In 1892, Ellenroad Mill, a new spinning factory, was erected at Newhey. Designed by Stott and Sons of Oldham, it stood five storeys tall, built to be fireproof and to run 99,756 mule spindles. The mill engines were made by John and William McNaught of Rochdale. In a grand ceremony, Immanuel Clegg, chairman of the board, named the engines Victoria and Alexandra.

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Ellenroad Engine House and Museum. Home to the huge Victoria and Alexandra twin engines.

On 19th January 1916, there was a disastrous fire. At 2.30 pm, George William Taylor, working on one of the mules, noticed that a nearby one had caught fire. This rapidly spread down the entire length of the room. The workers were able to evacuate safely and the mill’s own fire brigade set to work. They were soon aided by a motor pump and firemen from Oldham. By 5.30 pm, the fire seemed to have been fully extinguished, but two hours later it broke out again. Unfortunately, a strong wind had begun and was gusting in through windows broken by the fire earlier in the day. Within half an hour the whole factory was ablaze.

By the next morning, the extent of the damage was revealed and onlookers could see that the factory had been mostly destroyed. Only the engine and boiler house survived, but the Victoria and Alexandra engines, and the rope race that had connected them to the rest of the machinery were all in a bad state.
The decision was taken to rebuild the mill, but to use more up-to-date ring spinning frame technology. This would require more power though. High pressure boilers were installed (one of which is still in place) and the engines were upgraded.

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For the next five decades the mill prospered, with the engines only being decommissioned in 1975. In 1982, the Ellenroad Ring Spinning Company ceased trading and the mill closed. Two years later, the whole site was bought by Coates Brothers to set up a manufacturing factory to make specialised inks. They took the decision to save the twin engines and the surrounding engine house. The next year, renovations began. The Ellenroad Trust was set up to buy a lease on the land and oversee the restoration.

What to see today

Ellenroad Mill Steam Engines: The twin tandem compound engines which powered the entire mill, Victoria and Alexandra, are still in place. Every month, these are steam driven. Between them is a huge flywheel (which weighs as much as nine double decker buses). This would have been connected to the rope race to drive all the machinery in the mill via a series of pulleys and belts.

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Sketch of part of the twin engines Victoria and Alexandra, and the huge flywheel that sits between them.

Whitelees Beam Engine: This was acquired in 1986 and installed in the former boiler room of the Engine House (where the cafe and display area is today). A Watt-type beam engine, it came from Whitelees Mill and was made in 1841.

The Marsden Engine: Donated in 2008, this required a large amount of restoration work as it had been sitting in the open air for 20 years. A lottery grant enabled a group of young people and volunteers to bring it back into working order. It was from Barker’s Tannery in Otley.

Irene: This mill engine was built in 1860 by Nottingham Company. It took 4000 hours to restore and the work was done by the Ellenroad volunteers.

Fern: The society has other engines on site, large and small in various states of repair, including the huge Fern engine which lies in the open air awaiting restoration.

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The massive Fern engine will one day be returned to its former glory

The Firing Floor and Lancashire Boiler: One of the Lancashire boilers from the 1921 refit is still in place, and is used to drive the engines. It has twin furnaces and coal is shovelled in by hand on steam days.

Generator room: When Victoria and Alexandra were not running at the start and end of the working day there would be no power for the mill’s lighting. Accordingly, a generator was used and visitors can see Phyllida the generator engine in this room, along with the electrical distribution boards.

Machine Tool Workshop: A workshop room has been set up that demonstrates the use of old machine tools from Wildspur Mill in Holmfirth and Addingham Mill in Addingham. These include a lathe, drill, shaper and blacksmith forge. A diesel engine built by the National Gas and Oil Engine Company of Manchester provides the power to make them work. They are used to repair items at the mill today, and to create souvenirs for visitors.

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An increasing rarity in Lancashire- an intact mill chimney. Ellenroad’s chimney is still in use.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2020

Access

The Engine House and museum has a steam day on the last Sunday of each month. Entry cost is £5.00.

Free entry on non-steam Sundays. There are also regular events throughout the year.

Ample on site parking, which is free.

See the website here

Nearby, just a drive away

Rochdale’s Lost Castle

The Co-operative Pioneers, Rochdale Cemetery

Watergrove Reservoir and Drowned Village

References
Ellenroad Engine House, booklet written by Richard Unwin (in print, undated, available from museum shop), Ellenroad Trust

Ellenroad Engine House: Recent Developments at the Ellenroad Steam Museum leaflet (2012) (available from the museum shop).

sites.google.com/a/ellenroad.org.uk/www/home

ellenroad.org.uk/engines.htm