The site of the recreation ground at the bottom of Silcoates Lane was, for over a century, a mill complex consisting of factory buildings, a chimney, workers’ cottages, and small reservoirs filled with water from Balne Back. The mill opened in 1794. Much of its history can be traced using the British Newspaper Archive.
The first reference to Silcoates Mill dates from November 1828. Its owner, Joseph Rhodes has placed public notices in newspapers in the north and Midlands – including Derby, Leeds and Liverpool – trying to cash in on an innovative manufacturing process he’d recently patented and was demonstrating at the mill.
Thursday 6 November 1828
TO SPINNERS OF WORSTED COTTON FLAX &c. His Majesty having granted his Royal Letters Patent to JOSEPH RHODES, the Younger, of Alverthorp, near Wakefield, Worsted Spinner, for an improved Plan of Spinning and Doubling the above Materials, he takes this Opportunity of stating some of the Advantages which his newly-invented Spindle and Spinning Frame has over the Frame now in general Use. – After a Trial several Months, he finds that owing to the Formation and Lightness of the Spindle, it will admit of much greater Speed, is less liable to wear itself untrue, makes a smoother Thread, will Spin with less Twine, to smaller Numbers and with less of Waste. The Operation of Doffing is also performed in less than One-Half of the usual Time.
J R solicits the Notice of Machine Makers and Spinners to this Invention, and is ready to exhibit a Frame, working on the above Principles, Silcoats Mill, near Wakefield, and any Application by Letter (Post-paid) will be duly attended to, and every Explanation given.
Drawing of his Frame may be inspected Application to Mr J A RHODES, Solicitor, No. 5, Upper Bean-Street, Liverpool.
Alverthorp, near Wakefield, 5th Nov, 1828.
Move forward 20 years, and the mill’s up for sale. This advert in the Intelligencer provides an inventory of its rooms and equipment.
Saturday 7 September 1850
IMPORTANT SALE OF WORSTED MACHINERY, DYE WARES, and EFFECTS,at Silcoates Mill near Wakefield. – Mr Becket begs to announce that he has received positive Instructions from the Assignees of Messrs John Robinson & Co to SELL by AUCTION, on Wednesday the 18th Day of September, 1850, and Following Day, on the Premises at Silcoates Mil, near Wakefield, all the valuable MACHINERY as fitted with the most recent improvements, comprising, in the
PREPARING ROOM – Four 4-Spindled Finishing Boxes, with Creels and Frames complete; Four 2-Spindled Stubbing Boxes and Creels, One Sliver Box and Board, Two Open Gill Boxes, Two Gill Boxes with 2 Spindles each, Three Carding Engines, Seven 6-Spindled Roving Boxes with Creels, One 30 Inch Tenter Hook Willey, One Inch Do., Turning Laithe, &c., &c..
WILLEY ROOM – One Shake Willey, with Fittings complete; Skeining Machine, and other Effects.
SPINNING ROOM – Nine Spinning Frames with 96 Spindles each, Six Do. with 84 Spindles each, One Twisting Frame with 72 Spindles, Two 6-Splndled Roving Boxes with 6 Inch Traverse, One 2-Spindled Finishing Box with 11½ Inch Traverse, Two 2-Spindled Drawing Boxes, 14 Inch Traverse, One 1-Spindled Silvering Box, 14 Inch Traverse, One 15 Feet Reel with 40 Spindles.
DOUBLING ROOM – Three Twisting Frames with 64 Spindles, Two Do. with 72 Do., One Do. with 96 Do., One Reeling Frame with 56 Do., One Single Do. with 34 Do., One Do. 48 Do.
MILL ROOM – Two Pairs Mules, 800 Spindles each, Slubbing Skips, Skeining Machines, &c., &c.
SLUBBING ROOM – One 60-Spindled Billey, Carding Machine, (32 Inches), with 2 Swifts, One Scribbler, Swifts, and Breast 48 Inches.
Also, Nine 60-Spindled Jennies, Washing Machines, Soap Pans with Steam Pipes, Iron Vats and Dyeing Material, Copper Pans, Oil, Soap, and Dye Wares, Anvil, Bellows and Smiths’ Tools, Large Cisterns, Weighing Machines, Lead Water Pumps, Shafting and Steam Pipes, Sorting Boards, Hanking Machines, Bobbins, Cans, Wool Sheets, Combs, Canvass and Paper, Counting House Furniture.
Also, a Valuable GASOMETER, 12 Feet Diameter, with Three Iron Pillars, Retorts, Pipes and Fittings to the whole Premises, Two Strong Carts with Patent Arms, One useful Draft Horse, Gearing, and various other Articles
Descriptive Catalogues will ready in a few Days, and may be bad at the Intelligencer and Mercury Offices, Leeds, the Observer office, Bradford, the Auctioneer, Wakefield, and at the Place of Sale. May be Viewed Monday and Tuesday previous to the Days of Sale.
Sale to commence at Eleven am precisely.
N.B. The Owner of the Mill and Trade Premises at Silcoates, is ready to treat with the Purchaser of the Machinery, or any respectable Person desirous of becoming Tenant.
Wakefield, 6th September, 1850.
Between this sale and the mill’s closure, there are many references in the press to new ownership, dissolved partnerships and sales notices. An unexpected find however, was a short piece relating to working conditions at the mill, a prosecution under the Factories Act for employing women on a 12-hour night shift.
Saturday 22 November 1856
INFORMATIONS FOR INFRINGEMENT OF FACTORY ACT
At the Wakefield Court House, before the bench of magistrates, on Monday last, J Bates, Esq, factory inspector of this district, laid the following informations, to which the parties pleaded guilty: George Conyers, of Silcoates Mill, Wakefield, 13 cases, only four of which were pressed, for keeping women at work from six o’clock at night till six o’clock in the morning. A fine of £15 was inflicted, with expenses, which amounted to £3 7s.
The Mill is advertised for sale in 1886, 1887 and 1894. Here’s the advert from October 1887.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 8 October 1887
TO LET, SILCOATES MILL, near Wakefield, with good House, Garden, and Orchard, Stabling, Mistal [cow shed], large Barn, Nine Cottages, and 17 acres of Land. Machinery, which is in good working order, consists of two sets scribbling and carding engines, with condensers to follow: 1 pair mules and little mules (in all 1,090 spindles), 19 dandy looms and 12 box looms, milling machines, &c., &c., which will be sold at a valuation. Water, coals, and hands plentiful. Rates low. Full rental £300 per annum, £l50 of which can re-let. For further particulars apply to Haigh & Haigh, 8 Park Place, Leeds.
By the turn of the 20th century, Silcoates Mill was trading as Lister and Glover. By now it was described as ‘rag merchants and mungo manufacturers’ (the the production of recovered wool cloth made from rags, known as mungo), a far cry from the days of Joseph Rhodes and his cutting edge machinery in the 1820s.
Lister and Glover’s partnership was dissolved on 31 December 1902 and the mill seems to have closed down shortly afterwards. As a last throw of the dice, the mill was put up for sale in May 1906. The sales particulars even tell us the surnames of the tenants in the mill cottages. Unfortunately some of the words in the advert are obliterated.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Thursday 17 May 1906
SILCOATES MILLS, POTOVENS, NEAR WAKEFIELD.
VALUABLE FREEHOLD MANUFACTURING PREMISES AND DWELLING HOUSES.
Messrs BEAUMONT and GLOVER will Sell by Auction, at their Sale Rooms, King Street, Wakefield, on Friday, 18th May, 1906, at Seven o’clock in the Evening, subject to the general conditions of Sale of the Wakefield Incorporated Law Society, and to such special conditions as will be then read, and which may be inspected at the office of the Vendor’s solicitor seven days prior to the sale.
The Valuable FREEHOLD MANUFACTURING PREMISES, formerly used as a cloth mill, but recently as a rag mill, known as SILCOATES MILL, situate on the south side of Silcoates Road, at Potovens, near Wakefield, consisting of a substantial stone-built three-storeyed building, 84ft long and 31ft wide; a small store room adjoining, 36ft by 12[?]ft; engine and boiler house; drying place [?] by [?]; blacksmith’s shop, 17ft by 12ft; shaking place, 23ft by 25ft; grinding place 19[?]ft by 24ft; and shed 3ft by 7ft. Also a two-storeyed building formerly used as a storeroom, sample room and offices; and also a two-storeyed building 48ft by 30ft; the ground floor formerly used as stores and stables, and the upper floor as stores and offices; and also all that MESSUAGE or COTTAGE, situate in the mill yard.
All which said premises, including the sites of the said building and reservoirs, contain 1a. 2r. 38p., or thereabouts, and are surrounded (except one reservoir) by a substantial stone wall. The engine, boiler, pumps, and shafting are included in the sale. A supply of water can be obtained from Balne Beck. The buildings are conveniently arranged, and vacant possession may be had at once.
All those five FREEHOLD MESSUAGES or COTTAGES, with the yards or gardens in front, on the south side of Silcoates Road, in Potovens, aforesaid, adjoining Lot 1, on the east side [?], in the occupations of Messrs Carr, Cole, Asquith, Newby and Cottam. The gross rental is £32 10s.
The Minerals under all the above Properties are reserved.
For further particulars application may be made to the Auctioneers, King Street, Wakefield: to Messrs Claude Leatham and Co, Solicitors, Wakefield or to Basil S Briggs, Solicitor, King Street Chambers.
The mill remained disused for 30 years not being demolished until 1936. Its site was left as wasteland until the mid-1950s when the National Playing Fields Association offered a grant of £210 to Stanley Urban District Council, as part of the Association’s campaign to address the lack of playing fields across the Yorkshire coalfield.