Higher Woodhill Mill Bury

The first mill at this site was built around 1790 and was powered by a small waterwheel. The mill began life producing cotton, but over the years it would be expanded and used to manufacture a whole range of products. The original mill was greatly enlarged into a five story building, incorporating a cast iron frame for strength. In 1850 one of the largest waterwheels in the North West was put into place. This wheel was a breast shot design meaning the water came in level with the axle and then dropped down to turn the wheel. It one of the last waterwheels to be built in our region.


Soon after it was put in place, an engine house was built which contained a steam powered beam engine capable of 100 horse power. This clever combination of two power sources meant that when there was insufficient water in the reservoir to turn the wheel, the steam engine could still be used to power the mill. In the early 1860s the Cotton Famine hit the North West, caused by the civil war in America preventing the export of raw cotton to Britain.  The mill was subsequently used to produce paper and glue. Cotton made a  brief comeback in the World War I, but in the form of gun cotton. This was produced for the war effort, being an explosive propellant for weapons (and an unstable and dangerous one at that!). The final incarnation of the mill was as a bleach works after the war, and then the site was demolished in 1928.

DSCN0563In 1991 the site was surveyed, excavated and the archaeology put on display for the public. Today you can see the reservoir that fed the waterwheel, the wheel pit and the massive millstone grit rocks of the engine bed. You can also see  a circular pit that was the site of a gasometer, used to store coal gas that was produced on site, which has now been reclaimed by reeds. The site has clear and informative interpretation boards so that you know exactly what it is you are looking at. The East Lancashire Railway line built in 1846 still runs past the mill on a viaduct. There’s a good chance you’ll see a steam train going over it on the weekends, as the mill workers themselves must have witnessed too, many years ago.

Site visited by A. Bowden 2013

Parking: Burrs Country Park has a free car park, and the site is also free to visit.


On site interpretation boards, Bury Metro Development Services Department

English Heritage website: http://www.pastscape.org.uk