Our Heritage: Day when Wray Mill was reduced to silence

Mill Cottages / Wray Mill
Mill Cottages / Wray Mill

During the life of the mill it has not been without controversy.

Even in the 1880s pollution was a problem; this caused a flow of correspondence betweeen the Royal Sanitary Authority and Mr H.C. Davis, the mill owner.

The clerk called upon Mr David to abate the soap suds flowing from his mill into the River Roeburn.

Mr Davis said that the suds were no worse than the water from Huntsgill Beck, which was contaminated with water from Smear Hall coal mine.

The executors of Mr T.B. Kayse, farmers at Bridge End, said that two of his cows had died and a post mortem proved that they had died from polluted river water.

Another villager, Mr R. Brown, stated that the river water was so bad it had purged his cows and they were forced to drink it as there was no other water available.

He had tasted the water himself one day and it was very bad, neither fit for man or beast.

It seems that Mr David remedied the situation by turning the suds into the river at midnight when the local farmers were asleep. How this situation ended we do not know.

The following passage is taken from an account written in 1889 – author unknown:

“During the present year, trade has so much revived that new hands have been employed and the mill is now running full time.

In all, about one hundred hands are employed.

During Mr Davis’ tenure of the mill, considerable improvements have been made.

Among these improvements is a new dressing shed and warehouse, which has been built on the side of the road opposite to the mill.

The highway at this point has been widened; consequently, the approach to the mill has been improved.

The cottage owners and trades-people of Wray have reason to be proud of the mill; for it would be a sad day for the villagers generally if their silk industry collapsed.

One of the tradesmen of the village said: “It would be a desolate village indeed without the mill.”

It appears that the water of the Roeburn is specially adapted for silk manufacture.

In this respect it is said to surpass all English rivers for boiling silk. In the process, it gives the silk a superior gloss.”

The following passage is an account from the December 1890 edition of Wray Parochial Magazine:

“Stoppage of Wray Mill: During the last few weeks, the stoppage of the mill has been the talk of Wray, and without doubt, it is, for Wray people, the event of the past month.

Hardly any event more far-reaching in its effects or more disastrous to the general prosperity of the village could have happened.It has happened, however, Once again (for it is not the first time) Wray Mill has been reduced to silence.

Its doors are closed, its chimney is smokeless, its machinery is still.

For a time, only for a short time, let us hope, the operation of converting dirty-looking fibre into beautiful glossy silk has ceased, and as a necessary consequence, the operatives who have been employed in this work are dispersing.

Already, many of the bread-winners of Wray have departed to win bread elsewhere, and very soon Wray will begin to wear the appearance of a semi-deserted village.”

Mr H.C. Davis closed the mill in November 1890 when most of the machinery was removed.

The following description of Wray Sunday School’s annual ‘Coffee Feast’ is taken from the July 1891 edition of the Wray Parochial Magazine:

“The scholars of Wray Church Sunday School paraded through the village headed by Wray brass band, halts being made at all the usual places except Roeburn Cottage, the former home of Mr H.C. Davis Esq. who, since the closure of the mill, has left the village.

In the evening, it rained heavily and it was deemed advisable to take advantage of the permission kindly given to play in the large empty machine room at the mill.”

The above account highlights the fact that very little time was lost in disposing of the mill machinery after closure.

It is believed that the silk mill at Galgate purchased some of this machinery.

The mill remained closed until 1893 when it was reopened by Captain Ferguson with a much reduced workforce.

Sadly, the mill closed for the final time circa 1895.

Mr Peter Grant later used the mill on a small scale for turning bobbins but only two or three men were ever employed.

In 1938 the estate of Hornby Castle sold the mill and apart from the keeping of poultry, the mill was never used again.

The turbine which had been providing electricity to Roeburn Cottage remained in its pit right up until the mill was sold for residential conversion, at which time Mr A. Parker, the then owner of the mill, suggested that it might be worth preserving.

However, it was decided that it did not warrant the expense and the pit was filled in and the turbine buried.

The mill was bought in 1980 by Derek and Julia Middleton who converted it into two dwellings.