Higherford Mill

Higherford Mill is a historic Lancashire cotton factory now used as artist studios

The Mill has the oldest surviving weaving shed in the world.  It is home to artists making everything from jewellery to woodblock prints.

The Higherford Mill Story

Higherford Mill once made enormous amounts of cotton thread and cloth. It was powered by a steam engine and huge water wheel. 

Higherford Mill in 1968 and today

All in a spin

In the 1700s, many people in Higherford earned their living at home spinning cotton into thread and then weaving thread into cloth. It was slow work using hand-powered machines like the spinning wheel and the handloom.

In 1805, Thomas Grimshaw married Grace Bullcock. Grace inherited a large cloth making business and Thomas quickly began expanding it. In 1824, he built Higherford Mill, a large spinning factory powered by a water wheel the size of a double-decker bus. In ‘Grimshaw’s Mill’, textile workers spun miles of cotton thread on machines called ‘throstles’. Thomas also built rows of cottages where handloom weavers turned the thread into cloth.

In 1832, he added a steam engine as the mill began weaving cloth as well as spinning thread. A north-light weaving shed was built in 1849 to house 113 power looms. Thomas also employed 400 handloom weavers working in cottages.

A powerloom in Higherford Mill (1968)
A powerloom in Higherford Mill (1968)

However, weaving was much faster on a powerloom and the handloom weavers began to suffer great hardship. Later, in 1882 a second weaving shed was built and the spinning mill was demolished. Higherford Mill was now a weaving only mill and it stayed this way for nearly a hundred years until 1975, when it finally ‘wove out’.

In 1994, Higherford Mill was to be demolished but local villagers and Heritage Trust for the North West objected. After a five-year campaign, the Trust bought the mill and began restoring it as artist studios and the Trust’s head office.

I got the power!

As the cotton industry grew so did the power. Hand power gave way to the water wheel which in turn gave way to coal-powered steam engines. For 50 years, the air was thick with smoke. Then came electricity and the air improved.

Six ways to power a factory – why is Higherford so unusual?

During its working life water, coal, steam, hydroelectric, diesel and electricity all powered this mill which is one reason it was given the status of a listed building in 1996.

Electric Generator at Higherford Mill in 1968
Electric Generator in the mill 1968

The right sort of light

In 1849, a state-of-the-art north-light weaving shed was built to house the powerlooms. The mill was one of the first to be built with this clever roof. The shed is just one storey high as powerlooms can shake a building to the ground.

What is a north light wearing shed?

Weavers needed a lot of light to see their fiddly work. Weaving sheds have zig-zag shaped roofs with rows of windows facing north. This gives an even light and stops the suns rays entering the shed and drying out the cotton thread.

north light weaving shed roof repairs
The zig-zag north-light weaving shed gets repaired

Higherford Mill Today

Today there are 36 artists studios in Higherford Mill. The creative industries taking place inside the mill include leather work, woodcut printing, carpentry, glass work, photography, painting, jewellery making and illustration.

The artists find inspiration in the local area: in the video below the artist Anita Burrows talks about how her work reflects the Lancashire landscape and animals.

Learn more about the artists of Higherford Mill.

More Info

Exhibitions at Higherford Mill

The mill is open by the exhibition timetable. Please see news and events on the Higherford Mill Artists’ website for further information.

HTNW Office

The Heritage Trust for the North West offices are on the top floor of Higherford Mill. They are open from 8.45am to 5pm, and can be accessed via the front door of the mill.

Arrange a group tour

If you would like to arrange a group tour please contact us.