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Armley Mills Industrial Museum

Location: Canal Road, Leeds
Features: Huge woollen mill - machinery on a giant scale
Facilities: Toilets, shop, picnic area
Entry Charges: Low
Website: Official Website

This is a wonderful little museum.Armley Mills Tucked away on Canal Road in Armley, it deserves to be far better known than it is, and because it seems to attrract so few visitors you have all the time in the world to marvel at some of the quite amazing exhibits. It's also thought provoking, because it catalogues the demise of the Leeds engineering industry, that has gone from world-beating to extinct in less than  a generation.

Before it closed and the council took it over in 1969, this was one of the largest woollen mills in the world. And it shows. This is a massive site, and there's no shortage of space to expand it further.

On arriving, the first thing to see is the Manager's house and the worker's cottage. These are kept locked, but an interpreter meets you as you buy tickets and takes you round. Now, I thought the interpreter's history was a bit dodgy, being far too influenced by the Victorian Social Reformers propaganda, but I'm probably being picky. The houses are nicely furnished and well worth a look.

Armley Mills - spinning mules After that you're free to wander round the museum unaided, but virtually the first thing you encounter is the "spinning mules". These are enormous machines that left me awestruck. Unfortunately they'd broken down when I visited on a "working weekend" so I couldn't see them in action.  Fortunately they had another interpreter to explain all about them, and it really was interesting.

That's the last of the interpreters. After that they have more vast weaving and spinning machinery including some monstrous jacquard looms. All in rooms so atmospheric it's brilliant.

On the floor below there's a good exhibition about the Leeds tailoring trade. That's all gone now, but just a few decades ago it was world-leading. My great-aunt spent her entire working life in the Burton's canteen on Hudson Road, and I worked at Hudson Road myself for a couple of years. And that brought home to me what's missing. This museum is about industries that have vanished within a working lifetime, but there are no personal testimonies. That's a shame because it would have added so much, and time's running out to collect them. 

Moving on, there's an exhibition about early cinema in Leeds, featuring Louis Le Prince who made some very early movies here. And there's a recreated cinema showing reels about local history. That was really good.

jack in steam On the ground floor, there's a really impressive collection of static engines, most of them made locally, and all of them made by firms that don't exist anymore. And having come back from the museum today, one of my favourite blogs featured a report by PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) explaining that manufacturing industry hasn't declined in the last 30 years, it's just become more productive. I don't know what world they're living in, but it's not the same one I am.

Also on the ground floor are the waterwheels, and a rather good selection of steam locomotives made by a whole bunch of companies in Leeds. Far more steam locos than I expected to see, and one of them, a small engine caled Jack was in steam - though you couldn't ride on it. Lots of them still need restoration, and the more engineering companies we lose, the less skilled men we'll have available to do that.

Shame there wasn't an exhibition about the war economy in Leeds, I know that Fowler's made tanks, Barnbow made ammunition (and tanks?), Burton's made uniforms, optical gunsights were made in harehills, Kirkstall Forge made axles and Greenwood & Batley presumably made ammunition as well. Now that would make a great exhibition, and there's still people alive who could provide living testimony to flesh it out. And I bet I haven't even touched on what was actually made.

Still, a great little museum with very friendly staff, and well worth a visit.


Pattern weaving 

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Comments (1)
Hello,we have just read your very infomative description of Armley Mills it was very interesting.My husband and i were both born in Leeds and have lived here all our lives.My late father worked at Barnbow and Fairbairn Lawson,Fowlers,and the Hunslet Engine Co.My husband used to work for Greenwood and Batleys and he informs me that at some point they made torpedeo's. Yes it a great shame that everything that could have been passed on to future generations seems now to have disappeared!Looking on the bright side of life the governmant is trying to bring back industry and apprenticeships.Thank you for your information.Kind regards Anne Richmond
posted by Anne Richmond 04/01/2012 12:18:27
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