MEMORY LANE: Spinning a yarn on history of High Peak mill

Torr Vale Mill, the river Goyt, weir and Millennium Walkway. Note the sluice gate and the water course entering the mill via a tunnel. Inside it splits into two in order to drive two water wheels.
Torr Vale Mill, the river Goyt, weir and Millennium Walkway. Note the sluice gate and the water course entering the mill via a tunnel. Inside it splits into two in order to drive two water wheels.

In addition to its architectural significance, Torr Vale Mill in New Mills is an outstanding example of the influence of topography on early industrial development, so much so that it was listed by English Heritage as Grade II*.

It ceased working in December 2000, having been in continuous production since 1788-90, probably the longest period of continuous use of a cotton mill site in England. The search for funding for conserving the mill, funding its repair, and ensuring its future with new employment opportunities continues but unfortunately there has been little progress to date. It is on the English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk’ register.

Plan of Torr Vale Mill showing the outline of the old mill. Note how the water course splits into two to drive two water wheels. The red dot marks the site of the steam engine which was coupled to the water wheels.

Plan of Torr Vale Mill showing the outline of the old mill. Note how the water course splits into two to drive two water wheels. The red dot marks the site of the steam engine which was coupled to the water wheels.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, cotton mills based on water power were built in the Torrs. Rocky waterfalls and cascades in the beds of the rivers allowed the construction of weirs and a steady supply of water.

In 1788, Daniel Stafford took out a 99-year lease on a plot of land in the Torrs within a bend of the river Goyt for the purpose of building a water-powered cotton spinning mill, the future Torr Vale Mill.

An English Heritage survey confirmed that the present 19th century cotton mill appeared to incorporate parts of an earlier mill, the smaller ground plan of the original mill now forming the basement.

The building straddles two tunnelled headraces which are fed from the river Goyt by an open channel with a sluice.

In the basement is evidence that the steam engine, which was installed in 1856, was flanked by two wheel pits. Steam engine and water wheels were coupled by means of a clutch until about the 1940s, allowing them to be run separately or in tandem.

By the late 19th century the site functioned as an integrated cotton mill with both spinning and weaving in the multi-storeyed buildings.

Most of the buildings date from the second half of the 19th century, but significant structures survive from the original mill. Unfortunately the four-storey weaving mill was destroyed in a fire in August 2001.

For over 200 years Torr Vale Mill produced cotton products, concentrating on towelling from the 1930s, but from the mid-20th century production gradually declined under the effect of cheaper foreign imports and the loss of hospital and defence contracts.

In the 1990s it continued production with a dwindling handful of workers until finally in December 2000, the mill was closed and its looms and other machinery sold.