Higherford Mill Barrowford, Lancashire

higherford mill from the river in summer

Higherford Mill is a historic Lancashire cotton factory
It has the oldest surviving weaving shed in the world
Now it is used as studios and workshops for creative industries
Where artists make everything from jewellery to woodblock prints
It is also the headquarters of Heritage for the North West

Higherford Mill Artists

There are 36 artists studios in Higherford Mill. The arts and crafts taking place include leather work, woodcut printing, carpentry, glass work, photography, painting, jewellery making and illustration.

The artists find inspiration in the local area. In the video below, artist Anita Burrows talks about how her work reflects the Lancashire landscape and animals.

The Higherford Mill Story

For 150 years, Higherford Mill made cotton thread and cloth. It was powered by a huge water wheel and a steam engine for much of this time.

Higherford Mill in 1968 and today

All in a spin

In the 1700s, many people in Higherford earned their living at home spinning cotton into thread and then weaving thread into cloth. The two processes were separate and it was slow work using hand-powered machines… the spinning wheel and the handloom.

In 1805, Thomas Grimshaw married Grace Bullcock and they moved to Higherford to live at an old house called Crowtrees. Grace had inherited a large cloth making business and Thomas quickly began expanding it. In 1824, he built Higherford Mill, a spinning factory powered by a huge water wheel where the workers spun miles of cotton thread on spinning machines called ‘throstles’. Thomas also built rows of cottages where dozens of handloom weavers turned the thread from the mill into cloth.

In 1832, Thomas Grimshaw added a steam engine and the mill began weaving cloth with newly invented power looms as well as spinning thread.

The 1882 zig-zag weaving shed roof. The steam engine house is in the middle and its chimney is behind

The right sort of light

In 1849, a state-of-the-art north-light weaving shed was built to house 113 power looms. The shed was one of the first to be built with a north light roof. It is just o single storey high as power looms can shake a building to the ground and is now the oldest cotton weaving shed in the world.

What is a north light weaving shed?

Weavers needed a lot of light to see their detailed and fiddly work. Weaving sheds have zig-zag shaped roofs with rows of windows facing north. This gives very good even daylight and stops the sun’s rays entering the shed and drying out the cotton thread.

A powerloom in Higherford Mill (1968)
A powerloom in Higherford Mill (1968)

By this time, Thomas also employed 400 handloom weavers working in cottages but their world was soon to come crashing down. Weaving was so much faster on the new power looms that handloom weavers across Lancashire began to suffer great economic hardship. Between 1840 and 1870, a new younger generation moved into the mills as power looms took over. The daily clanking of the wooden handloom cottages in Barrowford and across the countryside finally ceased. It was replaced with the deafening roar of rows of power looms in their sheds. It was so noisy that weavers developed their own sign language, known as ‘mee-maw’, to communicate with one another in the shed. 

Barrowford Beck (Pendle Water) turned the water wheel and provided the water for the steam engine. The 1849 weaving shed (centre) wraps around an old hall of the 1600s (right)

In 1882 a second weaving shed was built and the spinning mill was demolished. Higherford Mill was now a weaving only mill looking much like it does today.

At this time most cotton thread was being produced in massive spinning mills in south and west Lancashire while Barrowford and the east of the county specialised in weaving. Higherford Mill stayed this way for nearly a hundred years until 1975, when it finally ‘wove out’.

In 1994, Higherford Mill was to be demolished but local villagers and Heritage Trust for the North West objected. After a five-year campaign, the Trust bought the mill and began restoring it as artist studios, workshops and as the Trust’s head office.

I got the power!

Six ways to power a factory – why is Higherford so unusual?

During its working life water, coal, steam, hydroelectric, diesel and electricity all powered this mill which is one reason it was given the status of a listed building in 1996.

Electric Generator at Higherford Mill in 1968
Electric Generator in the mill 1968

As the cotton industry grew so did the power. Hand power gave way to the water wheel which in turn gave way to coal-powered steam engines. For 50 years, the Barrowford air was thick with black smoke of burning coal to create the necessary steam. Asthma and lung diseases were rampant. Then came diesel and electricity and the air slowly improved over the following 50 years.

More Info

Visit

Higherford Mill is a working building with artists studios, offices and workshops while other areas are slowly being restored.

It is therefore not normally open as a visitor centre. However, we do arrange for group visits. There is display on the ground floor of the warehouse and in the wheel house. The artists also put on exhibitions and courses. Check out the Higherford Mill Artists Facebook page.

Parking is on the nearby Malt Kiln Car Park or the Pendle Heritage Centre Car Park a little further to the south.

Heritage Trust for the North West Offices

The Heritage Trust for the North West offices are on the top floor of the warehouse block. They are open from 8.45am to 5pm, and can be accessed via the front door of the mill.

Heritage Trust for the North West

Higherford Mill

Gisburn Road,

Barrowford , 

Nelson,

Lancashire BB9 6JH

Telephone 01282 877686

Arrange a group tour

If you would like to arrange a group tour please contact us.