The Dying Mill

Penwortham MillPenwortham Mill is half demolished, a process that began in 2005 and has not been completed. Its derelict waste ground is out of bounds. However, on occasion, its fences are damaged or knocked down, providing the opportunity to pay more than a passing visit.

Over the past couple of years, the mill has been exerting an increasing pull on me. Initially drawn by the majesty of its broken façade, empty solitude and commanding reflection in the waters of the Lodge, I have spent time with it on location, and learning its history.

The mill was built in 1785 by the cotton lord, John Watson. It was steam powered and used primarily for spinning cotton. After Watson went bankrupt it was passed on through a number of hands until Vernon’s took it over for the manufacture of surgical lint during the First World War. This use continued until 2005.

Floor and rubbleAs I step into its grounds between piles of rubble; broken stone, bricks, tiles and piping it is still possible to catch a glimpse of its red painted floor, across which spinning mules rolled throughout the long shifts, piecers hurried fixing threads, knock kneed children swept beneath the machines and masters barked their orders.

Fire ExitA fire exit hangs in mid-air signalling a corridor, forever cut off, through which the workers would have escaped during an emergency.

Rosemary Bay WillowherbAs the mill decays, nature edges in. Buddleia thrives in every corner. Herb Robert, burnished bronze in this sun trap, climbs bricks and walls. Sow thistles, spear thistles and ragwort break through concrete and reign atop the rubble. Rosemary bay willow herb and purple toadflax flourish. A stray tom cat darts from the vegetation.

Herb Robert and Sow ThistleBetween the brightness of flowers and dankness of mould, sharpness of wreckage and green slanting leaves, the wild fay play. In a butterfly’s wheeling glance and behind the bees it is possible to perceive their surreptitious presence and song.

Thistles and docks on brickAbove, the pigeons that roost in the roof fly a not-quite figure of eight and I struggle to perceive its meaning.

Pigeons over Penwortham MillWhat is happening? What is becoming of me? I am addressed by the part-consciousness of the mill, half standing, half ghost, the voice of walls there and not there and people who lost a part of themselves in their labour.

It does not only speak within my mind, but somehow through my body. It wants to take me into itself, make my flesh and bone one with its brick and cement, show me what it is experiencing. For a moment I am walls, flesh captured in brick, vanished ceiling unable to look down into the shadow of memory.

I flee back to the brightness of day and peal of flowers.

I am left with the question of how to comprehend the death of a mill, how to explain it?

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4 thoughts on “The Dying Mill

  1. Thank you for your follow on my blog. I have just read this piece of yours, wonderful descriptions, taking me into the spirit of a not yet dead Mill. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  2. Hello

    I used to play there as a boy, late 60’s early 70’s. We spent hours swimming in the lodge.

    On one occasion I remember going into the mail building, to explore the long machine rooms. The machines were taken out at that stage, so they were huge empty spaces.

    It’s sad to see how it has turned out, but even then there was talk of demolition.

    Thanks for this.

    Mick O’Connell

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