round robin · the silk romance

Abandoned: the empty mills of Yorkshire

This week I’m trying something new. I’m taking part in a Round Robin with several other authors, in which we all write an article on the same topic, and publish it on the same day. I’ve never written a post like this before, but I’m quite excited about it – especially about seeing what the other authors are going to write! (You’ll find their names and links below.)

Helena Fairfax

The theme we’ve been given is Abandoned. and as soon as I heard the topic, one subject immediately sprang to mind: the abandoned woollen mills in West Yorkshire in the north of England, where I live. If you live in West Yorkshire, you can’t fail to be affected by the sight of these glorious Victorian buildings, once hives of industry providing employment to hundreds of thousands of people, now empty and decaying shells. In the city of Bradford alone there were 300 mills, almost all of which have now fallen completely into disuse.

Helena Fairfax

In town after town across West Yorkshire you’ll come across buildings like the ones in my photos. I took these particular photos in the village of Marsden last week. In the grey mist of an autumn day in Yorkshire, the old mills look particularly forlorn and depressing, and even quite sinister, with their rusting pipework and smashed windows. Shrubs and ivy, and even young trees, have begun to reclaim the land where these proud mills once stood.

Right up until the 1970s, when fierce competition from the far East finally sounded the death knell for the Yorkshire woollen industry, these mills were thriving symbols of the region’s wealth. Some of the mills built in the nineteenth century were spectacular pieces of architecture. Mills such as Salt’s Mill, in the village of Saltaire, where I live.

abandoned 4
Salt's Mill and the Leeds-Liverpool canal
Salt’s Mill and the Leeds-Liverpool canal

Salt’s Mill almost followed the same fate as many hundreds of other mills across the region, but in the 1980s the abandoned mill building was rescued by wealthy entrepreneur Jonathan Silver, and it’s now a thriving cultural, commercial and retail centre. The village of Saltaire is now a UNESCO preserved site. I previously wrote a full post about the history of Salt’s Mill and Saltaire, with lots of photos, so feel free to check it out here!

Salts Mill.  Now a bookshop, gallery and offices
Salts Mill. Now a bookshop, gallery and offices
helena fairfax, freelance editor, yorkshire

The setting for my first contemporary romance, The Silk Romance, is the city of Lyon in France. I mention it here, because Lyon, too, was once a thriving textile centre, producing quality silk for countries around the world. Lyon’s silk mills have sadly followed a similar fate to the woollen mills in Yorkshire, and the silk-weaving district of the Croix-Rousse in Lyon is no longer the centre of the silk industry, but also a UNESCO preserved site.

Jean-Luc Olivier is the hero of The Silk Romance. I made him the owner of a modern-day silk mill, and I have him say these words to the heroine:

‘We have a saying that there are three rivers at the heart of Lyon. There’s the river Rhône, the river Saône, and there’s the river of tears left by the silk workers.’ He looked back down the traboule, past the sombre stones to the motes of dust swirling in the sunshine beyond. ‘Most of the mills in this city are closed. I intend to bring silks back to their rightful place in Lyon.’

I’m glad I was able to rescue an abandoned mill in Lyon, even if only in fiction.

So this is the end of my Round Robin post on the theme of Abandoned. Now I’m really looking forward to seeing how my author friends have tackled the theme. I hope you’ll join me, and check out the following sites.

In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed this post, and have any questions or comments at all, then please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Participating authors:

 Skye Taylor
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosnski
Marci Baun
Anne Stenhouse
Judith Copek
A.J. Maguire
Ginger Simpson
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin Courtright

20 thoughts on “Abandoned: the empty mills of Yorkshire

  1. Great post, Helena. We have many abandoned mill buildings in Scotland, too. Some are living industrial museums and some have been turned into housing. Lovely news about your paperback versions. congratulations, Anne Stenhouse


  2. I enjoyed your post Helena. Very informative. I bet it will be fun participating in the round robin. Congratulations on the Paperback too! Lynn Remmelgas


  3. Detroit in the state where I live has many decaying, abandoned structures: auto manufacturing plants, schools, churches, apartments, and office buildings, so I know how you feel seeing these mills. It almost seems like a crime, doesn’t it? Now metal scrapers have attacked many of these buildings stealing the iron, copper, and bronze railings, roofs, and structures within the buildings, even designated historical sites. Great post, thanks!


    1. Hi Rhobin, we have that problem here, too, with the people searching for scrap metal. They will take anything, even church roof tops. And here in the UK we’ve heard about the abandoned factories in Detroit. It’s a very similar thing, with an industry that once employed thousands, now suddenly collapsed. What a great shame for both our areas. Thanks so much for coming by with your great comment.


  4. Great post! I’m a Muse author originally from the West Riding. The post and pics brouht back memories for me. Val Adolph


  5. In our area, you don’t see a lot of abandoned buildings. I’m sure in the more industrial areas of Los Angeles, you might, but not where we live. Those old mills are beautiful and creepy. Turning them into housing or retail seems like an excellent idea.


    1. Hi Marci, that’s interesting what you say about where you live in LA. I always imagine Los Angeles to be a thriving area. I hope we can find a use for all our beautiful mills here in Yorkshire. Thanks very much for coming by, and your great comment!


  6. Thank you for this great post and the beautiful, haunting photos of the Yorkshire mills. I loved the quote in The Silk Romance about Lyon’s three rivers. I don’t know if I already told you that have another, far less romantic, saying about these three rivers. We say that the three rivers are the Rhône, the Saône and the Beaujolais wine! By the way the new Beaujolais (or Beaujolais nouveau) will be out in a few weeks’ time and it is always a big even in France, and particularly in Lyon.


    1. Oh I love your quote, Marie! I’d never heard that before. When I lived in Lyon I developed a taste for Côtes du Rhône and it’s still one of my favourite wines. I first had Beaujolais nouveau when I worked on a bar in Germany. I didn’t realise it should be kept chilled. The head waiter soon informed me of my mistake!! Thanks for your great comment!


  7. Enjoyed reading your post, Helena. We just returned from a 3 week tour of the UK. Drove through the area you talk about. Thanks for sharing.


    1. I saw your photos on Facebook, Cheryl. It looks like you had a great time! The weather here has been quite dry for quite a while, too, so I hope it was good to you whilst you were here. Thanks very much for your comment, and for coming by!


  8. What a nice posting, Helena. When I think of woolen mills of days gone by, they always seemed to be portrayed as places which hired and exploited children. Nevertheless, I like the way you presented them as an thriving industry with a noble past.


    1. Hi Allan, the mills could be grim places to work, and right up to 1918 they employed children as young as 12. But my father-in-law worked as a weaver all his life and they could also be a great community, and were a big part of the economy that is now sadly missed.
      Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your comment!


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