From the late 18th century, Britain boomed in an era known as ‘The Industrial Revolution.” The growth in exporting products to markets in Europe and the Americas, combined with faster methods of transportation and new technology to manufacture items saw an explosion in various industries in the UK.
Textiles were one of those materials that became part of this growth. Materials for clothing were one of the largest exports, and Yorkshire and its neighbouring counties were at the heart of that. Cities such as Leeds grew as more work became available, and factories amd mills popped up everywhere.
The mill here at Armley was one of the biggest in Britain. It employed hundreds of people and it expanded many times over the centuries.
There has been a mill on this site since around the 1600s. Obviously, it started off small, but soon started to grow.
Rivalry became fierce too, as everyone wanted to benefit in the boom. It is known that a fierce rival firm from Sheffield bought a piece of land beside the Armley Mill, purely just to prevent the current owners from expanding their factory further.
A fire destroyed the building in the early 1800s, leading to the future mayor of Leeds, Benjamin Gott rebuilding the mill in 1805. Details of the fire are hard to find, so it is unclear whether this was accidental or deliberate, or even what the cost to human life was.
Sadly, working conditions were poor too. The mill owners employed children from the ages of 6 up. This was because they were cheap to pay, and also because they were small, so could easily crawl under machinary to clean out the pieces of fabric left from the machines. These roles were known as ‘scavengers’. Sadly, many children were caught up in accidents, causing death and severe injury.
Given the long working days too, with many shifts being up to 16 hours per day, usually without a substantial break, you can see why fatigue could easly lead to a loss of concentration, causing an accident to happen. This is why so many children worked here, because they could easily be replaced.
Timing was key. In an industry where workers had to meet very strict targets, the machines wouldn’t slow down for anybody. If the scavenger mistimed it, then would become trapped, and possibly crushed.
There are accident reports of some horrific injuries and deaths. A 6 year old girl had her leg cut off and was never able to work again, while another 13 year old girl’s hair got trapped in the machine, scalping her in the process.
George Dyson, aged 13, had been working in the factory for over 6 years, and was already experienced. However, his leg was ripped off by the thigh when a machine went straight over the top of him. He was carried away, but bled to death within minutes.
James Philips’s case was one of the worst, simply because of the cruelty behind it. He had raised his arm to ask if he could have a rest and use the toilet. His request was refused and he was told to carry on working. He soon became severely ill, and died later that day. In a later court case, one of the managers, a man called Mark Best gave evidence, and claimed that children often had whip marks on them, and belts were often used as punishment.
Deaths occured throughout this building’s history. The most recent example I uncovered in my research was that of a man found in the 1960s by a colleague. He was suspended in some machinery, his legs still twitchingdespite an instant death inflicted from a neck injury.
Conditions were so bad that it was not just physical injuries that took people’s lives here. Because of dark working conditions and lack of light, mixed with poor posture from working conditions, rickets, scurvy and anaemia were common.
Archeologists found the remains of several children buried below a carpark at the Victoria Shopping Centre. This was the former site of the Ebenezer chapel between 1797 and 1848. The bones revealed growth problems of the 13 bodies recovered. A 10 year old child, actually had the skeletal size of a 6 year old. All were believed to have worked in factories within Leeds.
So why did parents let their 6 year olds go to work in these death traps? Money.Most of these families relied on every penny they could earn just to eat, so having a child old enough to bring a tiny bit of extra income was a huge help. It also goes to show that many of these youngsters would go home to a life of poverty, then be back to a life of hell the next morning.
Paranormal reports in this building are rife. A school visit in the early 2000s saw a primary school teacher called Mrs Elaine Cowling have to leave the building because of what she described as “a heavy oppresive weight” forcing her shoulders down.
Daytime guests have reported seeing a man in a top hat and a suit, watching them from the staircases. He is one of Armley’s most seen ghosts. Nobody knows who he is, but his description resembles that of a master.
A woman asking for there whereabouts of her child is also common. When she is told by the witness that they do not know where her child is, she fades away. This type of haunting is quite stereotypical, but worth investigating.
The sound of children talking is also well told amongst staff, especially those working in the building when it is closed to the public. A child is also reported to tug on people’s clothes. Some say they see the child when they look down, others say they feel the tug but see nothing around them.
Paranormal groups often report footsteps and bobbins being thrown around. The footsteps is something I heard during my investigation, and I was amazed when someone commented on the video to say that they had also been on an investigation here and heard footsteps in the exact same area.
Its often reported by other teams that have investigated this building before, that the cinema room is very active. This was not original to the building (workers did not have access to nice things like a cinema whilst at work!), but it has been taken from a former cinema in Leeds and reconstructed here so that educational videos can be shown at the museum during visits.
The museum at Armley has been based inside the former mill building since 1982, and is run by Leeds Council. The building is quite large, and consists of 3 floors of exhibits, ranging from an area showing how the factory would have looked, to exhibitions of some of the other industries within Leeds, such as film and entertainment.
I do mention in the video that machinery on display may not be original to the original factory here. When the mill closed in 1969, it was emptied of all machinary and left abandoned until it reopened in 1982 as a museum. The machines you will see on display are real, but have been sourced from various locations to create the displays.
Today, the building has other function rooms too, such as a kitchen, cafateria, and meeting rooms. It is quite likely these areas were also part of the main factory, so I see no reason why paranormal groups shouldn’t incorporate these areas into their investigation too…things may have occured here!