The Local Studies Library houses hundreds of maps and plans in its reserve collection. My role as a volunteer is to provide the library staff with a report on the nature and condition of this material within an acceptable time frame, perhaps a few years. Consequently I can spend a few minutes at most with each map, although I use articles like this to display items which really deserve more detailed study. This plan is neither named nor dated. We have to ask four questions: what was it, where was it, when was it, and whose was it? Other Local Studies Library resources help to provide some answers to these questions.
Clearly we have the integrated premises of a worsted manufacturer with a spinning mill and weaving shed, both provided with independent steam power. The cottages included would not have housed more than a tiny fraction of the workforce. Perhaps they were occupied by men whose permanent presence on-site was desirable, such as ostlers or night watchmen. A substantial warehouse is included, but there is no dye house. As was common practice woven pieces must have been sent to commission dyers. A counting house was essentially a works office. I was puzzled by the sizing room but it seems that warps were treated, or sized, to make them stronger.
Where was this mill sited? Canal Road and Valley Road are two long sides of a scalene triangle that meet near the city centre immediately west of the canal. Holdsworth Street was the shorter third side that completed the triangle. It still exists, approached from the small roundabout from which you drive to Forster Square Station, but demolition and road development has left no visible trace of these buildings. Holdsworth Street and the spinning mill are present on the first OS map of the area (1851). The weaving shown here is not in the arrangement recorded in the 1851 OS nor the Bradford tithe map. Is our map older, or more recent? A nearby land owner is evidently the Bradford Gas & Light Company which was founded in the 1820s. The area involved remained the site of the Bradford Gas works for many decades to come.
Notice that the mill is adjacent to the William Rouse estate. I have briefly researched the Rouse family. William Rouse snr. (1765-1843) was a worsted spinner and weaver. His company (Wm. Rouse & Son) appears in the 1822 Gazetteer of the West Riding located at ‘Canal Side’. In subsequent trade directories it is placed nearby at: Mill Street, Canal Road, North Brook Street and, in 1872, Holdsworth Street. I am not sure if the same mill was being referred to on each occasion since in the Factory Commission report (1833) data was collected from three Rouse Mills, the oldest at Canal Side being built in 1815. The company’s closest brush with history must have been in 1820-22 when Titus Salt spent two years with them ‘learning the trade’ under the direction of John Hammond (see Jack Reynolds, The Great Paternalist, 1983, p.46). Rouse must have produced worsted stuff in the years before wool-combing was mechanised. With his son John (1794-1838) he employed hundreds of hand-combers who worked for him producing the wool ‘tops’ needed for the worsted process. By the time of William’s death the writing was on the wall for the poorly paid hand-combers whose trade was effectively destroyed by mechanical combs in the 1850s. The business clearly continued despite its founder’s death and the changing technology.
The 1853 White’s Leeds & the Clothing District Directory mentions a William Rouse, spinner & manufacturer, of West Lodge, Great Horton Road. William Rouse jnr. (1809-1868) had evidently succeeded his father. In the 1851 census Rouse reported employing 400 combers, 100 boys, and 150 girls. He may not have been too hard an employer since, on a Saturday in September 1849, the Bradford Observer records a works trip to Clapham by special train. Some employees saw the famous caves and others played cricket. All enjoyed a good dinner, and were home by 10 pm. William Rouse jnr. did everything expected of a successful textile man: church warden 1847, town counsellor 1848, magistrate 1852, and Poor Law overseer in 1860. By 1861 he was living in Burley House, Burley with his wife, children and six servants. He died there in 1868.
By the time of the 1879 PO Bradford Directory Wm. Rouse & Sons are placed at North Brook Street Mills. North Brook Street joins Canal Road just north of our map. North Brook Mills are mentioned in the book Yorkshire Textile Mills 1779-1930 (RCHME) but unfortunately they had already been demolished when the mill survey was undertaken in the early 1990s. The mill in the plan is present in the 25 inch OS map of 1891. It seems to be linked to the named North Brook Street Mill but the mill building was then a warehouse, and the weaving shed was divided up between a repository and an engineering shop.
Wm. Rouse & Sons is included in The Century’s Progress, an 1893 work of self-publicity produced for Yorkshire industries. This states that the company was run by John, Frank and Herbert Rouse, grandsons of William Rouse snr. It is said to have operated ‘a vast home and export trade’ and to have had 40,000 spindles and 900 workers. The entry describes the company occupying the ‘Old Mills’ and the ‘New Mills’ acquired half a century earlier, that is in the 1840s. It states that the New Mills were in North Brook Street. I imagine that at some stage the company had created the premises illustrated in the plan but I am not sure if it was ‘Old’ or ‘New’. Can anyone help me?
Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer