BB’s Books – Mill Buildings

We’re coming to the end of the National Lottery Funded (NLHF) project at Islington Mill and it seems to be a good time to reflect on the resources we used.

These have evolved through the early stages of understanding the wider heritage significance of the site, and then the later stages of delivering the Activity Plan and doing more detailed-site specific research.

I intended to write this article specifically on the bibliography I use when researching textile mill buildings. But when researching a site such as Islington Mill, the useful sources also include much wider texts on the historic development of industry and place.

When understanding sites of industrial heritage, it is crucial to understand the processes that were undertaken within the buildings. These always have an influence on the architecture and the important building archaeology that remains.

Each historic building is unique in the circumstances that created it and the use it was put to. Although textiles were produced at Islington Mill, research has established that it was built as a ‘room and power mill’.

This means that it could be, and was, used for the manufacture of other items besides textiles. It is also important therefore to understand other industrial building typologies that were evolving at the time, as these would have influenced the design, construction and use of Islington Mill.

The majority of my sources focus on the North and Manchester in particular. This reflects the fact that a lot of my work on the repurposing of industrial buildings has been in the North (although not exclusively) and the fact that the North West has a significant legacy relating to the textile industry.

There are many other sources on mill buildings / industrial buildings of other regions. Perhaps an opportunity for more research and book purchases if a project elsewhere comes along (and another future BB Books article)?!

A stack of books about mill buildings.


‘Industrial Buildings Listing Selection Guide’ Historic England

As with the other BB Books, this book is a great starting point to understand this building typology and where it sits in the timeline of our architectural history is the Historic England Listing Selection Guide. This is great as an overview, but not as good in this instance in providing guidance for further reading unfortunately.

‘Textile Mills’ The Industrial Archaeology Review, Volume X, Number 2, Spring 1988

In stark contrast to the overview provided by the Listing Selection Guide, this resource contains a number of very specialist papers. All of these are fascinating, but two in particular have been really crucial for our research into Islington Mill.

The first is a paper on the RCHME / GMAU Joint Survey of Textile Mills in Greater Manchester that was undertaken in the 1980s. The survey comprised a county-wide assessment of the variety and extent of surviving mills at a time when there were thousands of extant mills across northern England but they were recognised as a diminishing resource. This survey has proved to be invaluable in monitoring the loss of mill buildings through the later 20th century (see the blurb on the next of the top 4 books ‘The Textile Mills of Lancashire: The Legacy’).

The second paper is ‘The Development of the Cast Iron Frame in Textile Mills to 1850’ by Ron Fitzgerald. This may sound a bit niche, but it’s crucial to understand the historic development of the structural systems and architectural forms used in these buildings (which may at first seem utilitarian and not of interest).

I was lucky to work directly with Ron Fitzgerald on Round Foundry in Leeds when I was associate project architect at BDP and he was the project archaeologist. I learnt so much from him on how to read an industrial building.

‘The Textile Mills of Lancashire: The Legacy’ Andy Phelps, Richard Gregory, Ian Miller and Chris Wild, funded by Historic England

This book arose from the historic research and detailed surveys of individual mill complexes carried out during the Lancashire Textile Mills Survey in 2008-2015. This was a strategic project commissioned and funded by English Heritage (now Historic England) as a review of the position that had been researched by RCHME / GMAU in the 1980s.

The survey proved to be crucially timed for the Islington Mill project. It coincided with our NLHF application and found that Islington Mill was the last remaining designated mill building in Salford, highlighting its importance.

This book has the right balance of accessibility around what is quite a complex story and academic rigour. It explains the historic development of the textile mill building typology from its early domestic setting through the development of loomshops and then mills.

It was interesting to consider the position of Islington Mill in this timeline in providing ‘room and power’ for different makers.

I have also been really lucky to work with 2 of the authors (Ian Miller and Chris Wild) on further site surveys and research at Islington Mill during the site works. This book also has a useful bibliography for further reading direction.

‘Ancoats: Cradle of Industrialisation” Michael E Rose with Keith Falconer and Julian Holder

Although Islington Mill is located in Salford, not Ancoats, it was important in our early research into the history and origins of Islington Mill that we understood the wider context of the development of textile mills in Greater Manchester.

Ancoats is considered ‘the pioneer industrial suburb of the Industrial Revolution’. There are significant parallels between the townscape and buildings of Ancoats and that of Islington Mill and its locality – studying and comparing these helped us understand the importance of Islington Mill. Having also worked with Ancoats Building Preservation Trust early in my career and witnessed the ‘renaissance’ of the Ancoats area, there are still lots of lessons to be learnt in its regeneration process which can be applied to other mill sites.


Dependent on the type of textile mill site that is being researched there are a number of very useful resources. Here is my take on ‘the best of the rest’ in understanding the Manchester textile mills and / or our wider industrial heritage.

‘The Industrial Archaeology of North West England’ Owen Ashmore, 1982

‘The Vernacular workshop: From Craft to Industry, 1400-1900’ PS Barnwell, Marilyn Palmer & Malcolm Airs

‘Manufacturing the Cloth of the World: Weaving Mills in Lancashire’ RN Holden, 2017

‘Cotton Mills in Greater Manchester’ M Williams with D Farnie, 1992

Also the numerous other resources which have resulted from the Lancashire Textile Mills Survey which are available on the Historic England website.


Look out for the next in BB’s Book series which will be on domestic architecture.

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