|1820's workers row houses in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.|
I recently traveled to Yorkshire to visit Knaresborough, the native town of a Minneapolis master builder (See "Henry Ingham's Yorkshire."). Being interested in industrial history, I hired a guide, Keith Britton, to take me around to relevant sites in the county, the largest in England. We concentrated on the West and North sections where many of the industrial centers are located. Cities in West Yorkshire developed during the industrial revolution include Bradford (textiles), Leeds (transportation, textiles), and Wakefield (coal mining).
|Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. The old linen mill was located on the River Nidd below the railroad viaduct.|
Let's start with mining. We visited the National Coal Mining Museum for England in West Yorkshire and got a tour of what was a working mine not too long ago. We heard the stories of the darkness, cramped and hot working conditions, dangerous machinery, rats, the stench, child labor, explosive gases, and deadly flooding. I've also visited the Big Pit mine in Wales and mines in Pennsylvania, where the stories are similar.
|Headstock of the Capshaw Colliery, now part of the coal mining museum|
|The Clydesdale draft horse playing "pit pony" at the museum contemplates lunch. He has a much better life than the real pit ponies, who worked and died in the darkness and filth of the coal mine.|
|Part of the huge Salts Mill complex|
|Windows installed in a former mill room in the arts wing of Saltaire.|
|My guide Keith enjoying a tea break at the Saltaire cafe.|
|The large bookstore in Saltaire. The complex also houses a wonderful housewares store.|
|The mill exterior by the canal. Nineteenth century mills were often dependent on water power.|
|Between the mill buildings at Saltaire.|
Despite the successes of the paternalistic ethos of Salt and other mill owners, friction between the textile industrialists and their workers inevitably escalated. Among other cost-saving measures, mill owners constantly tried to replace male workers with cheaper female ones. But unlike in the U.S., in Bradford trade unionism was notoriously weak. In the 1870s the owners of Salts Mill broke a strike by using the strategy of a lockout (sound familiar?).
In contrast to the privately developed Saltaire complex is the Quarry Bank Mill in nearby Cheshire, a National Trust property that predates Salts Mill by seven decades. In 1783, Irish-born Samuel Greg found the perfect spot for his new cotton mill on the River Bollin, harnessing the flow of the river to power the mill. Like Salt, Greg built on-site housing for his workers, carrying on the paternalistic tradition found in textile mill owners on both sides of the Atlantic.
1926 spinning mules in operation:
1790's water power loom weaving shirting material:
|The water wheel currently powering the mill is 25 feet in diameter. It is of similar design to the Great Wheel and was brought from a mill in North Yorkshire.|
|"Yorkshire, West Riding"--Photo by B. Hobson, 1921. Which was worse, the air inside or outside?|
The history of the industrial revolution has many, many chapters, most of them not pretty. Still, the lives of fantasy English aristocrats don't interest me nearly as much as the lives of the millions of industrial workers in Britain and North America. For many of us from Pennsylvania, as with many from Yorkshire and all the other industrial places of the world, these stories are our family stories.
The song and old photos are American, but the experience of these textile workers is universal:
"Hard Times Cotton Mill Girls"
|Power loom at Quarry Bank Mill|
Suggested reading, Social Novels:
Sybil, or the Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli (1848). Deals with the conditions of the working classes.
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (1849). Set in Yorkshire during the Luddite uprisings.
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855). Based on Gaskell's experiences in industrial Manchester. Adapted for television in 1975 and 2004.
Detective series set in the North of England.
Vera. ITV. Set in contemporary Northumberland.
Inspector George Gently. BBC One. Set in 1960s North East England (Newcastle, County Durham)
Brassed Off (1996). Comedy-drama about coal miners in a North England town where the colliery may be closed.
--Except where noted, all photos were taken by Trilby Busch. Please credit if you reuse.