By Alex Jones
AN ABANDONED textile mill, once owned by an eccentric and heroic entrepreneur who rubbed shoulders with Churchill and members of the royal family, is currently being demolished as we witness another piece of Britain’s industrial heritage being swept away.
Remarkable photos of Dobroyd Mill, a former textile factory in in the village of Jackson Bridge, near Huddersfield, which was acclaimed for its high-quality product, show the shattered windows and dilapidated façade of a building which once held over 600 employees, graffiti-strewn machines that haven’t been touched in years, and a ransacked work space just off the factory floor.
The captivating shots were taken by urban explorer FreakyD just weeks before the site was due to be bulldozed. Although a wool mill has been on the site since 1829, much of the current property dates back to 1870 and has employed generations of local families over the last century and a half.
“This mill is now pretty much empty due to the pending demolition but some of the engineering workshops still contain paperwork and tools which help form a connection to what the building used to be,” said FreakyD.
“Large bins of textile waste and rolls of wool hint at the heritage of this once thriving workplace.
“This location is in a very sorry state, heavily damaged by water and being left for so long, causing the building to become very dark and dingy. Water damage always leaves buildings feeling ‘spongy’ and unsafe but when that’s coupled with some previous demolition work, the once strong, impressive stone walls now feel uncertain and crumbling.”
After years of working as an independent mill, The Dobroyd Mills Company textile business was founded on the site in 1919 by William Haigh and at its peak in the 1960s the company employed almost 600 workers. At one point, the mill was one of the most reputable spinners of worsted cloth – a very fine smooth cloth woven from wool – in the World. However, the mill ultimately succumbed to the decline of the textile industry.
It was acquired by applicant Z Hinchliffe & Sons in the 1990s and was originally intended to support a contract with a national retail client before this deal fell through around eight years ago. Several small businesses have occupied areas of the site in the meantime but the building itself has decayed to the point where it is easier to knock down than refurbish.
However, the founder of the mill has a personal history that more than matches the crumbling mill that he once oversaw. A First World War flying ace, civilian hero, textile magnate, philanthropist – William Haigh’s story is a fascinating one. Known as a local character, Haigh – who died in 1956 – became known as “Buffalo Bill” through his liking for broad-brimmed hats.
Following his wartime exploits – where he reached the rank of flight lieutenant – Haigh pioneered aviation as a means of business travel, and once rescued a stewardess from being sucked out of a plane at the start of the 20th Century when a fuselage door fell off. After landing safely in Paris, where a trade show was being held, he sloped off before the assembled press managed to interview him.
“In many ways he was an almost unbelievable man, hugely energetic and an innovator but a modest one, too,” said a member of his family to The Yorkshire Post in 2003.
“He mixed with the great and good, including Churchill and royalty, but never lost sight of his backyard and the hundreds who worked for him. In the Twenties he helped to provide water and electricity for the local community.”
Haigh’s passion for the woollen industry made him an expert on its history, and quirky vocabulary, and he not only collected historic wool weights but turned the symbol into Dobroyd’s trademark.
The company supplied fabrics to some of the world’s leading fashion companies before closing in 1974. It was reopened in 1976 under John Woodhead Ltd. spinners before the company once again changed hands to OMC, Lindley in 1983 before Z Hinchliffe & Sons took control in the 90s.
For FreakyD, it was fascinating to investigate an industrial site so heavily linked with its community.
“The location of this mill is especially lovely, looking up at the large stone structure housing thousands of broken glass windows and sat beside a small stream supporting a bridge over a peaceful waterfall. The contrast of the surrounding nature and the hard-industrial building gives this place a unique character,” said the explorer.
“With the change of our economy, buildings like this are no longer needed and will always be destined to come down, but it is nice to see a window into our past where honest work took place, where people developed manual skills and built lifelong careers”.
The site is currently undergoing a programme of demolition and the site has been earmarked for a new estate of apartments, houses and office space.