New Mills

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New Mills
Derbyshire, Cheshire
New mills 619280 883f5111.jpg
Torr Vale Mill
Grid reference: SJ995855
Location: 53°22’1"N, 2°0’25"W
Population: 9,625
Post town: High Peak
Postcode: SK22
Dialling code: 01663
Local Government
Council: High Peak
High Peak

New Mills is a town in the north-west of Derbyshire on the very border of Cheshire, which here is formed by the River Goyt; indeed Torr Vale Road and all of Newtown are across in Cheshire. New Mills is at the meeting of the rivers Goyt and Sett, some five miles from Chapel-en-le-Frith and eight miles south-east of Stockport (Cheshire) and 15 miles from the City of Manchester (Lancashire).

The town stands above the Torrs, a 70-foot deep gorge, cut through Woodhead Hill Sandstone of the Carboniferous period. It is situated at the north-western edge of the Peak District. It has a population of approximately 10,000.

New Mills, as its name suggests, was built on industry, though it is much older than the mill towns of the Industrial Revolution; the name is found as early as 1391. In the modern era the town was first noted for coal mining, and then for cotton spinning and then bleaching and calico printing. New Mills was served by the Peak Forest Canal, three railway lines and the A6 trunk road. Redundant mills were bought up in the mid-twentieth century by a children's sweet manufacturer. New Mills was a stronghold of Methodism.


The Torrs; the gorge through Woodhead Hill

New Mills is on the north-western edge of the Peak District. Associated with it are the hamlets of Thornsett, Hague Bar, Rowarth, Brookbottom, Gowhole, and Birch Vale.

At its lowest point the parish is about 400 ft above sea level, but the valley sides rise to thrice that at the highest points above Rowarth. The watercourses to the north, particularly the Rowarth Brook, drain the southward slopes of Mellor Moor, Cown Edge and Lantern Pike.

The Sett and its tributary the Kinder drain much of the plateau of Kinder Scout; the Sett flows through Hayfield before passing through Birch Vale to the Torrs and the River Goyt. The Goyt rises on the moors of Axe Edge, near the River Dane and the Cat and Fiddle Inn between Buxton and Macclesfield. It passes through Whaley Bridge, where it is joined by the Todd Brook and the Black Brook from Chapel-en-le-Frith.

The sides of the Goyt valley have been used to carry two railway lines, the Peak Forest Canal and the A6 trunk road between London and Carlisle by way of Manchester; these all pass through New Mills.


The area around Mellor and New Mills has a strong Methodist tradition. John Wesley first preached in the area in 1740, at a sheepfold at the Bongs in neighbouring Mellor.[1] He visited again on 28 April 1745, 12 May 1747 and 31 August 1748. The Wesleyan Methodists were established in 1748. At first, meetings were held in people's homes; then land was bought on the High Street for a Wesleyan chapel in 1766,[1] which was the first place of worship in the town. Wesley visited again in 1768, 1772, 1774, 1776, 1779, 1782 and 1788.[1] By 1808 that chapel was too small, and a larger one was built in St Georges Road, Brookside (Low Leighton).The church was influential and many of the millowners were members: Samuel Schofield, of Warksmoor House and of Torr Mill, the Armstrongs of Torr Vale Mill, the Hibbert family, including Robert Hibbert, of Warksmoor who built the first cotton mill in Newtown, the Barnes, Thatchers, Arnfields, Bridges, Willans and Bennetts, all industrialists, are buried in the chapel. The larger chapel was closed and demolished in the 1960s and the Methodists have reverted to the High Street Chapel.[1]

The Association Methodists' stone chapel was erected in 1838, and the Primitive Methodists built one in 1827. The Friends Meeting House dating from 1717 is in Low Leighton, and the independents, the Congregational church (Providence church), was built on Mellor Road, Whitle, in 1823.

The hamlets of Bowden Middlecale and Mellor lie in the ancient parish of Glossop. Chapelries were established at Mellor and Hayfield, and New Mills was split between the two.

The Church of England parish church of St George's was built in 1839 to a simple renaissance plan with galleries; it has seven bays, decorated with simple Gothic-style lancet windows. It 1844 the hamlets of Beard, Ollersett, Thornsett and Whitle became a parish together.


New Mills is in the area formerly known as Bowden Middlecale[2] which was a grouping of ten hamlets. The area was part of the Royal Forest of the Peak which passed into the hands of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1372. The ten hamlets of Bowden Middlecale, in three groups, are:

  • Great Hamlet, Phoside and Kinder;
  • Beard, Ollersett, Thornsett and Whitle;
  • Chinley, Bugsworth and Brownside

The name of New Mylne (New Mills) was given to it from a corn-mill, erected in 1391, near to the present Salem Mill on the River Sett in the hamlet of Ollersett.[3] This was adjacent to a convenient bridge over the Sett. By the late sixteenth century the name was applied to the group of houses that grew up round it.

Coal mining was the first industry of the district, with up to 40 small pits and mines exploiting the Yard Seam. The climate, good construction stone and the availability of stable land by fast-flowing water was ideal for cotton spinning. Cotton mills and print-works were built in the Torrs Gorge from 1788. Dwellings were built on the sides of the gorge, sometimes with one home built on top of another, both being entered at their respective street levels. Examples still exist on Station Road and Meal Street.

By 1810, New Mills had nine cotton mills, plus three weaving mills and at least three printworks.[1]

The mills at Newtown
New Mills Town Hall (built 1871
The Union Bridge and the packhorse bridge it replaces

Pigot's Directory of 1835 describes New Mills:

NEW MILLS, an extensive hamlet, in the parish of Glossop, and in the High Peak hundred, is 14 miles from Manchester, 6 from Chapel-en-le-Frith, and 8 from Stockport. It is pleasantly situate on the borders of Derbyshire and Cheshire; and, within a comparatively few years, has risen to importance in the manufacturing district; cotton spinning being carried on here to a considerable extent, affording employment to numerous hands.

The factories are in a great measure hid from public view in passing through the village, being built at the foot of the stream, under high towering rocks. Good house coal, as well as other kinds for the purposes of machinery, is obtained near to the village, the top bed strata running from sixteen to twenty inches thick. The village is built chiefly upon a stone quarry, but the soil in many parts is fertile, producing good crops of wheat and potatoes.[4]

A second group of 'later' mills formed by the newly opened Peak Forest Canal in Newtown, a hamlet 800 yards away on the other side of the Goyt in Cheshire. Increasingly these mills and houses merged into New Mills. The soft iron-free water was suitable for bleaching and finishing and printing. With the advent of steam, and the growth of the canal network to transport raw cotton, coal and the finished product, bigger mills were built and the smaller isolated rural mills were no longer competitive. By 1846, most of New Mills' mills had stopped spinning. The small mills moved out of cotton; the larger mills along the canal moved into finishing. Torr Vale Mill had added a weaving shed in 1836, and moved into producing towelling.[1]

The commercial method of calico printing using engraved rollers was invented in 1821 in New Mills. John Potts of Potts, Oliver and Potts used a copper-engraved master to produce rollers to transfer the inks.[5]

Before the construction of the high-level bridges the Torrs was a major obstacle; traffic had to descend 70 feet to cross the Goyt and then climb the same height on the other bank. The first bridge to be built was the Queen's Bridge on Church Road. The Union Road bridge was built in 1884;[6] obtaining the land was difficult, as the arches needed to pass close to Torr Mill and properties on the Cheshire (south) bank, and Torr Top Hall had to be demolished. The new road was named after the 'union' of the two halves of the town. The first station in New Mills was at Newtown, on the Stockport, Disley and Whaley Bridge Railway; this opened 9 June 1855. This followed the line of the Peak Forest Canal staying safely away from the Torrs. The Sheffield and Midland Railway Companies' Committee company built two viaducts across the Goyt: one for a line to New Mills Central that opened in 1864, and one for the fast line through the Disley Tunnel which opened in 1904.

Cotton continued to be worked at Torr Vale Mill until 2000, giving the mill over two hundred years of service.

In the great storm of June 1872, Grove Mill and Torr Vale weir were destroyed; at Rock Mill, then being used to make paper, two blocks of buildings and considerable stock and some machinery were lost, but the only fatalities were two cows.[7]

The River Goyt at about two o'clock a.m. on Wednesday was from 12ft to 14ft above its usual height...At New Mills, where the Goyt is joined by the River Kinder, extensive damage was done to property. The paper works of Messrs. Schlosser and Co. were damaged upwards of £1,500 as two blocks of buildings were completely washed away – one portion contained a large quantity of paper. The works of Mr. W.S. Lowe also sufferd severely, the damage being estimated at £300. Two strong stone weirs were washed away and two bridges; many acres of land were flooded.[8] - Manchester Times

This was minor compared with events at Whaley Bridge, where Toddbrook Reservoir was overtopped and another reservoir known as Adsheads Pools breached completely, the waters sweeping through the centre of the village of Hurdsfield.[8] The June 1930 flood was more serious for New Mills. Heavy rain over the area culminating in a cloudburst over Rowarth caused the River Sett to rise rapidly by up to 20 feet. Many properties on Brookside were flooded and destroyed and one rescuer was drowned. Hyde Bank Road was engulfed and buildings collapsed at Arnfield's foundry. At Rowarth, the remains of the Little Mill and the landlord of the Little Mill Inn were swept away. At Watford Bridge the river took away part of the printworks, and at Bate Mill gouged a new channel taking with it the sewage plant, 250 tons of coal, most of the road and the gas main. At Birch Vale, the problem was caused by the waters cascading down from Lantern Pike; the culvert being inadequate, the roadways became rivers washing away sections of walling. Much livestock perished.[7]

A model of the town under construction in 1884 can be found in New Mills Heritage and Information Centre.


New Mills' economy was originally built on agriculture, then coal mining and then cotton spinning and bleaching. There was a little weaving but cotton bleaching and calico printing continued into the second half of the twentieth century. The mills have now all closed. Today Swizzels Matlow, who make children's sweets, is a large employer.[9] The company transferred to New Mills from London during the Blitz and has remained ever since.[10] Well-known brands include 'Parma Violets', 'Refreshers', 'Drumstick' lollies and – perhaps most famously – Love Hearts.[9] Folk memory relates that children from local schools were often asked to test new sweet flavours that were created.

There is also a history of iron working, though this has ceased. Ironstone was also found in shales of the lower coal measures, and early water-powered charcoal furnaces were located at Jow-Hole furnace towards Furness Vale. In the nineteenth century, the Midland Iron Works occupied Barnes Mill in the Torrs; the Victoria Foundry was on Hyde Bank Road (among their products were gas lamp posts for the town council) as was the other small foundry in Wilde's scrapyard. On Albion Road in Newtown is John Hawthorn's foundry. There was also a brass foundry, on the site of the current Heritage Centre.[11]

Tourism was boosted in 1984 when the Torrs was reopened as a riverside park, and further when the spectacular Millennium Walkway opened in 1999, joining the two ends of the gorge.

The Plain English Campaign has its headquarters in the town.[12]

Sights of the town

The Millennium Walkway

New Mills sits atop The Torrs, a dramatic gorge through which the Rivers Goyt and Sett flow.

The Torrs Millennium Walkway, overlooking the mill, was built at a cost of £525,000 (almost half from the Millennium Commission) by Derbyshire County Council's in-house engineers. The walkway spans the otherwise inaccessible cliff wall above the River Goyt. Part rises from the riverbed on stilts and part is cantilevered off the railway retaining wall. It provided the final link in the 225-mile Midshires Way and was opened in April 2000.

Nestled in a bend of the Goyt is Torr Vale Mill, a Grade II* listed building.

Torrs Hydro

Torrs Hydro is a 2.4 feet-diameter "Reverse Archimedean Screw" micro hydroelectric scheme at the Torr Weir on the Goyt. It generates 70 kW of electricity. Nicknamed "Archie", it is owned by the community.[13] The electricity is supplied to the Co-operative supermarket, and any excess is fed back into the national grid.


  • One World Festival,[14] every June; a sort of eco- / music festival.


  • Cricket: New Mills Cricket Club
  • Golf: New Mills Golf Club, a members' club set on the top of the northerly hill overlooking the town, with views of Kinder Scout, Manchester and the Cambrian Mountains
  • Football: New Mills AFC ('The Millers')

There is a leisure centre, including a swimming pool, which opened in 1980.

Notable residents

Drunkard's Reform plaque
  • Thomas Handford—the plaque at the town's former prison tells it all:
'A working man, a teetotaler for ten years, who was formerly a notorious drinker and a notorious poacher has recently invested his sober earnings in the purchase of the town prison which he has converted into a comfortable dwelling house. Frequently an inmate of the prison whilst a drunkard and poacher, he is now owner of the whole and occupier of the premises. Thomas Handford 1854.'[6]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about New Mills)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Lewis, Steve. "Industrial Development in New Mills". Retrieved 29 November 2009. 
  2. "New Mills". Key to English Place Names. Institude for Name Studies, University of Nottingham. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  3. History - New Mills Local History Society
  4. Pigot and Co's Commercial Directory for Derbyshire [Rosemary Lockie]. Pigot and Co. 1835. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 
  5. Glover, Stephen (1831). The history and gazetteer of the county of Derby. p. 216. Retrieved 2009-11-26. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "New Mills". Discover Derbyshire and the Peak District. 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "The Great Floods of New Mills". Retrieved 13 March 2011. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Anon (22 June 1872). "Severe thunderstorm and floods: Loss of life and damage to property". Manchester Times. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Swizells Matlow literacy exercise
  10. "Our Story". Swizzels Matlow Ltd.. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  11. NMLHS Newsletter (15 ed.). New Mills Local History Society. Autumn 1995. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  12. Plain English Campaign website
  13. "Torrs Hydro New Mills Scheme". Torrs Hydro New Mills Ltd. Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  14. One World Festival