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Queen Street Mill Textile Museum - Burnley’s little secret

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 September 2014

The noise in the weaving shed is deafening even with just four looms operating

The noise in the weaving shed is deafening even with just four looms operating

John Lenehan 2009

One of the last vestiges of the weaving industry is up a side street on the outskirts of Burnley. John Lenehan reports

Shovelling coal into the boilerShovelling coal into the boiler

In 1894 Lancashire was cotton capital of the world. Unbelievably, the little village of Harle Syke - once a separate community on the outskirts of Burnley - housed seven weaving mills. Sadly the sound of Lancashire clogs are all but forgotten and most mills are gone. There the story ends - or does it?

There is a little secret in Harle Syke because one of the mills survived. It is no exaggeration to say Queen Street Mill is unique as it is has the only steam-powered weaving shed in the world and is open to the public, schools and colleges.

It is operated by the Pennine Lancashire Museum Group and managed by Sarah Taylor and it offers visitors a chance to step back to the days when cotton was king.

It almost seems that Harle Syke tries to keep its secret hidden from prying eyes as the entrance is around the side of the building and the path leading to it passes between the mill lodge and the foot of the towering 37 metre chimney.

Tending - or tenting in Lancashire dialect - the engineTending - or tenting in Lancashire dialect - the engine

The give-away is the distinct rumble you can almost feel in the ground as you enter into the large entrance hall with its reception desk, souvenir shop and café. At this point it is hard to decide whether to carry on into the mill itself or eat first as the home made food is deliciously tempting.

The rumble felt at the entrance becomes a roar as you enter the weaving shed. In here are over 300 shuttle looms. A shuttle is a large wooden projectile that carries weft across a loom. To do this it is struck hard with a powered stick, one at each side of the loom.

It is incredibly noisy. Although there were only four looms running during my visit, the ear defenders supplied were needed. Talking was nearly impossible. In the days of the mill being in production all 300 running must have seemed like an earthquake. Men, women, and children all worked in here then. Thankfully for the ears of today, the looms run for a short period each hour.

You can also visit the boiler house and see the coal being thrown by spade into the blazing furnace to create steam for the centrepiece of the mill. The looms in the shed are all driven from a magnificent Victorian steam engine. The sight of this mechanical giant running at full speed is an unforgettable experience.

The steam engine in actionThe steam engine in action

Other departments of the mill tell the tale of King Cotton and the people whose history was woven into it. This one material created the towns of Lancashire as we know them today and this is an opportunity to see it brought to life. Queen Street Mill should not be kept secret.

Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Harle Syke, Burnley, BB10 2HX, is open Tuesday to Saturday during September, 12-5pm. Tel: 01282 412555

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