Photo Donation of the Month: Birth and Death of a Mill Chimney

A couple of months’ ago we were asked to carry out some research into the history of Bury Boot & Shoe (formerly Woodhill Mills) off Brandlesholme Rd. The request came from an interior designer who was carrying out renovation work on the mill building (now Wharfside Apartments). It’s always a complex business delving into a building’s past and Woodhill Mill was no exception, especially as the place existed well before building plans had to be submitted to the local authority for approval around 1860.

A lot of groundwork had been covered in an archaeological survey carried out by Matrix Archaeology in 2005. We have a copy of the resulting publication and it makes fascinating reading – it’s available to view here in the search room, should anyone wish to do so.

Mill chimney at the side of Bury Boot & Shoe Co. 1982

During our research we managed to locate the original building plan for a new mill chimney dated June 1903 – it was to be a towering structure that once built reached 60 yards into the sky! There is an interesting piece of oral history quoted in the archaeological survey from a John Yates whose mother witnessed the chimney being built from her home at nearby Woodhill Cottage. John recalls how the hole being dug for the foundations of the chimney was so huge that his mother was afraid their cottage would collapse! He also remembered seeing a photograph of the chimney being felled, “but where the picture is now I have no idea”.

Plan of new mill chimney for Woodhill Mill, 1903

Not long after we’d carried out the research, and exhausted the resources we hold here, we were visited by an ex-employee of Bury Boot and Shoe who kindly donated a block plan of the mill building and some photographs of the chimney demolition carried out in 1982. Perhaps these were the same images seen by John!*

North West Steeplejacks; felling of mill chimney, 1982.

The photographs have now joined the building plan and have helped to create another story from the archives! We have a beginning: a design for a new chimney which once building work commenced put fear into a local woman as she saw the ground opening up close to her cottage; we then have an ending – when the North West Steeplejacks arrived to knock it down. What happened in between? It would have been a dominating presence in the lives of the folk who lived nearby and we’re sure they all have their own stories to tell.

* We’ve since been advised that the photograph John Yates was relating to was one of the demolition of the original mill chimney demolished when the featured chimney was erected in 1903. For more information see comments below.


Matrix Archaeology, Bury Boot & Shoe Co, Woodhill Mill, Brandlesholme Road, Bury: Archaeological recording, (2005)


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4 Responses to Photo Donation of the Month: Birth and Death of a Mill Chimney

  1. kath dawson says:

    Thanks Wendy. Hope your keeping well. ________________________________

  2. Kath says:

    Wendy I shared this article on Bury Olden Days, Facebook page. There is a comment by Mark Fletcher……
    I was the author of the report on Woodhill Mill, and had very personal experience of the mill. As a child in the 1960s, I lived in Woodhill Street, and the chimney towered high above our road. If my memory serves me right, when the wind came from the ‘wrong’ direction, great gobbets of black soot from the chimney descended onto the clean washing hung out in the back street, prompting the women to dash out to rescue the fruit of their labours.
    One error in your post – John Yates referred to a photo of the chimney demolition. He was actually referring to the demolition of the original mill chimney, which stood further to the north, and was taken down when the much bigger chimney was erected in 1903. The bigger chimney seems to have served a vertical marine-type engine, which replaced the earlier beam engine, and stood in the brick building which was offset from the stone-built mill.
    The chimney blueprint includes an ‘oversailer’ (or cornice) at the top, which prevented smoke from being drawn down the downwind chimney face. The chimney was evidently reduced in height long before the 1982 demolition, possibly because the oversailer had become unsafe (they were commonly formed of cast iron plates, which deteriorated in the hot fumes).
    In the 1982 demolition photo, a ‘gob’ has been cut out of the chimney base, and one or two men perched on the top would have been reducing the stack using sledgehammers, knocking the bricks into the chimney base and out from the ‘gob’, from where they could be shovelled into the skip. This slow demolition was necessary because of the close proximity of Woodhill Cottage (left on photo), Prospect Terrace (right on photo), and the mill itself, further to the right. A scaffold ‘fan’ has been erected, to catch any bricks which fell outside the stack. It is notable now how the labourers are wearing neither helmets nor any other PPE.

    • buryculture says:

      Absolutely fabulous! Thank you so much for this additional information it adds such a lot more to our understanding of the chimney’s history. Thanks Kath for sharing and thank you Mark for these fascinating insights! Wendy

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