Mills Of The Northwest - Millscapes At Touchstones Rochdale

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 18 May 2007
a painting of a mill scene with women in the foreground and mills in the distance

JH Carse, Oldham from Glodwick, 1831. Picture courtesy Touchstones

A major new exhibition that takes a fresh look at the industrial architecture of the North West, is currently showing at Touchstones Rochdale.

Millscapes runs until June 24 2007 and traces the development of the Mill from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution to today’s changing skylines.

The exhibition features paintings and mill models from public and private collections around the region and is jointly curated by Touchstones Rochdale and Gallery Oldham.

The urban landscape of the North West owes much of its distinctive character to the textile industry. During Lancashire’s great mill building era, which began in the 1790s, several thousand mill buildings crowded the region’s skyline.

These mills, and the canal systems, aqueducts, warehouses and streets of terraced housing built with them, completely transformed the landscape.

Millscapes begins with scenes of the water-powered mills of the 19th Century. Paintings from this period focus on both rural and urban mill landscapes, rather than the people who worked in the mills.

a painting of a solitary figure walking down a gret street in an industrial landscape

Mary Major, Wigan Street. Picture courtesy Touchstones

Many of these early paintings are by unknown artists and depict mills such as ‘Lowerhouse Printworks, Burnley’ and ‘Frenches Mill, Saddleworth.’

The introduction of electric power meant that mills built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries no longer had to be sited close to rivers or reservoirs and many mills were built on the edge of existing urban developments.

Several massive mills close together, as shown in James Purdy’s view of ‘Millbottom,’ Oldham (1935) became the norm. The resulting thick urnab smog that resulted from this kind of rapid industrial development is a feature of many paintings of the era such as French Impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette’s ‘Bailey Bridge, Manchester’ (1912).

Paintings from the 1930s and 40s include ‘Our Town’ and ‘Street Scene’ by LS Lowry. These works feature the rigid lines and smoking chimneys that dominate Lowry’s work, and provide a stark contrast to Harry Rutherford’s cheerful ‘Mill Girls, Ashton’ (1948).

Another contrast, Harold Hemingway’s ‘Rochdale, Views Over the Town Centre in 1856 and 1956’ are uncharacteristically optimistic paintings, and Oldham artist Helen Bradley painted nostalgic images which look back to the boom of the early 20th Century.

a pianting showing happy female mill workers coming home from work with large smoking mills in the background

Harry Rutherford, Mill Girls. © Tameside Museums & Galleries Service

By the 1980s, over half of the mills and cloth-finishing works in Greater Manchester had been demolished or were derelict and Liam Spencer has been capturing this changing landscape. His paintings of scenes of Manchester since the 1980s capture its regeneration and ‘Rooftops’ (1995/6) and ‘The End of the Mancunian Way’ (c.1993) are on show in the Millscapes exhibition.

The ongoing inspiration of the changing urban landscapes of the North West is shown in Peter Stanaway’s ‘Now the Mill Has Gone’ (2005), Walter Kershaw’s ‘Mutual Mills Reflections’ (2007), Alan Rankle’s ‘Saddleworth Study: Uppermill’ (2006) and David Gledhill’s ‘Old Mill Street’ (2007).

The exhibition is part of a Heritage Lottery funded ‘Your Heritage’ scheme to examine the heritage of the textile industry in the North West and will be on show at Gallery Oldham from November 17 2007 to February 2 2008.

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