Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the cotton industry was the cornerstone of industry and wealth for many towns and cities in Northern England. This is especially evident in the town of Atherton, which historically had at least half a dozen mills operating at one time.

Many of the mills have long since disappeared from the local landscape, such as the Lee Spinning Company’s Mill in Atherton, which was more commonly known as the Dan Lane Mill as it was located on Dan Lane, Atherton.


Early Years

1849 map
Dan Lane Mill seen here at the centre of this Ordnance Survey map of 1849. (Source:

Until the first few decades of the nineteenth century, nail making was one of the staple industries of Atherton and Chowbent sparrow-bill nails were famous throughout the township and wider locality. However by 1840 the cotton industry had began to form in the town on a small scale, mainly ran by individual manufacturers.

The Dan Lane mill was among one of the first mills to be constructed in the township, if not the first large spinning and doubling mill to be built in the town centre itself. It was built in the 1840s along Dan Lane (later renamed Tyldesley Road in 1899) just south of the market place and parish church. The map above shows that by 1849 it was already well established and occupied a large site including two reservoirs to provide power.

The map above also shows that the mill in this early time period was known as “Soho Mills”. According to the trade directories of the 1840/50s, the mill was operated by Joseph Stansfield and sons who had other cotton mill in Little Hulton near Bolton. By the mid-1850s the Stansfield connection with the Soho Mill is lost and in 1855 The Bolton Chronicle lists it for sale or to be let. It features a 30 horse-power engine, eighty power looms, mill gearing and more.

Lee Spinning Company

By the end of the decade the Mill has changed hands and in 1859 there as a boiler explosion there which left two dead and several injured. In 1864 the mill, now known as the Dan Lane Mill (but in 1869 the mill was referred to as’ Higher Mill’) and it was under the control of Thomas Lee who later founded the Lee Spinning Company in the same decade. The company was also partnered with the Tootal firm which is still exists today.

Thomas Lee (1819-1895) was a successful cotton manufacturer and a prominent citizen. He resided at Alder House and for a time he was chairman of the Atherton Local Board. He laid the foundation stone for St. John the Baptist church in 1878 and Lee Street, which ran off Dan Lane and bordered his mill, was named in his honour.

An aerial view of the Dan Lane Mills, 1929 The photograph also shows Hamilton Street on the left and Southbank, the Mill managers house (centre, bottom left). (Source:

There was a prosperous period for cotton spinning in the late 1870s and in 1881 there was extensive additions made to the mill. In June 1871 the mill was set on fire by terrible thunderstorms that caused havoc across the locality. The 1891 Directory for Leigh shows that the Dan Lane Mill was actually only the third largest mill in Atherton at the time with only 50,000 spindles. It also reveals that the company had a warehouse at 56 Mosely Street, Manchester and the employees of the mill were paid on the last Friday of the month.

Around 1902 another addition was built onto the mill and it was here that tragedy took place. This building faced Lee Street (it is the long triangular building in the photograph above) and was situated behind Southbank, the mill managers house (see

The 1911 Disaster

On Thursday September 21st 1911 at 1:47pm, a nine foot long section of pipe connected to the boiler burst. The scalding hot steam was released directly into the cop winding room in which many women were working, having just returned from their lunch break twenty minutes before.

Naturally a panic ensued, one lady Elizabeth Spiers was badly scalded and fell in the doorway, blocking the route of exit and was trampled in the desperation to flee. There was nine women who were severely injured in the pipe explosion, six of whom sadly died.

Some of the victims of the Dan Lane Mill Disaster, 1911. (L-R: Alice A. Fairclough, Elizabeth Spiers, Emily Annie, Boardman, Hannah Makinson, Beatrice Kay) (Source: Leigh Journal, 29 September 1911)

The victims were:

– Emily Annie Boardman, aged 26, married, two children
– Alice Ann Fairclough, aged 34, single
– Beatrice Kay, aged 18, single (youngest victim)
– Hannah Makinson, aged 28, single
– Hannah McCool, aged 27, married, one daughter
– Elizabeth Spiers, aged 47, married, one son (1911 census records her name as “Spires)

Fortunately three women; Alice Ann Landers, Ann Shepard and Margaret Tickle survived their injuries.

There was a formal investigation held at Manchester Town Hall in October 1912, as part of the conditions of the Boiler Explosion Acts of 1882 and 1890. The board found no blame as far as the company was concerned and therefore there was no costs. The report makes no mention of what happened to the victims families or the survivors, in fact it even mixes up the names of the victims with those who survived and this perhaps is a prime example of the Edwardian’s attitude towards poor, working class women.

The Declining Years

A 1930s postcard of the Dan Lane Mills. It was produced by the company’s Foreign Department in Manchester and it was posted in Sweden! (Source: Own Collection, 2016)

The conclusion of the Second World War saw a definite decline in the cotton industry and business in the North West slumped. By the 1960s the mill had ceased producing cotton and had been to split into units, which produced various things including: adhesives, lamps, pre-packed coal, toys and waterproof material. There was an explosion at the mill in January 1967.

The site was purchased in the mid-1980s and much of the mill demolished, with the only exception being the Lee Street part of the mill where the 1911 disaster happened. A supermarket was built on the site, Hillards which was eventually bought and developed by Tesco.

The last remaining part of Dan Lane Mill stood empty for several years. In 2012 some youths started a fire inside which made the structure unstable. It was partly demolished in 2013 and then it was left to rot as a sad reminded of Atherton’s lost industrial past. It was finally completely demolished in 2014 and the site now is vacant, sometimes used a car park. Sadly the 1911 disaster is a forgotten and largely unknown event and another part of the heritage of Atherton has disappeared into the history books.

Dan Lane Mill, partly demolished, 2013 (Source: Own Photograph, 2013
The same view in 2016. All that remains of the mill is the white brick wall at the rear of this photograph. (Source: Own Photograph, 2016)















  • Trade Directories:
  • Old Maps:
  • Aerial Views:
  • Biographical Information:
  • The Bolton Chronicle, 8 June 1855 – Bolton Archives
  • Dundee Advisor, 23 June 1871 –
  • Leigh Journal, 29 September 1911 – Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
  • Leigh Chronicle, 29 September 1911 – Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
  • Wigan Observer,  23 September 1911 – Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
  • “Explosion of a cast-iron pipe at the Lee Spinning Company’s Mill, Atherton, Near Manchester (No.2164)” (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1912)
  • “Atherton: A Manorial, Social and Industrial History” by John Lunn (Atherton: Urban District Council, 1971)