Photos by John Moss
Macclesfield Silk Mills
Paradise Mill & the Macclesfield Silk Museum Heritage
Centre are within a few minutes walk of each other and complement each
other. It is therefore advised that you visit both. Macclesfield can
be fairly said to be the "silk town" of the United Kingdom.
In fact, the main road from Stockport and Manchester to Macclesfield
is still called 'The Silk Road'.
Paradise Mill, Park Lane and The Silk Museum Heritage Centre
Park Lane, Macclesfield. Tel: 01625-618228.
The Mill is open for guided tours briefly during early afternoons from
Monday to Saturday. Please check actual times and current opening before
setting off as these may be liable to change.
This mill was home to Macclesfield's last working handloom silk-weaving
until its closure in 1981, when cheaper imported silks and high quality
new synthetic materials made the production of silk in England an uneconomic
prospect. It is a large mill and still houses over 20 original fully
working Jacquard looms - each still capable of producing the kind of
intricate and delicate woven patternwork that made the loom, and Macclesfield,
famous throughout Britain for the production of fine silks.
Jacquard, a Frenchman, had invented his loom in 1804, and it was the
first truly automated (and some say even "computerised") system
for mass produced continuous weaving of complex and intricate multicoloured
patterns by using punched cards. Jacquard looms often took many days
to thread and set up, but that done, they could produce continually
24 hours a day thereafter, and revolutionised much of the weaving process
in terms of the sheer quantity and intricacy of material produced.
These looms have been lovingly restored to their original working condition,
and can be seen in operation during the guided tours offered at the
Mill. Most of the silk-covered buttons in Britain, (and over much of
the civilised world for that matter), in the late 18th century would
have been made in Macclesfield, as would most of the silk ties worn
in Britain until quite recent times.
The mill opened in 1862, (though silk weaving had been in Macclesfield
since the 1750s) and originally housed both hand and powered looms.
As early as 1743, Charles Roe had built his first water-powered mill
in Macclesfield, and within a decade, the town had become the nation's
main centre for silk production.
From 1912 the factory was owned by Messrs Cartwright & Sheldon,
and concentrated solely on hand-weaving, despite the advance of power
looms all around them. Several ex-employees show their traditional experience
and expertise in demonstrations of the silk-weaving process. The final
death blow to Macclesfield silk came from China, from whence cheap imported
silks began to appear in the 1960s. Nowadays, the mill produces only
silk ties and ribbons.
Roe Street, Macclesfield, Cheshire. Tel: 01625-613210.
The Silk Museum is open Monday to Saturday from 11am - 4.30pm and on
Sundays and Bank Holidays
from 1.00 - 4.30pm. Closes 4pm in winter. Please check times in case
they have changed.
The first museum in the country to be devoted entirely to the manufacture
of silk. It is housed in the old four-storey Macclesfield Sunday School
building of 1813, and has many interactive exhibits telling the story
of silk production in the town. There is a film theatre, audio-visual
displays and guided tours. A restaurant/café is located in the
basement. The museum also has on display an exhibition of luxurious
silk period costumes of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sources: See Bibliography
- Books about Manchester
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