Todmorden Antiquarians: Last speaker of the season

The Weaver's Cottage Museum in Rawtenstall, renovated by Rossendale Civic Trust
The Weaver's Cottage Museum in Rawtenstall, renovated by Rossendale Civic Trust

At Todmorden Antiquarians’ last speaker meeting of this season, our chairman Catherine Emberson welcomed Kathy Fishwick, of Rossendale Civic Trust, to tell of “Weaver’s Cottages in North-East Lancashire”.

Kathy described households struggling to support their families from sheep rearing and producing woollen cloth on domestic looms during times when life was hard. During the 1500s, work was split into separate skills of spinning and weaving just one thread at a time, until improving technical innovations such as the “spinning jenny” aided their workload ~1750. Times moved on until the four-poster handloom with shuttles lifting threads enabled more cloth pieces to be woven. Kathy’s comprehensive knowledge included descriptions of the “spinning jenny” invention by James Hargreaves and business man, John Kaye of Bury, patenting the “flying shuttle”. Family loom-shops produced cloth pieces for market alongside their hard-graft farming work.

From ancient packhorse routes to horse and cart tracks to wheeled vehicles along toll roads by the 1790s, Kathy described evolving transport links across the Pennines, each leading to greater trading. Rapid economic and cultural changes occurred from 1700. The construction of canals and the later railways served to bring more people into this area. The wool weavers and spinners were glad to put their own many children to work, even in the huge mills when steam power was introduced. Gauxholme illustrates a warehouse medley where roads, rail and canal met.

The 19th century brought population explosion with urban industrialisation.

There are many weaver’s cottages still to be seen and, in estate agent “speak”, they are most desirable. Nowadays, many are listed buildings. Kathy described their detailed architectural features, with supporting pictures. Windows for natural light were crucial. Often two-storey cottages were built upwards to form a large, light third-storey. Weaver’s cottages often appear terraced, but each differ as it became added to the next and most stretch along old trade routes, a local example being Square Road in Walsden. Kathy showed extensions to houses, some with taking-in doors, outdoor steps, extended loom-shop spaces and more. Some Yorkshire weaver’s cottages made use of hillsides so the “taking-in” was highest uphill. The Weaver’s Cottage Museum at Rawtenstall (opposite the cricket ground) was an 18th century loom-shop and is open at weekends and bank holidays. It once belonged to Richard Ashworth. The building has multi-range mullioned windows catching maximum south-facing light and once stood at busy crossroad tracks.

The council nearly demolished it, but Rossendale Civic Society saved and restored the buildings.

Todmorden Antiquarian Society will hold its AGM for members on Tuesday, May 9 at 7.30pm.