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Rylands Mill Gem

Rylands Mill Gem

Built by John Rylands at a cost of £150,000, it was deemed the most expensive of its time (1863). It was so glamorous that the Earl of Derby commented it “a pleasure to see”.
As explained in an earlier article on Eckersley Mill, Rylands Mill was also casualty to cheap imports and died a slow death in textiles. A few businesses occupied the building over time such as Great Universal Stores, but the more lengthy ownership belonged to Wigan & Leigh College who annexed the building and this became known as the Pagefield Building back in 1985.
Deemed unsuitable for modern learning, a new building was proposed on the site of the current carpark (a large site which existed less than ten years). When this was completed, Rylands Mill once again became vacant in 2007 and has remained the same ever since.
I am greatly pleased I had such an adventurous outlook to local history when I was younger with Rylands Mill a hugely popular spot for us all at the weekends when the college was quiet. At that time of adventure seeking, the mill itself didn’t really appeal but its attached lodge certainly did. Abandoned since the days the mill was in production, all of the original fixtures and fittings could be seen and served as a great interest to us and fed our intrigue in to what exactly how they functioned. Only as I got older and I met people with such knowledge did I learn of those functions and became to realise the true age of these pieces of equipment, standing the test of time as good old British casting would. Sluice gate, piping for drawing the water, an industrial archaeologists dream with so much originality intact.
The main feature to us as roaming kids was the bridge over the lodge, the cast iron girders supporting the railway and all resting upon the huge stone blocks submerged in the water. A couple are subsiding at the moment. We made a point of getting on here each weekend and even some nights when it was warm and just sit in the middle, that’s after negotiating the really dodgy woodwork on the way and having to change directions aplenty. There was a great steel sheet in the middle to sit on and be bothered by nobody. To do this now there would be an outcry, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it in the age we live in. Once again as I got older, I learned the need for this railway and have yet to find a mill similar to this with such an engineering feat of a railway over the lodge. It's journey continued on to the weighbridge by the chimney and in to the shed.
Another regular haunt were the air raid shelters under the staff carpark, trench shelters actually, and had a capacity of 750. An adventurer’s paradise once again but sadly vandalised over the years and also filling from above ground blocked many of the passages, so who knows exactly how expansive they were?
As my knowledge increased owing to my passionate interest, so did my appreciation for the mill’s architecture. I find it difficult to find another building to rival the work of Bolton’s George Woodhouse here with splendid pattern work along the frontage, a huge thanks to Wigan & Leigh College who had it re-pointed and cleaned to a high order. None of the remaining sides were restored. The chimney unfortunately did not receive the same attention either and has fading pattern work in the same style as the mill and a large but filled in crack. The later building of Mesnes Park on the doorstep complimented the mill’s architecture and created a fine blend of industrial and green space.
An interesting observation would be the huge plates attached to certain points of the mill, reinforcements if you like. They would have rods coming out of the back, running through the mill and meeting up at the other end to another plate. At certain point throughout the building you could see the smaller plates with the rods attached. These were needed due to the well-known coal workings beneath and risk of subsidence.
A site for sore eyes from Buckley St, a site of beauty from Mesnes Park and beyond (ignoring the glass frontage!). It would be fantastic should the mill receive a full restoration of its brickwork and bring out the splendid work of Woodhouse in its true glory.

Andrew Lomax



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