Tyldesley, in Greater Manchester, is a town that was built on the industries of coal mining and cotton weaving. Unlike its neighbouring towns and villages, such as Atherton, Leigh and Astley there are no physical reminders of these great industries in Tyldesley but little clues like “Factory Street” reveal the towns heritage.
Today the street is a typical quiet street of residential housing, with the exception of the local swimming baths, The Pelican Centre, located at one end. However from the late 18th century this street was a site of industry, Thomas Johnson established a steam powered woolen mill here in 1792. Throughout the nineteenth century this street was at the very heart of Tyldesley’s booming cotton industry and it was home to James Burton and his family, a successful mill owner and industrialist.
The amazing photograph above from c.1860s shows Burton House, which as you can see from the photograph was built on a bizarre angle, with one side facing the street and the other facing a private garden. In the background you can see the chimneys and mill buildings. Also in the foreground on the left, are some women stood against a wall.
James Burton’s story begins in Clitheroe, where he was born in 1784. In 1828 he moved with his wife Alice and their children; Edward, James, Oliver, Frederick and Alice Jane to Tyldesley, where Burton entered a partnership with the Jones brothers. Within just a decade he was in charge of Tyldesley Mill (or New Mill) which adjoined the property on Factory Street/Castle Street.
A year later in 1839 he built his own cotton spinning mill, Atherton Mill which was powered by the Hindsford Brook. This was subsequently followed by Lodge Mill (built 1853), Field Mill (1856) and Westfield Mill (1860). The Ordnance Survey map below published in 1849 shows Factory Street including Tyldesley Mill and Burton House and also Atherton Mill.
This vast empire of mills set the firm Burton and sons apart from the rest and they controlled much of the industry in the town at that time. James Burton also owned 74 cottages and 57 cellars in which his workers lived. However, Burton lived in the very centre of his cotton empire, adjoining his workers and he did not retreat to the more rural parts of the town with cleaner air. This can be seen in census records, where the wealthy Burton family are listed with their servants alongside their neighbours who work as spinners or weavers.
The Burton family enjoyed a privileged lifestyle that was a new phenomenon in the nineteenth century. Previously only the gentry would have held positions of power or had their social lives recorded in the local press. However, the industrial revolution created a new class of wealthy industrialists who had access to a comfortable lifestyle. James Burton held the position of a County Magistrate during the 1860s and the local newspaper, The Leigh Chronicle, regularly featured the names of the Burton family attending civic events, balls and dances, flower shows as well as recording any births, marriages and deaths within the family. The newspaper reports also reveal James Burton often generously donated his money to local charities.
In 1868 James Burton died and was buried at St. George’s Church in Tyldesley and the business was succeeded by his sons Oliver, Edward and Frederick. By the time Edward Burton died in 1913 his estate was valued at £29003/17s/3d (well over £2.5 million in modern currency).
The Burton family eventually left Tyldesley in the late nineteenth century, but Burton House remained a family home. In 1891 retired cotton mill manager John Hardman was residing there with his wife Alice, daughter (also named Alice) and a maid. In 1911 the Wynne Family were living in the ten-roomed Burton House. Head of the family, Robert Wynne was a house painter by trade, although his employed others to work with him. In 1926 operatic soprano singer Eileen O’Dare was living at Burton House.
However, by the 1920s the cotton industry in Lancashire was in decline and it was no longer the prosperous venture as it had been a century earlier. In 1919 Burton’s Mill were sold for £550,000 (about £22 million in modern terms) and this was at a profit of £150,000.Yet just a few years later, they were bought by the Scottish Textile Trust Ltd for only £42,000 (about £2.3 million in modern terms). Speaking later in 1930 Alexander Young, a company promoter said:
” It [Burton Mills] had been hawked all over the country and could not be sold. There were three auction sales in London and Manchester.”
Therefore in 1926, some 98 years after James Burton first arrived in Tyldesley his house and his mills were stripped and demolished, with the exception of parts of Atherton Mill which survived as part of Ward and Goldstones, an electrical firm, until the 1990s. Over the course of the twentieth century the homes of Burton’s workers were also demolished. Tyldesley Mill, at the top of Factory Street was replaced with a cinema and billiards hall (a sign of the changing times) in the post-World War One years and the land where Burton House stood was left vacant until modern properties were constructed on the site. Today it is only little street signs such as ‘Factory Street’ that reveal Tyldesley’s long lost industrial history.
- John Lunn, ‘ A Short History of the Township of Tyldesley’ (Manchester, Co-Operative Wholesale Limited, 1953)
- Leigh Chronicle, various years c.1850s-1890s
- The Stage, 29 July 1926, p.26
- The Scotsman, 25 October 1930