Plantation Mill started life as a fulling mill. This would use water power to beat woollen cloth with wooden hammers. It was being operated by the partnership of William Hacking and Henry Aspinall in 1797. A description from the time describes it as a three- storey building powered by a large 36-foot waterwheel.
Change of ownership then occurred in rapid succession. Just six years later, it was in use as a calico (cotton) printing mill run by Oldham and Holding. Four years later, ownership was now in the hands of Gibson, Swain and Company. In 1820, Swain died and the business continued as Gibson and Greaves for six more years.
Bankruptcy occurred in 1826 and the machinery on offer for sale showed that both mechanical and manual printing was being carried out. This included equipment for printing, dyeing and bleaching. Wash wheels, printing machines, copper rollers and blocks were all up for auction.
The firm of Greaves, Denham and Grimshaw became the new owners. James Grimshaw was the foreman, but he took over the running and ownership when Denham and Greaves died. James was considered an exemplary employer, and the Grimshaw family would go on to manage Plantation Mill into the 20th Century. They built nearby Owl Hall and then later Plantation House for their residences.
In 1840, records show that there were four printing machines and eighty printing tables. These were being used to print dress fabrics for middle class buyers.
James Grimshaw lived at Owl Hall, close to Plantation Mill, for much of the 1800s. In 1871, the census shows that he was still there with his wife Susan and two servants. However, by 1893, his son William had built Plantation House, which lay closer to the mill site. William then divided Owl Hall up into four properties and let it out to tenants.
Calico printing transforms plain cotton cloth into a brightly coloured and patterned fabric. At Plantation Mill much of the process was mechanised, but some parts would have been carried out by hand.
At the start of the process the workers would begin with grey cotton cloth. They would then prepare it in a four-stage process by scouring, bleaching, gassing and flattening.
The colour pattern would then be impressed upon the cloth by machine printing. Afterwards, any detailed work would then be done individually using hand blocks.
To stop the dyes running they would then be fixed, either by putting in a dye bath or steaming. The cloth would then be rinsed and dried. After this, it would be stretched to the required width and then flattened. Finally, after being inspected, it would be folded and packaged up.
The last years of the mill
In 1923, the last of the Grimshaw family died, and a Mr Greenwood became the managing director, under a new limited company. The mill complex was by this stage extensive, and was to be found on both sides of Plantation Road. Photographic evidence shows two large chimneys dominating the site. Just eleven years later, it was closed and then finally demolished in 1940.
Visiting the sites today
Start at the bottom of the cobbled setts road of Plantation Road, by the Arden Hall gates. Follow the road up past the Grimshaw’s Owl Hall, now a private residence on your right. It had a serious fire in 2007, but has been successfully rebuilt. Just after Owl Hall there is footpath on the right into the grounds of what was Plantation House. Follow this path in which will take you along the driveway of the house, through what were the gardens. It leads to the ruins of Plantation House, demolished in the 1930s. Some of the stone walls can still be seen, along with a lot of Accrington bricks in the demolition rubble. A path takes you back through gateposts onto Plantation Road again.
Just a little further up Plantation Road is the main information board which displays photographs of Plantation Mill. You can branch either left on a path by the ravine of Pleck Brook which powered the mill, complete with its waterfall; alternatively carry on up Plantation Road, past Plantation Cottages. Much of the mill would have been in what is now woodland on your left. There is little to see of the mill now, demolition and nature have eradicated much of it. However, at the top end you can see some of the work that has been done to control the flow of water into Pleck Brook.
In 2010, Oxford Archaeology North carried out a survey, finding that much of the mill complex does survive under the surface, with a layer of demolition rubble sealing it in. Perhaps future excavations could reveal the full extent of the site.
If you are interested in this era of industry, there are some impressive and more complete ruins of a print works near Bury which you can visit. See our page here.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2019
The site of Plantation Mill and Plantation House are open access site. Park on Plantation Road by the gates to Arden Hall .
Nearby just a short walk away
First and Second World War history on top of The Coppice: See the page on Lancashire at War here
Just a short drive away
Owl Hall, Plantation Road, Accrington. Documentary Research, Photographic Recording and Archaeological Watching Brief Oxford Archaeology North (2011). Available online.
Peel Park & Coppice Management Plan 2015-2020 Hyndburn Borough Council. Available online.
Explore Peel Park leaflet (undated) Hyndburn Borough Council. Available online.
Past, Present and Future of Arden Hall, Peel Park and Coppice. A summary of the Management Plan 2012-2016 The Wildlife Trusts Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Hyndburn Borough Council. Available online.
Peel Park Local Nature Reserve including the Coppice, Arden Hall, and Plantation Road. Formal Consultation with Natural England Hyndburn Borough Council 2017. Available online.