Slackcote and the mills of Saddleworth
The John Buckley Lecture April 11th 2012 at the Methodist Church Hall, Delph

In 1780 to 1800 hand loom weaving was common in the area, with many cottages and loom shops three or four storeys high, one example being the Millcroft Weaving Cottage. There were about 50 water- powered mills in Saddleworth by 1800, together with weaving cottages until the 1860s when steam was introduced. There were more than 200 textile mills in the area.


Slackcote was a woollen mill as were most in Saddleworth, wool being available locally as sheep were easy to keep on the rough pastures. The first building at Slackcote was in 1781, a scrubbing or scribbling mill run by a waterwheel, and by 1869 a fulling department was added.


The turnpike roads added to the area’s importance, there were five routes bringing wool to the Castleshaw area, and cotton was being transported over to Sheffield, Leeds and Glossop. Later the Huddersfield Canal contributed to the transportation of goods, the Victoria mill (where the Museum now is) having its own arm of the canal. Hand spinning was still in use, then mule spinning was introduced which increased capacity. Many mills were situated on the River Tame, Shore Mill (1788) at Delph, and the Castleshaw Old Mill and the Johnny Mill, which were both demolished to make way for the reservoirs to service Oldham with clean water In Uppermill, the Spring Mill, Alexandra (steam power) and Buckley New Mills were built. The building of Castleshaw reservoir swept away several mills in the valley.


Steam power was introduced in the 1820’s to the cotton industry, which had been mainly hand loom weaving until then. Mill owners built cottages for their workers on site to encourage them to stay loyal. Slackcote had several owners, the Buckleys, Ellisons, Taylors, Mallalieus, Platts, and Wrigleys were co -owners in the 1780’s to the 1800’s. J Broadbent extended the mill in the 1830’s and introduced steam. Slackcote was unoccupied in 1852, but in 1853 the Byroms took over and were owners for over 100 years, producing tweed, flannel and woollen overcoat material. Expansion took place in 1890 to include workers cottages at the mill. The mill was occupied finally by Compoflex in the 1960’s, ceasing to be a woollen spinning mill.


In 2007 the Archaeology Advisory Service began an examination of the site. Developers now have to pay for archaeology to survey sites, and over the last 22 years thousands of sites have been recorded in the Greater Manchester area. Details can be found in the Salford University archives. The machine rooms showed evidence of the positions of the looms and the iron pillars were still present supporting the wooden flooring. No oil- lamps had been used in the past due to the risk of fire from the oil soaked floors and the dust, so the many windows in the buildings allowed natural light into the rooms. There was still some equipment left in the switchgear rooms.


Slackcote was finally demolished in 1973


Paul Renshaw thanked Mike Neville for an very interesting lecture .


Edith Howarth     

© Saddleworth Archaeological Trust , 2012