Spen’s industrial past

Providence Mills in South Parade, Cleckheaton
Providence Mills in South Parade, Cleckheaton

In recent years many of Spen Valley’s most prominent industrial landmarks have been demolished.

Without those buildings as visual evidence of Spen

Valley’s once proud industrial heritage, it becomes difficult to understand and appreciate the fascinating history of “Cleckheckmondsedge”.

Reluctantly facing retirement, I embarked upon a project to catalogue all the mills that stood in the Spen Valley in or prior to 1900 and to learn something about their most interesting occupants.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the boundaries of the many hamlets, villages and townships that make up Spen Valley have changed many times: for consistency’s sake, I restricted my research to the Boroughs of Spenborough and Heckmondwike as existed after the 1915 re-organisation of Local Government.

Sadly, this excludes Hunsworth, Birkenshaw and Hartshead.

I have already discovered thousands of facts about the mills, businesses, people, events and dates that shaped the history of Spen Valley but as fast as I learn, so do ever more questions arise!

Hopefully, readers’ memories and photo albums will provide answers for many of the gaps in the jigsaw - the 4Qs – Where? Who? What? and When?

Anyone who can help the questions posed in this and subsequent articles can e-mail me at grylls@dsl.pipex.com or write to the Spenborough Guardian, 11 Commercial Street, Batley, WF17 5HJ.

Puddledock Mill

Puddledock Mill is said to have been Spen Valley’s first textile mill dating from the late 17th or early 18th century. Almost certainly it would have been a water mill and logic suggests that it would have been on the banks of the mighty River Spen.

Frank Peel, author of Spen Valley Past & Present written in 1893, tells us that an early occupant of the mill had been a Harry Hirst. It seems that

Frank Peel knew where Puddledock Mill stood (or had stood) at the time of his writing: subsequent references suggest that the site was in the vicinity of Walkley Lane, Heckmondwike.

Where was Puddledock Mill?

The Haighs – Twine and Band Manufacturers.

In 1886 William Haigh built Providence Mill on South Parade, Cleckheaton, to house his growing manufacture of cotton bands and twine. Providence Mill is not shown on the 1894 Ordnance Survey Map of Cleckheaton but it is said that the building survived until 1907 when it was completely destroyed by fire, and then the resourceful Mr Haigh re-located to “rooms” at Brook Mills (by today’s junction of Westgate and Hightown Road).

The archives of a safe manufacturer in the West Midlands contain an intriguing letter dated 1907 from William Haigh in which he praises the performance of the safe – adding that its contents were the only surviving items from the inferno! It is known that in 1917 a Mr Thomas B Haigh was producing rope and twine from separate premises at Brook Mill and Stone Street.

Two questions! Where was Providence Mill on South Parade? Does anyone know if William Haigh and Thomas B Haigh were related, for example, father and son.