Notes on the history of Altham Corn Mill

These notes are based on information I was able to jot down at a talk given by local historian Brian Jeffery on February 20th 2020 at Pendle Heritage Centre entitled Althams Industrial Past..

The earliest evidence of a Mill at Altham seems to go back to the 12th Century. Most likely to around the time a church was built in the village in 1165. Altham was then at the river crossing on the route of the ‘Kings Highway’ from Haslingden to Clitheroe. Its main use would have been to grind oats.The early original medieval mill was located at the end of Cornmill Cottage with the mill race running across the back of the cottages.

This was all a bit of a surprise to me as I had always assumed that the Mill that People In Common had bought stood on the same site as any previous mill. But there have been a number of different configurations of the mill race(s) over time as the demand for water to drive the mill increased. When coal mining began at Sykeside pit on the other side of the village the out take of the mill race was extended to take water to the mine.

In the late 1700’s William Peel built a ‘new’ mill which forms the central section of the existing building (See Plan below) This mill was the scene of a riot in 1779 resulting in the destruction of carding machines and spinning jennys that had been installed in the mill which were smashed and thrown into the river. After this incident the Peel family took their business elsewhere. But the mill seems to have continued to prosper. In 1799 a leat was built bringing water from a weir just south of Padiham to the mill – now whether this was due to increased demand at the mill or the need for water for mining (or both) Is not clear. The building was extended further in two phases. One fairly soon after the original mill was built and then extensively rebuilt in 1816 by an E.Topham whilst in the ownership of the Walton family. With a final phase of building happening in the 1850s with the addition of the boiler house and chimney.

Plan based on notes from talk by Brian Jeffery

When the building ceased work as a cornmill sometime in the mid-1800s it was used variously as an ‘ice-works’ and a wheelwrights up until 1906 when it became a ‘Reed & Rib’ mill making parts for local cotton mills. This use lasted until 1947 according to some records – but in conversation with Dixon Gill whose father ran the mill it appears that some sort of business carried on well into the 1950s.

Tom Shepherd, who lived in Mill cottage and used the mill and field to keep sheep & chickens before PICHC bought it, told us that the weir was ‘blown up’ by the firm running the factories opposite on Burnley road to prevent flooding. and that the water wheel was sold to a mill in Yorkshire in the mid-1960s.

Early photo of Altham Cornmill. From the estate of Dixon Gill.

So most of the stories that we told ourselves back in the 1970s & ’80s about the Mill turn out to have some basis in history – even if we didn’t get the facts or dates quite right.

The Corn Mill 9.7.1975 G.V

The Corn Mill 9.7.1975 G.V. Former water mill, dated 1816, with extension (now under conversion as dwellings). Coursed sandstone, stone slate roof on 2 levels with chimneys at left gable and on gable at junction. Single pile plan, roughly L-shaped with outshut to front of left end and projecting double-pile extension at right end. Built into slope above river: 3 storeys to front, 4 at rear. In centre at 2nd floor level is shouldered stone plaque lettered “Erected BY E. TOPHAM Esquire 1816” Various square window openings and doors to front and rear, including 3-tier warehouse doors in front of extension. At left end is low boiler house and a tapering cylindrical stone chimney with moulded collar and cap. History: used as corn mill to mid-C19, subsequently various other functions including ice works, wheelwright’s shop, and 1906-47 manufacture of heald staves (Ainsworth Altham and Huncoat pp. 142-45).

Listing NGR: SD7750232996

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