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A Brief History Of Armley Mills | Iconic Leeds Buildings

25 January 2018

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Armley Mills is one of Leeds most iconic buildings, dating back considerably farther than the other buildings we’ve explored in this recent series of blog posts. It also has a somewhat darker history than the contrasting buildings we’ve explored, such as the Corn Exchange, Civic Hall and Temple Newsam. As well as being a fantastic museum, giving insight into the Leeds of yesterday, it has a widespread, ghoulish reputation for being one of Leeds most haunted buildings. 

The earliest records of the mill date back to 1707, when it was a building containing just two wheels and four stocks. It changed hands many times whilst steadily become a more significant industrial power. By 1788, when the mill was put up for sale, it was described “Armley Mill… no situation in the West Riding of Yorkshire is superior if any equal.”

It wasn’t until 1804, when Benjamin Gott – a significant figure in the history of Leeds and Mayor of Leeds in 1799 – bought the mill and following a fire which destroyed the original building and set about creating what was once the largest wool mill in the world.

Although many would consider this something to be proud of, this big reputation also brings countless tales about the frankly horrific working conditions that existed within the walls of Armley Mills. It was because of these conditions that the Mills of this time period became known as the “Dark Satanic Mills.”

This less than flattering nickname alludes to the life that many of the mill workers faced during their time at Armley Mills. Poverty was rife at this time, and in order to afford simple pleasures that we take for granted, like a small roof over their head and a diet able to sustain them families were forced to send their children to work at the mills. 
Up until 1833 when the Factory Act set the minimum working age to 9 years old and the maximum hours to 48 per week, children as young as six years old would work over 70 hours a week for very little monetary reward.
With their small stature, they were able to fit underneath the machines to collect scraps of wool which had fallen to the floor – what’s more they were given small brushes which they used to clean the machines which were in constant operation. 

The loss of a brush would lead to dismissal or a beating, so they would fasten the brushes to their wrists – which as I’m sure you can imagine, was a hazardous practise, and often resulted in dire consequences.

Although working conditions improved gradually over the next century, the mill remained operational although during the 20th century a number of factors meant that the British textile industry was in decline. The Mill survived until 1969, when it closed its doors.

Armley Mills were bought by Leeds City Council due to its historical importance and in 1982, the mills reopened as Leeds Industrial Museum, where many across the region visit to learn about the history of Leeds.

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