India Mill chimney, Darwen

The chimney of India Mill still dominates the skyline of Darwen, with its Italian inspired architecture. However, it’s not the only reminder of Darwen’s mill history, as spaced along the main road through the town are a number of large pieces of Victorian machinery on display for all to see. We’ll turn to these later on in this post, but first the chimney.

India Mill was owned by Shorrocks Brothers. The chimney was built to resemble an Italian bell tower (or campanille) and stands at 303 feet tall and is 24 feet square. Completed in 1867 it was designed by E.Bates of Manchester and built by B. Lloyd of Darwen. It’s claimed that the foundation stone  it rests on was one of the biggest ever quarried in Britain, and the English Heritage website states that the stone is larger than the one Cleopatra’s Needle sits on in London. The chimney is built from red hand made bricks, and there are layered decorative bands of blue and yellow brick on the way up . Towards the top some of the bricks have been arranged in a diamond (or ‘diaper’) style. The blocked up windows have led to the local myth that there are stairs inside, but these are just for decorative effect. Italian bell towers have similar shaped windows, and the arches at the very top are reminiscent of those at St Mark’s campanille, Venice.

The top of India Mill chimney resembles St Mark’s bell tower in Venice

In 1943 twenty tons of iron  was removed from the top of the chimney, and donated to be melted down for the war effort.  The mill stopped operating in 1991 and by the turn of the century the chimney was in serious need of repair. In 2007 the top ten feet were rebuilt, a cap put in place and the interior  renovated. Bricks were sourced from a Barrow in Furness firm- of the same colour as the originals and in imperial (not metric !) size. Metal work including  ties and balustrades were treated or replaced. New nest boxes were fitted in the hope that the peregrine falcons, that had previously been occupants before the building work, would return. Today the chimney is classed as a Grade II* building.

Cross Compound Steam Engine

Just outside India Mill, on the main road are large machinery parts from Darwen’s Victorian past. The large blue and white engine is a ‘cross compound steam engine’. These were introduced into Lancashire in the 1850s and was brought to the site in 1970. It’s recently been repainted by a community payback team with specialist paint donated by Crown Wall Coverings of Darwen, and they’ve done a good job.

Wallpaper printing machine

Near to it is a wallpaper surface printing machine, which looks like a large water wheel crossed with a fairground ride. This dates from a similar time to the engine as it was used from around the 1850s in the county. It has 12 printing stations, each one could print in a different colour. On close examination, you can still see the rollers in place with the pattern they would print on to the wallpaper. It was donated by Crown Wall Coverings.

Papermaking cylinder

If you head uphill on the main road, a short walk brings you to a papermaking cylinder. Made in 1888 by Bentley & Jackson Ltd of Bury, it’s thought to be the oldest surviving example of its kind in the world. New Waterside Paper Mills of Darwen used it for making a range of paper products, namely envelopes, cellulose wadding and machine glazed paper  (machine glazed papers have a high gloss finish on their surface). It was in use during the modern era, up until 1967  when it was replaced by a larger model.

Nellie, a vertical steam engine

Our final piece of machinery is at the other end of town, by the junction of Earcroft Way with Blackburn Road and there’s parking right next to it. It’s a vertical steam engine called ‘Nellie’, and she even has her own blue plaque. The plaque tells us that she was built by George Rushton, Lodge Bank, Darwen and installed at Sunnybank Mill in Darwen in 1898. She was last used in December 1972, and was preserved soon after in March 1978. The engine looks in good condition and has been re-painted since this picture was taken. Next to Nellie is a metal spinning frame, but there’s no interpretation as to exactly what it is and where it came from.

It’s fantastic to see machines from Darwen’s Victorian past on permanent display in the street. Some of them saw service right into modern times, and it’s to be hoped that they will continue to be maintained for future generations to see. If you’re interested in more of Darwen’s steam legacy, have a look at this blog post which gives details of Darwen’s pioneering steam tramway by clicking here.

Sites visited by A. and S. Bowden 2015. This page updated 2020.

Parking and Access

Park in the shoppers car park or the long stay in the centre of Darwen. Parking is free. Head up hill towards India Mill to see the chimney and three of the machines described above. Nellie is at the other end of town, at the junction of Blackburn Road where it meets Earcroft Way coming from the M65.  There’s parking for a few vehicles next to Nellie.

All the machines are in the street and can be viewed at any time.

Nearby, just a walk away:

Holker House: Darwen Heritage Centre                       

Twin Tram Waiting Rooms and Turning Triangle


Darwen Green Trail leaflet, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council (currently in print and available from Darwen Library, no date given)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/lancashire/content/articles/2008/03/18/history_india_mill_feature.shtml (the article on the bbc page was supplied by Harry Nuttall)

English Heritage Pastscape website http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=43581&sort=4&search=all&criteria=india mill chimney&rational=q&recordsperpage=10 (accessed 12/2/15)

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-184680-india-mill-chimney (accessed 12/2/15)