Black Rock Water Wheel and Packhorse Bridge

Situated by the side of a country road on the outskirts of a local village just over five miles from home is the Black Rock water wheel. Although not that far from home I wasn’t previously aware of it as I wouldn’t normally travel along that road but on the way back from a recent visit to Bleakholt animal sanctuary I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to vary my route home and that’s when I came across the wheel.
Dating back to the mid 19th century the wheel was originally situated on the site of a late 17th century corn mill and water wheel in the hamlet of Turton Bottoms, a mile down the road from its current location. The corn mill had been built to replace a much earlier mill and it operated until 1831 before being converted to a cotton spinning mill, then in 1853 the owner at the time, William Rostron, replaced the original wooden water wheel with this cast iron one measuring 6ft wide and almost 14ft in diameter. The mill subsequently changed hands and was run by Henry Leigh until 1859 when it was taken over by John Lord and Henry Hamer who saw it safely through the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861-65.

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Alongside the cotton mill was a printworks, bleachworks and an iron foundry and in 1890 the whole of the site was converted to a bleaching and dyeing operation under the direction of Frederick Whowell who renamed the place Black Rock Works. In 1901 James Hardcastle and Co Ltd took charge of the site and the cast iron water wheel stayed in use until it was retired in 1917, though it was left in place in its wheel pit. The Bleachers’ Association, which had been formed in 1900, eventually took over the Black Rock mill complex and it was last operated in the 1950s as a bleach and print works.
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In 1963 the Bleachers’ Association was reformed as Whitecroft Industrial Holdings then twelve years later demolition started on the mill complex in readiness for redevelopment of the land. The nearby lodge which had originally fed the wheel had dried out over time with the area becoming colonised by trees, and after the Turton Local History Society gained permission from Whitecroft Ltd to salvage the wheel they found it still in its pit but covered in silt, rubble and vegetation up to 18 inches from its top.
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In 1975 the group began the arduous task of extricating the wheel and found that all forty iron buckets were still bolted onto it. They also found several clues to the site’s history, including kiln tiles from when the place had been a corn mill. During the wheel’s excavation the remaining parts of Black Rock Works were demolished and when the mill chimney was finally felled local people came to collect bricks as souvenirs.
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The water wheel was eventually lifted and moved less than a mile away to the grounds of Turton Tower where it was painstakingly restored then moved to a specially prepared on-site wheel pit next to an old barn – six years of hard work to excavate and restore it were finally over. It was hoped that it would become an exhibit in a new rural and industrial museum at the Tower but as the years passed the dream of a new museum faded and sadly the wheel began to deteriorate.
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The water wheel at Turton Tower – original photo from the internet edited by me
Thirty years after the wheel was sited at Turton Tower the Turton Local History Society came to the rescue a second time, deciding to have it restored again and moved to an entirely new location where it would be more easily seen. A £700 grant from the West Pennine Moor Community Initiative enabled the large amount of rust to be scraped off and weatherproof paint was applied by the Lancashire Wildlife Environmental Task Force team.
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In 2011 the wheel was moved to its current site, the relocation paid for as part of a British Trust for Conservation Volunteers grant which was also used to improve the footpaths and toilets at Turton Tower. The move was expensive, costing around £13,000, and it was done at 6 o’clock in the morning to minimise any disruption to traffic. Today the wheel stands by the side of the road on the approach to Edgworth village, a proud memorial to the rural area’s industrial past, though to be honest it looks like parts of it are now needing a bit more attention.
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Close to where Black Rock Works once stood is the packhorse bridge built in 1691 to provide access across Bradshaw Brook to the corn mill. Previous to the bridge being built the only way to cross the brook was by a ford across a reasonably shallow section but there would have been many days when it would be impossible for a horse to cross safely while carrying the weight of a rider and sacks of corn so building a bridge was a necessity. The Turton Manor Court records for 1740 gave the name of the bridge as New Mill Bridge as it had been built specifically for the new corn mill.
Sometime between 1798 and 1808 a new road and bridge were built about 200 yards higher up the brook with the bridge being given the name Higher New Mill Bridge. The packhorse bridge was still used however as it was deemed to be important and by 1844 it was going by the name of Pack Saddle Bridge. The Manor Court records for that year stated that ”the Pack Saddle Bridge, repairable by the County, is in a ruinous and dangerous state and direct proceedings are to be commenced against the parties liable to repair the same.”
The bridge was consequently restored by the local Council and over the years may very well have been repaired more than once, including the addition of metal railings to stop anyone falling over the low parapet into the brook below. In September 1984 it became Grade ll listed and in August 2016 the most recent repairs were carried out at a cost of £15,000.
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At the far side of the bridge is Black Rock Community Orchard, and while it might be named after the old bleach and dyeworks it’s a fairly recent addition to the area. The land in question had been earmarked for a housing development but a successful campaign by local people brought it into public ownership for the benefit of the community. In 2008, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers worked with local children to plant a variety of more than 40 fruit trees covering a range of cooking and eating apples, plums, greengages and damsons, all of which grow well in North West England. Paths and seating areas were installed by BTCV with grant funding from the Sita Trust and the orchard is maintained by the local Parish Council.
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The packhorse bridge is popular with ramblers and is used as part of the Warper’s Trail, an 8.5 mile circular walk which itself is part of the Witton Weaver’s Way, a long distance walk of 32 miles, and standing with my feet almost in the water in an effort to get the final couple of shots I wondered just how many walkers crossing the bridge knew of its interesting industrial heritage.

16 thoughts on “Black Rock Water Wheel and Packhorse Bridge

    1. I love local history so found the story of the wheel very interesting. I remember seeing it in situ at Turton Tower while on a dog walk round there about 15 years ago but I just thought it had always been there. There was no information about it at the time, it was just ‘there’, so to now find out its history has been very enlightening.

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        1. I always enjoy researching places I’ve been to and/or things I’ve seen, especially anything local, and when I’m writing a post there’s no point doing just half a job 🙂 It’s good to know that my efforts are appreciated 🙂

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  1. It’s great to see people still taking an interest in their local community, and you do an excellent job of showing us these ‘off the radar’ places Eunice. They may not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but they’re still an important part of our country’s heritage. Followed it as usual on Google 😊

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  2. I wondered if you would follow it Malc, especially as the bridge isn’t the easiest to find. I didn’t know about it until two days ago – while researching the wheel I came across a snippet of information about the bridge so grabbed the camera and went out to find it and it was only when I got there I realised I’d seen it two years ago while out on a dog walk but didn’t know at the time how significant it is. I like how it’s connected, albeit indirectly, to the wheel so it was quite a timely ‘find’.

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  3. Saving the wheel, saving an Orchard. It seems like people in these parts are invested in their space and heritage, I love that. Reading your post is the first time I’ve heard of the Lancashire Cotton Famine so I’ve been doing a bit of googling. A fascinating area and time in history.

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  4. The Cotton Famine was a difficult few years but thankfully didn’t last for too long. The Lancashire image of flat caps, clogs and smoking chimneys has long since been left behind but there’s a lot of interesting industrial history and heritage up here which is still worth saving so it’s good that there are still people willing to do that.

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  5. I have absolutely no idea why the area is called that unless it’s because it’s sandwiched at the bottom of two hills. I’m pleased to have found the water wheel when I did as its story has proved to be quite interesting.

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