were part of the water management system associated with Waterside Mill.  The sluice gates regulated the flow of water from Walsden Water to the Millpond.  These gates are made from cast iron and timber and were operated by a hand crank. 

They have had to be moved because if they were left in place extra work would have been required, costing £2m, to facilitate the operation of the flood defences.  This work would have been needed upstream because the flood water levels would have been higher with the weir in place.

However the weir was not lost to us.  

Walsden Water Weir

Walsden Water, which flows north towards Todmorden, has brought benefits and problems to the area during the past centuries.  During periods of high rainfall, water from the high moorland gushes down the many small tributaries swelling the flow to a point where it overflows its banks and causes flooding.  There have been over 100-recorded events in the last 100 years. 

On the other hand, the power of running water, if it can be harnessed, is a useful source of energy. This fact had obviously become clear to the residents of Walsden who were using the water to drive a fulling mill in 1586 (the Inchfield Travis
mill).  Fulling is a process that cleans woollen cloth and makes it thicker.  So even in the late 16th century there is a record of textile manufacture in the valley.  Also using the power of the water was a corn mill at Gauxholme in 1626.

The attraction of the Lanes
ide Mill site was the fast flowing Walsden Water that ran nearby.  As part of the expansion, a reliable flow of water was required and so work was undertaken to raise the level of the river upstream to create a type of millpond.  Behind Back Waterloo cottages, a weir was built and also a channel that led to the water wheel at the rear of the new mill at Waterside. 

Two hundred years later, the floods of 2012 provoked a reaction from the Environment Agency.  A Flood Alleviation Programme was instigated and the engineering company of Volker Stevin was engaged to carry out the works. 

As part of the project to lower the upstream water levels, the weir and sluice gate were removed and they have been sited in Fielden Square as a heritage feature.  Funnily enough, it is now in the location that used to be occupied by John Fielden.

The information panel (by the Civic Society?) is first class with lots of diagrams and facts for anyone who cares to stop.


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