Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Friday, October 24, 2003


I’ve just finished a big piece of research which has taken me three years and so I decided to give myself a treat. It’s time we had another proper chunk of Barlick history and so I want to tell you about my mate Newton Pickles. However, in order to do this properly we’ve got to step back a bit and look at the history of the steam-powered cotton industry in the town. If we don’t understand that we can’t really make sense of the story. This is why my title is what it is, we have to look at how this great Barlick firm started and then follow Newton’s part in it.

There was a textile industry in Barlick long before the arrival of steam power. As late as the 1851 census we had hand loom weavers working with silk, wool and flax even though cotton was flooding into the North West of England. Two factors coincided which triggered off the steam powered mills. One was the availability of steam engines in the area and the other was the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal through the area at the turn of the 18th century as this meant that Barlick had easy access to coal both from Lancashire and Yorkshire.

For reasons that will become clear shortly we have to start by looking across the border at Burnley. In 1808 Burnley had a population of 3,365, a domestic textile industry, connection to Liverpool by canal (except for one short stretch beyond Blackburn which was by-passed by road transport and finally opened in October 1816.) and easily accessible coal reserves in the town. In 1800 the first American cotton was landed in Liverpool. All the ingredients were in place for an explosion of activity, all it needed was men with imagination and capital to take advantage of the opportunity. Bennett, in his History of Burnley says that the first engine in the town was erected by Peel’s in 1790 in their new spinning mill at the bottom of Sandygate. Another engine was installed in 1800 at Goodham Hill and by 1830 their were 30 steam engines in the town. In 1808 the Leeds and Liverpool Canal company received a request from Mr Hargreaves at Habergham Eaves for permission to extract condenser water from the canal. This was granted at a cost of 1/- a week. Something was stirring in Burnley.

By 1827 Mitchell had installed an engine in what later became Clough Mill. By 1846 William Bracewell was building Butts Mill which was to have the second engine in the town. Bracewell was 33 years old at the time and came from an old Earby family that had been active in the water-powered industry and ‘putting out’ to domestic weavers for many years. He had capital and a voracious appetite for money and power. By 1854 he had built New Mill or Wellhouse as it came to be known and in 1860 went into partnership with a man called Griffiths and bought Marsland’s iron foundry in Burnley. Soon afterwards Griffiths dropped out and until 1887 the works specialised in the manufacture of steam engines. By 1867 Bracewell had obtained an Act of Parliament and built the branch railway line from Barnoldswick to the Midland Railway at Sough. In 1874 he broadened his interests further by purchasing coal mines at Ingleton.

By 1885 when Bracewell died aged 72, his engineering works at Burnley had expanded to include two ‘room and power’ weaving sheds and was making very large engines. The bank had taken over administration of Bracewell’s interests when he died and the entire works was sold to a new limited company with a share capital of £20,000 and became The Burnley Ironworks who carried on engine manufacture on the site.

We are looking at an explosion of investment here on a heroic scale but what is often lost sight of are the service industries which allowed the accumulation of capital to take place which fuelled the expansion. Who made the machinery that spun and wove the cotton before the machines came? All the early textile machinery could be made by the local carpenter and blacksmith. Wooden frames and wrought iron parts were all that was needed. It wasn’t until the advent of the early improvements at the end of the 18th century that any form of gearing, or ‘wheelwork’ as it was called, was needed. There was only one trade skilled enough to produce these, the clockmakers. They understood gears and wheels and had been using them for centuries. They became an essential part of the early industry.

By about 1800 the demand for wheelwork had outstripped the ability of the clockmakers to fill the demand and we see firms starting up which specialised in machining parts for the textile industry. As early as 1792 there were two loom makers in Burnley and a two men called John Sagar and John Webster were in partnership as ‘Cotton Machine and Wheel Makers’. The water-powered spinning industry in Barlick wasn’t big enough to sustain specialist manufacturers like these but would certainly have used the resources of Burnley.

The coming of the steam driven industry triggered off massive innovation in the engineering industries, machine tools were needed to make the new engines and machinery. As iron-founding and machining improved it transformed the machinery in the mills. Wood was out, iron was the new wonder material. A new demand arose for men to maintain the new machinery in the mills.

Up to the time of William Bracewell’s death he was well placed to satisfy the demand for maintenance and repairs in Barlick. He had access to the skills in his new works in Burnley and we have evidence which leads us to suspect he provided services for people like Mitchell. Atkinson records that when the old pan boilers were replaced at Mitchell’s and Butts Mills in the Cotton Famine, it was Bracewell who did the work. All this was to change when the Bracewell interests collapsed in 1885 and an opening appeared for local men to step in and fill the gap.

SCG/25 October 2003
1014 words.


In 1880 all seemed set fair for the Bracewell empire but tragedy was lurking in the wings. Billycock had two sons, William Metcalfe and Christopher George. William Metcalfe lived at Calf Hall and died suddenly in June 1880. He had been Billycock’s favoured successor as Christopher wasn’t regarded as being committed enough to work. At 67 Billycock might have been thinking of taking it easier but had to carry on in charge. This almost certainly proved to be too much for him and he died in 1885 leaving only Christopher George who was living at Bank House, Coates. Billy Brooks and Stephen Pickles both told me that he was a neer-do-well and not fit to run the business.

The bank obviously shared this sentiment. There is little doubt that the Craven Bank was deeply involved in the financing of Bracewell’s interests because when he died they stepped in as administrators of the estate. This was a disaster for the town as Wellhouse closed down, Butts staggered on under new management but everything was sold in 1887 to pay back the bank. Contemporary reports said that workers left the town in droves and ‘grass was growing on the streets’. It was this vacuum that triggered the formation of the Long Ing Shed Company in 1888 and the Calf Hall Shed Company in 1889, both Room and Power companies but that’s another story.

Inside the Bracewell family there was more trouble. Christopher George proved the will at Wakefield in August 1885, the estate was £18,640-15-11. Billycock left his personal fortune to his daughter Ada and Stephen Pickles told me that Billycock’s brother Henry, who was the main manufacturer in Earby at the time and living at Thornton Manor, contested the will. It was thrown into Chancery and the effect was that Ada was penniless. She was taken in by Mrs Mary Wilkinson who was the wife of a coloured manufacturer in Colne. At the same time there was another case in Chancery, Christopher George versus the executors. Christopher died in 1889 aged 43 years. Definitely a troubled family. We’ll leave the Bracewells there even though there is much more to tell. In our story, the important thing is the vacuum created by the collapse of the Bracewell empire.

When the Bracewell interest collapsed there was another consequence for the town. Bracewell, with his connections in Burnley had been his own provider of engineering maintenance and it seems he had also provided services for others. There was a fully equipped machine shop at Wellhouse Mill and that survived the break-up intact. The earliest reference I have to it is that up to 1900 it was rented by an engineer called Sutcliffe for £25 per annum. It looks as though he was in business as an engineer and millwright servicing the mills in the town.

Up at Ouzeldale Mill there was another resource. In 1822, Baines Directory notes that John Mitchell was a woodturner there. The 1851 census gives John Robinson, a joiner as the occupant and on both the 1853 and 1892 maps it is marked as a saw mill. Harold Duxbury told me that the man who had it was father to Bob and Dan Robinson and they were wheelwrights and cart makers as well as a bit of wood turning. By about 1890 a man called Henry Watts had started an iron foundry there. This becomes important later in our story but for now, we have to slip down to Earby.

Down in Earby a man called Henry Brown was noted in Barrett’s directory for 1896 as ‘machinist and blacksmith’. The Notice board outside the Wellhouse machine shop said ‘founded 1889’ so this must be when old Henry set up in Earby. He didn’t do major repairs but made a good living as an independent maintenance engineer for the local manufacturers. He had a very good reputation. In 1900 he heard that the machine shop at Wellhouse was up for rent and took it over after Sutcliffe for the same rent, £25 a year. Henry’s uncle, John Duxbury of Crook Carr, was a director of the Calf Hall Shed Company and Owen Duxbury once told me that it was through his influence that Henry Brown got the machine shop. By then of course, the Calf Hall Shed Company owned Wellhouse Mill.

Once he was working in Barlick Henry found he needed castings from time to time so he went to Henry Watts at Ouzeldale for them. He became the main customer, went into partnership with Watts and when Watts died he took over the foundry and set on ‘Father’ Ashby, George Ashby’s father, as foreman. George lived in the house at the mill. I can’t put a date on when Watts died, all I know is that he bought the water wheel for £5 off the Calf Hall Shed Company who owned the mill and broke it up for scrap in 1911 so he was still active then.

I want to leave the scene-setting for this week because I’m going to have to make another jump now to pull in another part of our tale. What fascinates me about the story so far is the enterprise of the men who saw the need for a service and stepped in to fill the gap. Barlick was relatively isolated in those days. It wouldn’t have paid the new firm in Burnley that had taken over the Bracewell Foundry, The Burnley Ironworks, to start doing relatively small jobs in Barlick. They were into much bigger jobs by then and had plenty of work close to home.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Long Ing Shed Company were a bit of an odd-ball in this story because they had their own source of expertise. One of the major shareholders in 1898 in the new shed company was George Rushworth from Colne. In later years we knew Rushworth’s as scrap merchants but in the latter part of the 19th century their main trade was as engineers and millwrights. They were contractors during the building of the mill and did all the engineering once it was running. Truth to tell they weren’t very good at their job and later in the story we’ll see how they were sacked and new engineers brought in.

My picture this week is from ‘Barnoldswick. A Century of Change’. It’s a picture of Ouzledale Foundry. All I can tell you about the date is that it must be before 1937 because the brick extension that was built that year isn’t there.

SCG/25 October 2003
1,047 words.


Our next port of call in the search for the history of Henry Brown Sons and Pickles is Kelbrook Main Street. We have to dig into the Pickles family. We need to start with a word or two about the Pickles’s. The name Pickles comes from Pighkeleys, Pike leys, ‘dweller at the small enclosure’. There are a lot of them! As far as we are concerned at the moment there are three groups in this area, The Pickles of Kelbrook, The Pickles of Barnoldswick who founded the weaving firm of Stephen Pickles and Son of Long Ing and a third group which is all the others we are not sure about. Sorry about that, it’s not good scholarship but we have to get some order into this story!

Our Pickles are the families in Kelbrook who all originated in Lothersdale and seem to have migrated over the hill as employment in the mills started to drag labour in from the surrounding districts. I think I have the ancestry right but as I always remind you, research changes things and I might have to change my mind, however this is the state of play as I write.

We start with George Pickles of 7 Main Street Kelbrook who was a clogger and shoemaker. He must have done fairly well for himself because he was one of the original purchasers of Sough Bridge Mill when the Kelbrook Mill Company was formed in 1898. He was born in 1828 and according to the 1871 census was in Kelbrook and had a son William who was born in 1857. He seems to have had two more sons, Daniel who returned to Lothersdale and James who became the engineer at Sough Bridge mill. William had at least two sons, John Albert Pickles, born in Kelbrook in 1885 and Newton who eventually took over the clogger’s shop. John Albert is the one that we have been looking for.

Johnny Pickles was a bright lad who did well at school and when he left at 14 years old in 1899 his father used the family connection to get him a job in the office at Sough Mill. This was a big mistake because Johnny didn’t like it one bit. He had spent a lot of time with his Uncle Jim round the engine and knew exactly what he wanted to do, be an engineer. His father persevered for almost four years trying to get Johnny to settle to a managerial life but the lad kept running away to his Uncle Daniel’s in Lothersdale. We don’t know what transpired, no doubt there were some stormy scenes and perhaps Daniel interceded for the lad. What is certain is that in 1903 William gave in, at the age of 18 years Johnny was apprenticed to Henry Brown, machinist and engineer of Albion Street Earby. Our story is beginning to come together! (Newton Pickles told me that the man who William went to see at Earby was old William Brown “who started the firm in the first place” and Newton said that this was in 1887 which is two years earlier than the date on the sign at Wellhouse.)

Johnny did 3 years at Browns and was then judged fit to be a journeyman. This was quick progress, he must have been an able pupil. The custom then was that once an apprentice finished his initial tuition he went on the road to gain more experience at different firms. Johnny aimed himself at Lancashire in 1906 and was immediately set on at Victory ‘V’ in Nelson as a maintenance engineer. They must have wondered what had hit them.

The first job they gave him was to make a guard for the gas engine that ran the machinery. Johnny went to the lathe to make some studs and the cutting tools were worn out, he told Newton “They looked like shovels!” He asked the manager if there was a smith handy who could draw the cast steel tools out and re-temper them but the manager told him that they were good enough for the previous engineer so they would have to be good enough for him. Johnny immediately gave his notice and said he’d finish at the end of the day.

While this was going on, the gas engine broke down and the place was stopped. Johnny went to it, found the trouble, took the head off, straightened the valves up and got it running again. That evening the manager landed at Kelbrook to ask Johnny to go back but he refused. The following day he went on to Burnley Ironworks, saw the manager Mr Metcalfe and asked him for a job. Metcalfe asked where he had served his time and when he heard it was Browns at Earby he set Johnny on straight away turning muff couplings for shafting. Before he had been there a week he was about 30 couplings in front of the man who was boring them and so the foreman put him on a brand new 4ft faceplate lathe making the eccentrics for the new engine for Brook Shed in Earby. Eventually Johnny turned the governor stand and the connecting rods as well for that engine.

When he had done this he was put on the wheelpit turning a new flywheel for an engine from Rawtenstall which had run away and had a smash. He did six weeks on nights at that job, it was a big flywheel. He said it did one revolution every two and a half minutes and they turned the 25 grooves in it with two and a half inch square chilled cast iron tools cast from the same metal as the wheel. After that job finished he went back on turning bevel wheels and then one night in 1908, young Willy Brown, Henry’s son, came to Kelbrook and asked him to go on to Barlick to be foreman for them. He was 23 years old. Johnny took the job.

So, we’re beginning to get somewhere now. The connections have been made and when Johnny moved up to Browns at Barlick to be foreman for Henry Brown and Sons his opportunity had arrived to really show what he could do.

SCG/25 October 2003
1036 words.


I think we should draw the story together so far. William Bracewell, son of Christopher Bracewell of Green End, Earby comes to Barlick in 1835 at the age of 23 and sets up at 24 Church Street putting yarn out to local weavers. By 1885 when he dies he has built Butts and Wellhouse Mills, formed the railway company, built up his engineering works in Burnley, bought coal mines at Ingleton, owns the Corn mill and is building a gas works for the town. He also owned land and farms and Ouzledale Mill. The bank takes over when he dies and in 1887 there is a sale of most of his assets, the bank keeps some, amongst which is Butts and Wellhouse Mills.

Barlick is thrown into decline and local men get together to found two shed companies to supply space for weaving on the Room and Power system. These are the Long Ing Shed Company in 1888 and the Calf Hall Shed Company in 1889. They build Long Ing and Calf Hall Sheds. The Calf Hall company buys Butts and Wellhouse mills. Included in Wellhouse Mill is Bracewell’s old engineering shop. Bracewell’s main engineer, Pete Bilborough, leaves the trade and goes into business as a coal merchant in the town supplying domestic and mill coal. A man called Sutcliffe takes over the Wellhouse machine shop.

In 1900, Henry Brown at Earby is tipped off by his uncle, John Duxbury of Crook Carr, who is a shareholder in the Calf Hall Co, that Sutcliffe has given notice to vacate the machine shop. Henry Brown takes it over at £25 per annum and starts a light engineering service keeping the Earby shop going. He goes into partnership as an iron founder with a man called Henry Watts who is running Ouzledale Mill as a foundry, renting it from the Calf Hall Company. Henry Brown’s trade expands as the mills are built and in 1908 he sets John Albert Pickles on as foreman.

Barlick was booming at this time. The quarries on Tubber Hill were cutting stone as fast as they could to supply the demand caused by mill and house building. There were so many houses built in Barlick at this time that, apart from the odd infill, no more new houses were needed until after WW2. Henry Brown’s business was growing as well and this was why he needed a good foreman.

Until Johnny joined Browns they had never tried to break into the heavy engineering side of the trade. If engine repairs were needed the mill owners got the manufacturers in. This was anathema to Johnny who had worked in the heavy end at Burnley Ironworks, he had bigger ideas but had to get established first. Henry Brown was content to do small maintenance jobs and blacksmithing.

Johnny had met a young woman working in the mill in Earby, she was called Sarah Elizabeth Kirby. Born in Carleton in 1885 she had moved to Earby to find work and lived near Green End in Earby. On St Valentine’s day in 1913 she married John Albert and for a while they lived at her parents. In 1913 Johnny bought a new house, 35 Federation Street in Barlick and they moved in there just before the war started. Sarah carried on working in the mill weaving at Windle’s at Wellhouse. On the 10th of March 1916 she bore a son, William Newton and stopped weaving, she never went back to the mill.

Just as WW1 started there was a lot of sub-contracting work to be had for the outside firms who were installing engines and lineshafting in the new mills. Henry Brown and Sons soon built up a connection making the lighter shafting for preparation and taping rooms. This gave Johnny an idea and he sat down at night at home and designed a small steam engine, the ‘donkey engine’ which was used to power the tapes when the main engine was stopped. He made the patterns for the castings and persuaded Henry Brown to start making them. They made 48 engines in the next 15 years. Johnny was an engine builder at last!

Sometime round about WW1, Henry Watts up at Ouzledale either died or retired and Browns took over the foundry. Harold Duxbury told me that it was then that Henry Brown brought in James Cecil Ashby, a young ironfounder who had been working in Leeds and set him on as foreman at Ouzledale. This foundry did all the castings for Browns including the donkey engines which were fairly big lumps. If you look carefully at the road down to Ouzledale you can still find pieces of slag, the waste from the cupola furnace, which was used for road-making.

Sometime shortly after the end of the war, Ouzledale couldn’t cope with the amount of work that Browns were doing. They were getting a lot of castings made by other foundries and Henry Brown and Johnny decided that there was scope for expansion, trade was booming so they decided to build a new foundry which Johnny would design. The site chosen was Havre Park, in fact you can see the original foundry now, it’s the middle building of what is now Gissing and Lonsdale’s. There is a problem with this land in Eastwood Bottoms, it’s all soft silt and very bad bearing ground. Newton told me that Johnny bought hundreds of tons of old wrought iron loom cranks and used them to consolidate the foundations. Newton said that his mother took him down there one night to see the first pour of metal and he’d be about eight years old at the time so this would make it about 1921 or 1922.

We’re going to have to stop here for this week. Johnny is established and doing the things he enjoys most. Newton is growing up steeped in cutting oil and Browns are roaring ahead taking on bigger and bigger jobs. It looked as though it could go on forever. As Rabbie Burns said, ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley…’

SCG/25 October 2003
1,023 words.