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Once a giant woollen mill, Leeds Industrial Museum is now home to fascinating displays ranging from clothing manufacture to printing.

The story of Leeds as an international centre for the textile industry and clothing manufacture is colourfully told at the city's Industrial Museum through its collection, exhibitions and galleries.

The grade II-listed building housing the museum was once home to the world's largest woollen mill. The current structures, built in 1805 by former mayor of Leeds Benjamin Gott, closed as a commercial mill in 1969. The 1 building was taken over by Leeds City Council and reopened as a museum of industrial heritage in 1982.

But the earliest record of Armley Mills dates from the middle of the 16th century when clothier Richard Booth leased the site. A document of 1707 describes the site as fulling mills. Fulling is one of the final processes in cloth production. It involves pounding the cloth with large hammers in pits filled with a mixture of water, urine and fuller's earth, causing the fibres to mat together or 'felt'.

In 1788 Armley was equipped with five water wheels. These were replaced in 1805, when the mill was rebuilt after the original site was destroyed in a fire, with two huge metal wheels. Christened Blucher and Wellington after the heroes of the Napoleonic wars, each wheel generated 70hp. In the 1850s a steam beam-engine was introduced at Armley, but the water wheels were not removed until 1888.

The museum shows the complete woollen manufacturing process. Machinery on display includes a warping machine, looms, fulling stocks, raising gig, cropping machine, cutting machine, sewing machines, and a pressing machine.

The centrepiece of the museum is the huge spinning mule, which was made in 1904 by Oldham-based Platt Brothers for James Ives & Sons at Leafield Mills in Yeadon. The company closed down in 1980 after 132 years of manufacturing fine woollen cloth.

Another impressive exhibit is the Jacquard Loom, named after its French inventor, an 18th-century straw-hat manufacturer from Lyons. Punched cards were used to programme the loom, with the threads selected automatically without further assistance from the operator. The loom could weave complex and pictorial designs.

In addition to this, Leeds Industrial Museum has a working 1920s cinema where short films are shown. Continuing this theme, there is also a media gallery containing historic cameras and projectors, as well as printing presses. The media gallery celebrates the fact that Leeds was home to some of the best-known printing companies and skilled printing engineers in Britain.

The museum also has an extensive range of gauge and narrow-gauge rolling stock. The collection was started in 1956 and has a short display line. Sadly the collection is currently closed to visitors owing to a water leak.

A special exhibition celebrating the life and achievements of agricultural engineer John Fowler is being held at the museum. Fowler was a pioneer in the development of steam engines for ploughing and his inventions significantly changed the course of agricultural practice. The exhibition closes on 27 September.

For more details, see the website:



1 Spinning mule: This monster of a machine, the museum's prize exhibit, was made by Oldham-based Platt Brothers in 1904 for woollen cloth maker James Ives & Sons.

2 John Fowler collection: Fowler pioneered the use of steam engines for ploughing. The collection features 1920s motor and steam ploughing engines.

3 Lights, camera, action!: The museum has a media gallery which includes locally manufactured and used historic projectors, cameras and printing presses.

4 The engine house: Exhibits include a horizontal tandem compound Corliss condensing machine (1887), and a Pollit and Wigzell uniflow engine (1924).

5 Water wheels: Just a few miles away is Thwaite Mills, one of the last remaining examples in Britain of a working water-powered mill, and open to the public to visit.
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Title Annotation:Worth a detour: PE finds places to go and things to do
Author:Wells, Liz
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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