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.
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”.
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!*
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)