By the side of Bury Road, at the entrance to Edgeworth village, stands the Black Rock waterwheel. It was originally installed in one of the mills at nearby Turton Bottoms. Its journey from there to its resting place at Edgeworth is an interesting one.
The mill it came from was originally on the site of Turton’s corn mill, which operated until 1831. Subsequently, the corn mill was converted into a cotton spinning mill. In 1853, the then owner, William Rostron of Springbank House in Edgeworth, replaced the wooden waterwheel of the mill with this metal one. The mill subsequently changed hands to be run by Henry Leigh until 1859, and then was taken over by John Lord and Henry Hamer. They saw it through the Lancashire Cotton Famine, when the American Civil War led to a lack of raw cotton being imported, which led to the closure of so many of the county’s mills.
In 1890, the whole of the Turton Bottoms site was renamed Black Rock Works. This was a bleaching and dying operation, under the direction of Frederick Whowell. Just eleven years later, James Hardcastle and Co Ltd were in charge of the site. The metal waterwheel continued to give good service, only being retired in 1917, but left in place in its wheel pit. The Bleachers Association took over the Turton Bottoms site subsequently.
The Waterwheel is Rediscovered
In 1975, the site was to be redeveloped by Whitecroft Ltd (formerly the Bleachers Association). Turton Local History Society located the waterwheel, which still lay in its pit, covered in silt, rubble and vegetation. The lodge that had originally fed it had largely dried out and had been colonised by trees. They sought permission from the owners to excavate and remove the wheel. The next year, they began the painstaking job to extricate it.
During the excavation, the group found clues to the site’s history. Kiln tiles were discovered from the time the place was used as a corn mill. Grain would have been dried on the perforated tiles. Some of the tiles were better made than others, with the cruder ones believed to be of earlier origin. Intriguingly, an American-made gas iron, along with its stand (called a trivet), was found. More mundane discoveries included old glass bottles and paste jars. During the excavation, the remaining parts of Black Rocks Works were demolished, and the ground cleared. When the mill’s chimney was felled, people came to collect bricks as souvenirs.
The wheel measures thirteen feet ten and half inches in diameter and six foot wide. It is made of cast iron, with wrought iron tie bars acting as spokes. The excavators found forty iron buckets were still bolted on to the wheel. The group also dug out the penstock, a curved device that lay on one side of the wheel. Water would flow from the lodge to the penstock. The penstock discharged the water onto the wheel’s buckets, causing it to turn. To view what it looked like in situ, see the image on the Mills Archive website here.
The waterwheel was lifted and moved to Turton Tower, where it was restored. It was then moved again on site to a specially prepared wheel pit by the barn known as The Stables. The six years of hard work to excavate and restore the wheel was finally over. It was hoped that it would become an exhibit in a new rural and industrial museum at the tower.
As the years passed and the dream of a new museum faded, the wheel began to deteriorate. Turton Local History Society once again came to the rescue in 2011. They decided to have it restored and moved to an entirely new location. A £700 pound grant from West Pennine Moor Community Initiative enabled the large amount of rust to be scraped off and weatherproof paint applied by the Lancashire Wildlife Environmental Task Force Team.
The following year, the wheel was moved to the outskirts of Edgworth, on Bury Road. The relocation was paid for as part of a grant from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, which was also used to improve the footpaths and toilets at the tower. The move was expensive, costing somewhere in the region of £13,000 and was done at 6 o’clock in the morning to minimise disruption to traffic. What became of the formerly accompanying penstock is not clear.
Today the waterwheel stands at the entrance to Edgeworth village, a memorial to the industrial past of the area.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2022
The Black Rock Waterwheel is open access and is on Bury Road at one of the entrances to Edgeworth village. The closest parking is on street parking on Bolton Road. The excellent Reading Room cafe at The Barlow is also on Bolton Road, and is open seven days a week.
To see the site of the Black Rock Works at Turton Bottoms, there is on-street parking on Bolton Road/Wellington Road (either side of the bridge over Bradshaw Brook).
The History of Turton Mill, R. Lindrop (1989) Turton Local History Society. Booklet still available from the society.