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Fascinating trove reveals tragedy and trouble at the mill

An Edwardian accident book detailing the harrowing injuries and tragic deaths suffered by workers who toiled in one of the world’s largest textile mills has been discovered in Leeds. The fascinating trove of historic employee records was found stashed in a box by curators at Leeds Industrial Museum, which was once a massive, globally renowned hub for wool and fabric production.

Fascinating find reveals tragedy and trouble at the mill

Carefully listed within were scores of incidents which lay bare the harsh working conditions and gruelling lifestyle endured by the city’s textile workers shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

Among the tragedies described is the sad death of 44-year-old William Bell, who in February of 1905 was killed when a milling machine he was moving with his fellow workers unexpectedly toppled onto him.

A newspaper report at the time described the death as a “tragic accident” and said Mr Bell and his colleague Albert Holdsworth had been moving a cloth milling device weighing around two tonnes from one side of a room to the other using rollers.

It added: “Suddenly, and without warning, the machine fell onto Bell and Holdsworth. Assistance was immediately at hand and the unfortunate men were extricated with difficulty.”

Mr Bell, who had worked at Armley for four years, was killed instantly, leaving behind a wife and three children, while his co-worker suffered an injury to his left leg.

Fascinating find reveals tragedy and trouble at the mill

Sadly, the records reveal that was not the only death recorded at the site. In 1909, W. Hinchcliffe, a 40 year-old engineer, was also killed while removing the firebars, used to support fuel, from a boiler before a formal inspection in September 1909.

Other workers suffered many more injuries including severed fingers and a fall down the stairs while carrying a warp, which was used to prepare fabric for weaving.

Later incidents saw Doris Gatenby, an 18-year-old weaver, fall foul of a common accident in weaving departments, when in May 1922 she received a cut near her temple after a shuttle flew out of a loom and hit her on the head.

And in September 1935 filler and minder Edna Atkinson had three fingers of her left hand crushed in the rollers of a ‘Scotch Feed’ carding engine. In June 1937, William H.

Waddington, a spinner, also fractured his arm while repairing the leather belt on a loom.

Also included in the documents, which all date from when the mill was owned and operated by Bentley and Tempest, is a list of the names and addresses for workers who, despite the harsh conditions, were aged under 16 and under 18.

John McGoldrick, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of industrial history, said: “We know that for hundreds of years, the museum was a bustling, hugely productive centre for the manufacture of textiles, which employed hundreds of people from the local area.

“But until now, we haven’t known a great deal about the individuals who worked here, so finding these documents is a real treasure trove of information from which we can start to build a much more complete picture of life at the mill.

“In particular, seeing such stark details of the injuries and deaths suffered by workers here more than a century ago paints a very vivid picture of how difficult and gruelling their working conditions must have been, and helps us to better understand the impact of the textile trade on the lives of people in Leeds.”

Fascinating find reveals tragedy and trouble at the mill

Built in at least the 1600s, Armley Mills was bought in the late 1700s by Colonel Thomas Lloyd, a Leeds cloth merchant. He expanded operations on the site dramatically, so much so that Armley was soon the world’s biggest mill of its kind.

Although production ended in 1969, the site reopened as Leeds Industrial Museum in 1982 and today displays vintage machinery including traditional looms and other textile equipment once used by workers.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “The textile industry played a huge role in establishing Leeds as an economic powerhouse and is part of the fabric of the city and its heritage.

“But it’s also important that we consider how the industry impacted the city and the people who lived here, and it’s fantastic that the industrial museum continues to research and develop new aspects of that story.”

For more information about Leeds Industrial Museum, please visit:

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