Spinners Visitors

Heritage Centre

Welcome to The Heritage Centre

Once The Very Heart Of The Mill

Mayor & Mayoress, Our Powerhouse

Our steam engine is the largest of its kind possibly in the world and represents the final stage of steam power in mills. It is certainly the last steam engine to power a mill during the last miners strike.

It is a twin, horizontal cross compound engine of 2,200 horse power and was manufactured by Yates & Thom of Blackburn in 1923.

The large flywheel or 'rope pulley' in the middle of the engine was connected to smaller rope pulleys in the 'rope race' which in turn, drove shafts on each floor of the mill to run the machinery. This mill also generated it's own electricity.

 our heritage preservation team have dedicated years to the complete renovation of our beautiful yates & thom steam engine

Starting The Engine

The Starter

A Barring Engine is used to turn the Main Engine into it's starting position.


This is where both cranks are in an upright position so that their weight assists the engine to start as the steam valve is opened.

The main engine then takes over and the Barring Engine disengages.

Unfortunately, at present our Barring Engine is away from the mill, being repaired and refurbished. On it's return, we will have some fresh photography of it and hopefully a video of it performing it's job.

Mayor & Mayoress

How Our Beautiful Steam Engine Works


A Lancashire boiler is a horizontal, internally fired tube boiler.
This boiler can raise steam up to a pressure of 180psi and has a maximum evapourating capacity of 8,500Kg of steam per hour.

This boiler works on the basic principle of heat exchange.
It is basically a shell and tube type heat exchanger in which the flue gases flow through the tubes and the water flows through the shell.

The heat is transferred from flu gasses to the water through convection.
It is a natural circulation boiler which uses natural current to flow the water inside the boiler.


Generate the steam

Flue gases from the grate pass through the boiler tube, along the bottom flue and then up and along the side flues, keeping superheated gases in contact with the boiler for the longest time possible to extract as much heat into the boiler, then they move into the economiser before finally emerging into the atmosphere via the chimney.

Leigh Spinners had 7 boilers, five in service and two on standby or in maintenance. They consumed nearly 200 tons of coal a week, raising enough steam to power the whole mill.

You can learn more about Lancashire Boilers here.

Improve the economy of the boilers

If you remember from the boiler description above, the hot waste gases travel towards the chimney but there's still heat in the gas that can be used to improve the economy of the boilers.


This last bit of energy was recovered using an item similar to the picture opposite, the Economiser. These were the size of a large room and consisted of dozens, even hundreds of tubes that are kept clear of soot and debris by a system of automated scrapers.

Some of the water from the bottom of the Air pumps is fed into the economiser via the pipe labelled "A", bottom right. It then travels up the vertical water tubes into pipe "B", being heated by the passing hot flue gases as it moves, this heating the water to as close as boiler temperature as possible.

From here it is pumped into the boilers to replace the water that is boiled off in the production of steam.

This does a few things but most importantly, it saves coal as the boilers don't have to heat the water from cold and it also prevents thermal shock to the boilers that could cause them to fail prematurely.

You can learn more about Economisers here.


The Cylinders

You will have noticed that our engine has two cylinders which are the same in design but one is larger than the other. The smaller of the two is the "HP" or High Pressure cyliner and the larger is the "LP" or Low Pressure cylinder. They are connected by a large diameter pipe underneath the engine.

Steam leaves the boiler under 180psi pressure and enters the HP in the top left. This forces the piston along the cylinder, expanding as it goes. You can see in the image that the valve bottom right is also open and this enables the cylinder to exhaust steam from behind the piston.

As the piston reaches the right hand end, the exhaust valve closes as does the left hand inlet valve. At almost the same time, the opposite two valves open, allowing the piston to be driven back along the cylinder with steam entering the top right and exhausting leaving the bottom left to start the cycle all over again.

The exhausted now lower pressure steam at 60psi travels under the floor of the engine house into the LP cylinder to exactly the same job. Now hered's the clever bit. The reason the LP cylinder is bigger is so that the lower pressure steam can exert the same amount of force over the LP piston as it did on the HP piston.

You can learn more about HP & LP Cylinders here.

Condenser & Air pumps

The now depleted steam still has work to do as it leaves the LP cylinder. It travels to the Condenser.

As the steam enters the condenser, it meets a jet of cold water drawn into the system from the cold lodge outside. This instantly collapses the steam back into a liquid.

When water is converted into steam it expands roughly 1,600 times. Imagine an egg cup of water filling a mediam sized van with steam! When it's condensed it has the exact opposite effect, creating a huge vacuum in it's place. The resulting vacuum is used to suck out any remainging steam from the LP cylinder and also sucks the piston in the opposite direction again, generating even more power to drive the mill.

As you can imagine, we now have a lot of water with nowhere to go, this is where the Air pump comes in.

These pumps are driven by the engine and draw off the waste water and left over "air" from the collapsed steam in the condenser, maintaining the vacuum and returning the water back to the mill lodge to cool before being drawn back into the condensers to complete another cycle.

You can learn more about Steam Condensers here.

Story of An Entrepreneur


John Horrocks was educated at Leigh grammar school up to the age of 16 and was then at Rossall School.

At 18 he started work in Mather Lane Mill where his father was a director. He started in the mechanic’s shop under the engineer Richard Marsh. It was a long day starting at 6 a.m and finishing at 5-30 pm. In the evenings, he went to technical college to study cotton spinning machinery under a Mr John Stott.


left to right; Arthur Hope, William Horrocks (John Horrocks' father), David Wilson, Phillip Crowther, John Horrocks, William Horrocks, Agnes Horrocks, Ernest Horrocks, Alice Horrocks, James Horrocks, pictured at the ground breaking ceremony for the 1st mill building.

(Mill in background added for effect)

In 1908 John Horrocks met his bride to be Agnes Wilson. Agnes was the daughter of a local GP called David Wilson who was a personal friend of John Edward Crowther a wealthy local mill owner with a number of wool mills in the area who was to play a crucial part in establishing Leigh Spinners.

Story Of An Entrepreneur

John Crowther suggested that he set up on his own and promised to help him. They looked around but the only mill for sale was in a poor state. John Crowther then suggested that he build a new mill and he would go 50/50 with him. John Horrocks knew he would lose his £400 per annum salary at Mather Lane and he only had £200 in the bank. The cost of building new was estimated at £180,000, so it was a huge decision.


To help finance the business the Directors set up a shop at 57, Chapel Street where members of the public would call in and lend money to the new venture. This was all going on while the mill was being built and work started in 1913. It was a project which his father did not either support or approve of.

The building had reached roof level in the North East corner when in August 1914 war broke out. They had £30,000 that the bank was advancing, but should not have been used without permission of bank. John Horrocks received a telegram from the builder enquiring whether or not he should continue with the project, because of the financial crisis caused by the war. He then made the biggest decision of his life when he telegrammed the builder telling him to continue with the work. He made this decision without consulting his fellow Directors and without the permission of the bank.


By 1915 the mill was running. They further grew their workforce with workers from Jones Mills of Bedford square which was closing at that time.


By 1919 the business was making a profit. In 1923 the foundation stone for the second mill was laid and it was completed in 1925. The prosperous times continued until the financial crash of 1929. 1930 onwards signalled a very difficult time in the company’s history when it was not possible to pay any dividends and people wanted their money back. All loans were repaid when possible. Leigh Spinners survived because of the loyalty of the workforce and the support of the Crowther family. No interest was paid on family loans until all other commitments had been settled.

Leigh & the development of the Lancashire Cotton Industry

Leigh is from Old English leah which meant a place at the wood or woodland clearing, a glade and later a pasture or meadow, it was spelt Legh in 1276. It was a district rich in meadow and pasture land, and Leigh cheese was noted for its excellence.

Very few prehistoric finds have been made in Leigh. Exceptions are a Neolithic stone axe found in Pennington and a bronze spearhead south of Gas Street. A single Roman coin was found in Bedford.

In the 12th century the ancient parish of Leigh was made up of six townships, including Pennington, Bedford, Westleigh, Atherton, Astley, and Tyldesley cum Shakerley. Weekly markets were held by the parish church and a cattle fair held twice-yearly.


Leigh was divided in its allegiance during the English Civil War, some of the population supporting the Royalists’ cause while others supported the Parliamentarians. A battle was fought in the town on 2 December 1642, when a group of Chowbenters from Atherton, beat back and then routed Cavalier troops under the command of James Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby. Sir Thomas Tyldesley of Morleys Hall Astley was killed on the 25th August 1651 at the Battle of Wigan Lane and is buried in Leigh Parish Church. The Earl of Derby passed through Leigh again in 1651, when he spent his last night in the King’s Arms, before going to his execution in Bolton.


At the end of the 16th century a domestic spinning and weaving industry began. Agents from Manchester brought work weekly to an inn, and then collected the finished cloth. This work was done to supplement the income of local farmers and their families. The cloth woven in Leigh was fustian, a rough corduroy and by the end of the 17th century middlemen, fustian masters, were selling the finished cloth in Manchester. A local man, Thomas Highs, was the inventor of a spinning jenny and the water frame in the 1760s, the latter invention being pirated by Richard Arkwright, who subsequently made a fortune from royalties.

In 1827 silk weaving began in Leigh moving from Middleton. At its peak in 1830 about 10,000 people, mostly domestic, were employed in silk weaving in the parish, after which the numbers declined to 8,000 in 1841 and 2,301 in 1871. By 1836 the town had 20 silk firms, and two in 1897.


Historically Leigh was originally the centre of a large ecclesiastical parish covering six vills or townships. The three townships of Pennington, Westleigh and Bedford merged in 1875 forming the Leigh Local Board District. Leigh became the official name for the town. The town became an Urban District in 1894. In 1899 Leigh became a municipal borough. The first Town Hall was built in King Street and replaced by the present building in 1907 which was opened by John Horrocks founder of Leigh Spinners when he was Mayor.

Several cotton mills were built in Leigh after the mid 1830s and some silk mills converted to cotton after 1870. In 1911 in Leigh, 6,146 people were employed in the cotton industry and in 1913 it was the fifth-largest spinning centre in Greater Manchester. Cotton weaving was concentrated at Kirkhall Lane Mills built in 1836 and at Jones Brothers Bedford New Mills started in 1834.

Three large weaving sheds were constructed at Foundry Street, Elizabeth Street and Etherstone Street. For cotton spinning, multi-storey mills with massive floor areas were developed such as Victoria Mills (now ASDA) off Kirkhall Lane (built from 1856 by James and John Hayes) and the Firs Mills of 1902.


Two clusters of mills were built in Bedford, along the Bedford Brook and in the 20th century, near the Bridgewater Canal.


Leigh Spinners Mill was one of the last local examples of this major expansion exemplified by three major mills – Butts, Alder and Leigh Spinners. Alder was demolished in the 1990’s but the other two remain with both being listed along with the earlier Mather Lane Mill.

The Mill Worker's Lodge

We have reconstructed a typical mill worker's kitchen & lounge scene which you walk through to enter our Heritage Centre. There are various artefacts and items of interest to see.


Jesse ‘the cropper’ was born in November 1914. He married Ida in September 1948 at Leigh Register Office. Jesse had worked at Astley Green pit and finished as a pit worker on Saturday, January 24, 1953, and opened his barber’s shop at 6 Silk Street three days later. Jesse taught himself to cut hair and was a familiar sight as he peddled through Leigh, stopping off to talk to friends and strangers astride a massively heavy bike bearing the legend ‘Nay, You Lot – Give Us a Smile It Costs Nowt!’

He decided to build his own bungalow which he called ‘Cropper’s Hall’ – at 211 Manchester Road, Leigh. It took nine years with the help of his late wife, Ida, and their daughter, also named Ida. The story told is that he paid nothing for the building asking for gifts of bricks and seeking free advice from his customers.

Leigh’s last great eccentric, Jesse Graham was universally liked and his memory lives on. He died at his third attempt in March 1997 for rumours had claimed he’d ‘died’ twice before.

Jesse’s bike was the first artefact given to the mill. It was donated by members of his family.

The Bishop’s Chair was originally located in Bedford Church and has been kindly donated to the project by the church. Although only constructed in the Victorian Era most of the wood has come from Winchester Cathedral and could be over 900 years old.

The inscription on the back of the chair reads 'Wood from Winchester Cathedral roof 1086 – 1896, February 1914 presented by Thomas Holt, Town Clerk of Winchester to Bedford Church, Leigh'

Textile Machinery


In 2016 we were able to bring textile machinery back to Leigh many years after the last machinery was used.

The machinery was donated by the Saddleworth Museum. The items on display are:

Spinning  Mule

This was made by Asa Lees at Soho Ironworks in Oldham and was used in a mill in Huddersfield. It now comprises some 50 spindles but would originally have had some 500 to 600 spindles. Originally it would have been run by a lineshaft from a steam engine but was converted to electricity and now has a large electric motor on a cast iron headstock.


It is a woollen mule – the only surviving example in the North West but displays the same characteristics as a cotton mule.


It's in the process of being restored to full operating condition by our team of dedicated volunteers, led by Derek Bird.

More Textile Machinery




Welcome to The Scutching Room.

Initially cotton bales were brought to the mill by canal boat being unloaded at Butts Basin and brought into the mill using the winch you see above.

Once lifted into the room, before cotton can be processed it has to be cleaned of its seeds and other impurities, which in the early days was done by spreading the raw cotton on a mesh and beating it with sticks, a process known as willowing or batting.

Scutching was the first stage of the spinning process and was where cotton bales were brought into the mill to be broken up and prepared for the later phases of spinning.

The scutching machine passes the cotton through a pair of rollers, then strikes it with iron or steel bars called beaters.

The beaters, which turn very quickly, strike the cotton hard and knock the seeds out. This process is done over a series of parallel bars, allowing the seeds to fall through. At the same time air is blown across the bars, which carries the cotton into a cotton chamber. The end result is a continuous sheet of cotton, ready for the next stage of the production process, carding.


We have a series of cards in the Scutching Room which provide more detail on the scutching and carding processes.

Some more images of the carding machinery at Spinners Mill.


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