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High Bentham Mills History

(Updated June 2022 for the Lancaster Maritime Museum)

 

 

The purpose of this page. Is to show how the Messrs. J, T. & W. Hornby moved their flax business and workers from Kirkham in Lancashire to establish themselves over the Yorkshire border in Bentham about 1795. The working conditions were very good here, compared to other mills.

 

Messrs. J., T. & W. Hornby established themselves in Bentham about 1795, and at first they operated from Low Bentham Mill. They imported Russian Flax Bales into a warehouse on St. George's Quay at Lancaster, and transported it by "four horse" drawn wagons to Bentham over the border in North Yorkshire. Initially, the brothers spun yarn at Bentham for their sailcloth factories in Kirkham, and later they built premises for their weavers in Bentham, some of whom came from the operations in Kirkham. The Bentham operations were managed after about 1814 by Tony Roughsedge Esq., who continued to trade under Hornby & Co., but who extended the Hornby interests there. In 1814, Mr. Hornby Roughsedge - who had formerly managed the Hornby factories in Kirkham - purchased High Hill and the residence known as Bentham House in Bentham from Charles Parker Esq. He also acquired the manorial rights of Ingleton, and became the gentleman of the district. He was a great benefactor of St. Margaret's Church, Bentham, which contains several memorials to him. Hornby Roughsedge married Margaret Elizabeth Hodgson in 1782 and later built St. Margaret's Church in 1837. A Plaque in the church has the family motto, Res Non Verba, Action not Words. Ged Dodd found a livery button with the "demi-lion" crest and the "Res non verba" motto of the Roughsedge family while detecting near the church in 2015.  In the late 1830's, the sailcloth industry began to decline in Bentham, and the mills went over to the production of finer yarns by wet spinning. In 1850, Mr. Hornby Roughsedge sold the Bentham Mills and Bentham House  to Messrs. Waithman & Company, and retired to Foxghyll, near Ambleside. He died in September, 1859

   Bentham House and Bentham Mills were mostly demolished for a housing estate but a lone remnant of the mill complex still keeps a lone vigil.

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   An antique brass thread counter used by a travelling cloth buyer to measure the quality of the linen cloth was found in the seal fields near the church by Ged Dodd with his detector. The magnifier was used to count the number of threads visible through the small square hole. The more threads counted the better was the quality.

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The Cloth woven from flax is called Linen and was made to be pure white in the Bleaching Fields. Hundred's of the lead tags used to hold down and identify the cloth were found buried alongside the seals mainly in the 1829 and 1831 fields

 

 

 

 

A single lead token tells the tale.

     Although the Industrial Revolution depended upon child labour in its dark satanic mills, and Lancaster was quite high up on the list in the slave trade it is remarkable that Bentham Mills was run primarily for the family workers, some who had come across from the flax mills at Kirkham in Lancashire.

    One solitary lead token found at Bentham in nine years of detecting tells the whole story. At West House Mills in Blubberhouses in North Yorkshire the Project Team had found hundreds of lead tokens used either for gaming or for payment to the huge number of orphaned children who were employed at the mill and were housed in the Apprentice House.  Bentham Mills didn't rely on child labour, but it must have used the children of family workers.

Lead tokens of the "child labour" at West House Mill at Blubberhouses

 

 

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