Saturday 16 January 2021

Springside Papermill, Belmont

Extract from Eagley Brook by Helen Heyes, Chapter 7, pages 31-33.

A goit which wends its way from the Ornamental Reservoir around the hillside, following the contours, leads to yet another small reservoir or lodge which supplies Springside Paper Mill, where paper has been made continuously since 1834 to the present day. Other reservoirs near the mill are supplied by Three Nooked Shaw Brook, which rushes down from Smithills Moor in a series of waterfalls and weirs. One day's water consumption at this mill is said to be in the region of 1.5 million gallons.

Map showing Charles Turner
Springside Paper Works 1927.

The original mill belonged to John Livesey who had previously run paper mills at Prestolee and Springfield in the Haulgh. Following a row with his partner at the Haulgh he moved to Belmont and started a new business. At this time rags and textiles were recycled to make paper; wood pulp was not used in papermaking until about 1910. Livesey's enterprise did not prosper, and he closed it down in 1839.

It was bought by William Spencer, of Belmont bleachworks. He took as his partner his wife's cousin Charles Turner. The mill remained in the Spencer family until 1972, it was then owned by Courtaulds until 1984. It became the subject of a management buy-out, and was later taken over by other large companies. It still retains Charles Turner's name, and now produces paper tissue.

In 1854 lightning did considerable damage, and in 1860 the firm suffered a major fire. The Bolton Chronicle reported that:

‘On Sunday morning about 2 o'clock the watchman on duty at the works of Messrs Turner and Spencer, Belmont, discovered that a fire was raging in the Store Room. He gave an alarm and the workpeople made every effort to subdue the flames but without avail. The building was two storeys high and the upper room being filled with cotton waste the fire raged with uncontrolled fury until the roof fell in, which was about an hour after it broke out. The fire is supposed to have originated from spontaneous combustion. The damage is estimated at £1,000 which is fully covered by insurance in the Sun Fire Office.’

Some of the workers lived in cottages specially built for them at Springside. Others lived farther afield - in the late 1860s Aaron Rothwell and his crippled daughter Kitty used to walk from their home on Cox Green Road across the valley to Springside where Aaron was a paper maker and Kitty was a rag sorter.

In December 1867 Bolton Chronicle described a ‘Singular Fatality at a Paper Mill’

‘About 1 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon James Ward a labourer employed at Messrs Turner and Spencer's Springside Paper Works, Belmont, was filling a "beck" with rags to be bleached, and he got into it to trample the rags down; he had a sack tied round his shoulders at the time and one corner being blown by a sudden gust of wind it was caught by a horizontal shaft which was making 35 revolutions a minute. The unfortunate man was dragged against a beam with such force as to break his right arm and left leg; in addition he received some severe bruising upon his head. He died about 2 hours afterward. Deceased was 45 years of age, married and had 4 children.’

In 1986 Turner's were accused by local councillors of polluting the brook with red and blue dye, thereby spoiling the amenity of one of the towns most picturesque areas. North West Water stated that although the coloration was aesthetically objectionable, it had little impact from a pollution aspect. Some six months later the situation had been improved and the amount of dye discharged reduced by a third.

Even up to the present time fire is a real hazard in a paper mill. In February 1994 a massive blaze destroyed a warehouse which contained 200 tons of paper tissue and cotton. Thirty firemen from Bolton and Bury managed to prevent the fire from spreading further, but the sound of exploding asbestos in the roof and walls could be heard right across the valley in Egerton.

The mill is decidedly unlovely when observed from close quarters, but its lights and misty vapours give it a kind of surrealist beauty when seen from the Longworth Road on winter nights.