William Midgley 1758-1834, Martin B. Gillett. "William's descendants believe that he made his fortune by walking to Witney as a youth, with just a shilling in his pocket and a few possessions (including a shuttle), tied up in a handkerchief. At Witney he earned enough money to buy a bale of wool. Such was his skill with the shuttle that he was mobbed as a wizard and had to be locked up for his own safety while he was weaving. He later returned to Rochdale with the money to build Buersill House [see below] on land purchased from Samuel Greenwood, a fellow Quaker and woollen merchant, formerly of Langfield, Todmorden. It was an impressive three-storey stone house which had 'W A M 1797' (standing for William & Alice Midgley) inscribed on a downspout. There were extensive gardens with a sun dial, an adjoining three-storey woollen warehouse (backing onto Turnhill Road) and a coach-house and stables.

William became a successful woollen merchant and by 1800 was one of the eight main employers A mug painted about 1914 by Arthur Midgley of a crest crossed keys wards down. of hand-loom weavers in Rochdale. In 1802, he formed a business partnership at Hanging Road Mill, Wardleworth with two fellow Quakers. William bought land and buildings including a large house, cottages, barn and crofts between Turn Hill and Fish Bridge# in 1805. He bought Buersill Farm and the 'Broomy Turnhill' meadows from James Hamer in 1807, these having previously been owned by the Taylors. In 1810, he added the Fish Bridge Estate, bringing his estate to over 160 acres. It included '4 orchards, 2 barns, 2 stables, 40 acres of land, 30 acres of meadow, 30 acres of moor, 30 acres of moss and common turbary' and it extended to Badger Lane".
Click here for a Word Document in a zipped file of the Quaker Midgleys' of Rochdale..

"Quaker Diaries record that William had a mill by Buersill Fold. In 1811, Samuel Crompton prepared a petition to Parliament for a grant in recognition of his invention of the spinning mule. In support of this he compiled a list of mill owners using his mules. William Midgley was one of only seven in Rochdale and he had 1,932 of Crompton's mules2.

                                                    Background to the Lancashire Cotton Industry

In 1764 James Hargreaves [b. Standhill nr. Blackburn, d. 1778]  invented the "Spinning Jenny" . This machine had the effect of increasing the spinning production of yarn which had fallen behind the rate of weaving since the invention of Kay's "Flying-shuttle". Hargreave's  house, "The Hall-in-the -Wood",  was set on fire by weavers concerned about their livelihoods and he had to flee to Nottingham. Shortly after the invention of the Spinning Jenny, Richard Arkwright of Preston in 1769 invented the "Water Frame".
These inventions set the scene for Samuel Crompton [b. 1783 near Bolton, d. 1827]
who invented the "Mule" about 1789-80 after about five years of experimentation. The mule was a mechanised combination of the Spinning Jenny and the Water Frame. The Mule produced fine and strong yarn  which allowed fine cottons and muslins to be manufactured. Crompton was not in a position to patent his mule but after many requests from inquisitive weavers he exhibited the machine in Manchester. His 'lack of pence' and entreprenurial acumen allowed others to prosper from his machine. The Mule was driven by water power in 1790 and by steam soon after. By 1825 the Mule had been made self actuating by Richard Roberts.
The cotton industry was a much more recent development than the woollen industry and thus saw the first advances in treating yarns, it was not until 1850, thirty years after cotton, that the wool industry was fully mechanised.7

His cotton spinning mill was on Sudden Brook, near where Robert Hartley's Cart & Wagon Works and then Butterworths Joiners were later sited. William's son, John, was in charge of the mill in1818. Rakewood Cotton Mill was built in 1814 by William and John Midgley. Their 43 employees worked six 12-hour days per week.3 The Midgleys also bought Tenterhouse Mills at Norden for fulling and bleaching. William was a well known figure in Rochdale, having been the largest subscriber to the building of the new Rochdale Friends Meeting House in 1808. He was a close friend of fellow Quakers, Jacob and John Bright and James King of Moss Mill. He laid out £4,000 in a mortgage on the 1825 Manchester and Austerlands Turnpike (Oldham Road) and also had shares in the Rochdale and Lancaster canals.

As a woollen merchant, William employed 600 hands who made a total of around 350 woollen Buersill House, 1797-1937. Martin B. Gillett. pieces a week. His weaving was given out mainly to 'little farmers' and he also farmed his Buersill Estate. Being one of the major merchants he exported the finished pieces direct from the port of Liverpool. In 1812, he petitioned Parliament on behalf of his workers.4 Wages had fallen by 30% and the cost of food had risen. Workers were surviving on oatcake, oatmeal porridge (oats being a popular crop in Rochdale, not needing much sun!) and potatoes and they hardly ever saw meat. He urged Parliament to send relief to ease their hardship. He had 7,000 pieces of flannel, valued at £20,000, stockpiled in his warehouse at Turn Hill because business had declined due to the Napoleonic War trade embargoes and other factors. He referred to Buersill as the 'village' and would give out sixpences as a gesture of kindness rather than buy drinks, which was against his Quaker principles. He was known as a generous man but his wife, formerly Alice Butterworth of Moorbank Farm, was very thrifty".

Burtterworth of Belfield Coat of Arms

Note: The Butterworths' of Belfield had the Butterworth arms in chief dexter. The Buerdsall ["Birdshill"] coat of arms is in chief  which is represented by three bird bolts, the inclusion of which, resulted from the marriage of  Barnard Butterworth to Elizabeth Buerdsall.

Notes by Joseph Wood, a Yorkshire Quaker 1750-1821, which make numerous mentions of William Midgley of Buersil and his son James of Springhill here: PDF Transcribed by Pamela Coosey.

Spring Hill House, 1807-1948. Martin B. Gillett. "In 1807, William built Spring Hill House for his son James, who was the eldest of five sons and two daughters. Spring Hill had its own estate, formed out of William Midgley's purchases. Its original carriageway was from William's warehouse in Turn Hill. James Midgley married Martha Haworth of Shuttleworth Hall*, Whalley on 27th January 1808. He was 22, of tall stature and had just finished his seven-year apprenticeship to his father, having learnt the 'trade mystery of making flannels and bazes' (Robin Midgley, a descendant of William, still has the rare original indenture dated 18th September1800). Arthur Midgley's rendering of the Haworth crest painted on a mug ca. 1914.
The wedding party arrived at the recently completed Spring Hill House (where the plaster was still damp) 'amid great cold' and as the front door was frozen solid they had to use the kitchen entrance. Fortunately the servants had a roast hare at the fire, ready for the wedding guests' supper. James and Martha had seven children at Spring Hill, some of whom went as infants to William Hassall's School at Balderstone Hall. William Midgley used to put his single horse chaise at the disposal of Friends for journeys over Blackstone Edge. Guests often stayed at both Buersill House and Spring Hill House and on these occasions James's children would sleep in the warehouse. In the History of Rochdale, 1828 William Midgley esq. near Rochdale, John Midgley esq. of Deplish Hill and Mr. James Midgley of Springhill were described as subscribers.


William Midgleys' warehouse.

In it the woollen pieces were laid on long tables for inspection by the overlookers and then stored according to length of fleece. One large room was divided into great stalls with a narrow walkway along the bottom. Wool was often piled high to the ceiling and every stall had a trap door, opening from above, down which the wool could be shot. This room was the children's favourite! They would jump through the trap door upon the wool, rioting among it and sliding down onto the floor below. If uncle John caught them he would turn a blind eye but not Uncle William!

At Spring Hill, there were chimneys and skylights above the servants' rooms and attics. The glass Spring Hill Farm Barn 1817-1970, David D. Pollitt. topped coach-houses at the rear appeared to pre-date the house, suggesting that William built on the site of a previous house. A spring bubbled up into a stone trough in the floor of the extensive cellars and at first this was the only water supply for the house. Servants toiled up the steps with jugs of water. James farmed the Spring Hill Estate and a barn inscribed 'W M (?) 1817' was built along with a shippon at Turn Hill. David Pollitt's drawing of 1961 [right] captures something of the atmosphere of the former Buersill and Spring Hill estates. By 1850, there was a water pump and other wells in the fields near what later became Crompton Avenue. There was also an important 'Well House' in the middle of what is now Craiglands. Remains of the old flag wall by the path which led to it are still visible between the playing fields and the first houses of Craiglands.

William Midgley died a wealthy man in 1834, but sadly his will became a source of contention. As eldest son, James was to have inherited the Buersill Estate, John to have had Spring Hill and Thomas and William the Tenterhouse Mills, Tenterhouse House, 5 cottages and property by 'Doctor Dam', Norden (the fifth son, Joseph, had died aged 10). There were also major bequests to his wife and only surviving daughter, Lucy. This was William's 'will' and it seemed fair enough but difficult to implement, due to a clause stating that if any son got more than a quarter of the property it was to be 'charged and chargeable' and two valuations had to be obtained for the three main lots. John, who had married Mary Holt and farmed 31 acres at Deeplish Hill, formerly owned by the Holts, chose to contest the proposed settlement and persuaded his younger brothers to support him. Brothers Thomas and William also worked in the family mills. According to James's descendants, William's sons John, Thomas and William were 'all more or less unsatisfactory, and addicted to company and amusements, more fond of foxhunting and coursing than business and would give up whatever they were about to follow the hounds when they came near Rochdale'.

James Midgley (drawn by his son Henry) appeared to have been badly served by lawyers and was about to forgo the Buersill Estate to John, when the latter died suddenly in 1836. William James Midgley 1786-1852, Martin B. Gillett.junior carried on the fight on behalf of John's family but he died in 1838. In 1839, the Tenterhouse lot was up for sale with enquiries to Mr. Midgley of Spring Hill and Thomas Midgley of Buersill House. John Midgley's son, William Holt Midgley inherited the Buersill Estate on his 21st birthday in 1847. James was saddened by the dispute but stayed on at Spring Hill, where his family were settled. He was keen to see a railway pass through Buersill and in 1845 had subscribed £13,200 in an unsuccessful bid to form the Rochdale, Heywood and Manchester Atmospheric Railway.

James Midgley, James King and Richard Hurst all had carriages in the huge procession to celebrate the passing of the Bill repealing the Corn Laws on 8th July 1846. The procession took 1 hour 35 minutes to pass any one point, having started at 10 a.m. from John Bright's factories at  Cronkeyshaw. In 1849, James's daughter Martha married John Cash and six carriages left Spring Hill in procession for the Friends Meeting House (reference in Kershaw Diary). James's eldest John Rylands Library. daughter, Elizabeth, was a well known Quaker minister and the last of the family to leave Spring Hill, selling it to Richard Hurst in 1862. James Midgley's extensive collection of rare early Quaker books and tracts is on permanent loan to the  John Rylands Library Manchester University.

The Midgleys were important figures in Buersill, but they were by no means the only flannel manufacturers or merchants, nor were all the local people weaving for them. The Day Book of Crimble Mill recorded weavers doing 'piece work' for them in Buersill in 1789. Mary Hart and Benjamin Dawson were flannel manufacturers of Buersill Grove in 1844, as was James Taylor in 1858. Abraham Butterworth was a fustian cutter and James Greenhalgh a fustian jacket maker".

Text file of Midgley of Rochdale I.G.I.
Midgley of Rochdale 1881 census [text file1]
Midgley of Rochdale 1881 census [text file 2]

1. Haynes Hannah, Tipper David A., De Balderstone II, Oak Press, Rochdale, 1994*.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid
4. Photographs of painted mugs by kind permission of Jim Palmer.
5. Photographs by Martin B.Gillett where indicated.[Martin's mother is a Midgley]
6. Roberts, D.W. An Outline of Economic History of England, Longman, Green & Co., 1931.
7. Shuter P., et al., Skills in History-Revolution, Heinemann, 1989. 

8. Gregson's Fragments, 1824, p. 291.

* Copies of this book can be purchased by making enquiries to :

Hannah M. Haynes
45, Craiglands
Rochdale, Lancashire OL164RD
Tel: +070631024

The Arthur Midgley loving cup

# Fish Bridge - "A Francis Milne had lived at Fish Bridge in 1669 and a Thomas Chadwick in 1739. John Chadwick built two cottages on the land, which were later combined and became beer-house, brewhouse and cottage by 1866. Standley Howarth was the beer retailer in 1858, when it was known as the Sticklemakers' Arms. The cottage on one side was of a similar age being owned by Miss Howard in the 1830s. Six old threestorey cottages in Spring Hill grounds opposite the end of Turf Hill Road were modified and became 136-140 Broad Lane, remaining until 1954".1

* Shuttleworth Hall, Altham: Shuttleworth Hall was listed as a Yeoman Farmers house of the early 1600's. George and Martha Haworth of Shuttleworth Hall emigrated to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania,USA, where there is a recording of their son John Haworth's marriage to Mary Norton on the 17th November 1772.

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© Copyright Tim Midgley extract  scanned1 and corrected from a copy of an extract from De Balderstone II, kindly provided by Jim Palmer, August 2002. Internal links revised July 2023.