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Cottonopolis: The Salford Mills Survey

Cottonopolis: The Salford Mills Survey
12 March 2020

Maggy Simms talks about the Salford Mills Survey, Salford U3A's contribution to the Cottonopolis project


In the 19th Century, the production of cotton caused Manchester to grow rapidly as a city. This inspired the Greater Manchester Network of U3As' learning drive, 'Cottonopolis.' This umbrella concept covered several different learning projects.

The Idea of the Salford Mills Survey

Dr Mike Nevell, head of Salford University's Centre for Applied Archaeology (CAA) suggested that a mills survey would fill in an important gap in their field record. This led to the Salford Mills Survey, a project undertaken by ten members of Salford U3A. The proposal chimed with existing interests in Salford U3A's Local History Group, and their leader Mark Child coordinated their local research and fieldwork. The survey covered a total of twenty mills in the Salford area. The group also looked into the two families largely involved in the management of the factories, Ermen and Engels.

Finding the Information

Mark Child's Local History Group already had lots of personal local knowledge and experience. They then used the archives at Salford Library and digital resources such as archival maps from the National Library of Scotland website, the library's microfilms of local newspapers, and census material accessed via library access to Ancestry Online. They also went on outings to take up-to-date photos of sites.

Interesting Facts

The survey uncovered lots of interesting information, such as that the German philosopher, Friedrich Engels, worked in 'Ermen and Engels' thread mill to keep him out of trouble in Germany. It was here that he met Mary Burns, who became his partner. She was a mill-worker and, through her, Engels learnt about the state of the Manchester slums, which greatly impacted his future work. This information, and the new job, led to him teaming up with Karl Marx.

This wasn't the only encounter between a famous person and the mills; local artist LS Lowry also made sketches of the mills.

Silk was spun and woven in the middle of Eccles until the 1890s.

The Survey's Relevance

Salford grew separately but alongside Manchester and had an early textile industry that developed and changed over 200 years. From CAA's side, having U3A members involved is a way of crowd-funding research that would otherwise be too time-consuming to undertake. It also harnesses local knowledge, producing a body of material that becomes available to future researchers through the library.

The full survey can be read here.

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