THE NORTHERN MILL ENGINE SOCIETY

120 years ago,Lancashire produced more than half the world's supply of cotton textiles. Hundreds of mills were busy spinning and weaving and bleach works and dye works were thriving. Steam engines drove all the machinery in the mills and there were probably as many as 10,000 engines at work, mostly built by local engineering companies. But over the next 80 years the industry declined as production moved overseas and by the late 1960s only about a few hundred mills still survived, with more mill closures being announced every week.

The NMES was formed in 1966 by a small but extremely dedicated band of enthusiasts who decided that something had to be done to preserve the steam engines from the textile industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire before they were all scrapped. Most established museums at that time did not have significant collections of this type of machinery and the work of volunteer organisations, such as the Northern Mill Engine Society, was important in ensuring that a reasonably representative sample of engines has been preserved.

The objective was to collect and preserve as many different types of engine as possible to demonstrate the development of the technology. As a result of this initiative, a number of rare and interesting engines were acquired, often donated by their original owners. The initial idea was to preserve the engines in-situ but as the mills were demolished and sites redeveloped, this became impossible and so the engines had to be dismantled and removed piece-by-piece, sometimes with great difficulty from almost inaccessible engine rooms.

With the generous support of the Mason family, the site owners, the Society was very grateful to be offered premises at Atlas Mills, Mornington Road, Bolton, where the rebuilding of the engines could begin.

After some 15 years work, a museum was opened to the public in 1983 in one of the original engine-houses of Atlas No 3 Mill where 5 of the rebuilt engines could be seen working in steam. It was decided to call the museum The Bolton Steam Museum and over the following 7 years it became a well-known attraction in the area.

In 1990, what appeared to be a disaster struck. The mill complex was sold for redevelopment as a retail supermarket and the museum was in the way. However, the new owners, William Morrison Supermarkets plc, were very sympathetic to the Society's plight and undertook to relocate the museum into another building on the far side of the site. Unfortunately, this meant dismantling all the engines, moving all the parts into the new building and beginning the rebuilding work all over again.

The Society now has the security of a long lease and has spent the last 22 years reassembling its collection - which has now grown to some 27 engines - in the new premises. The new building is ideal for the museum, with plenty of natural lighting and full crane coverage to assist with moving and assembling the heavy engine parts

An application was made to the National Lottery for funds to help develop the museum, but both this and other appeals for grant-aid have fallen on deaf ears. The Society's small band of volunteers have therefore been working largely unaided to return the engines to a fully operational condition. An extraordinary amount has been achieved without the benefit of any external financial support, either locally or nationally, relying on donations and goodwill from local companies to fund the development.

The Society's collection of steam engines now represents one of the largest in the UK.

In 2006 a new boiler-house was built and a boiler installed so that the engines could be demonstrated working in steam on regular Steam Days (see Events). At other times, five of the engines can be shown in motion under electric drive, so that visitors can appreciate some of the engineering of these magnificent machines.

Members gather at the museum on Wednesdays and Sundays to progress the work. Regardless of your skills or experience, you will be readily welcomed if you are able spare a few hours to assist. Cleaning, painting, fitting, wood or metal-working are all equally valuable - as is making the tea !

You can also help by joining the Society (download an application form) so that your membership subscription helps to financially support the work, or by making a straight donation to funds. A magazine, "The Flywheel", and newsletter are published periodically to keep members in touch with events. The Society is a registered charity (No 532259) and the museum has received Accredited Museum status from MLA, the government body responsible for museums and libraries policy. Due the fact that work is still in progress, it is unfortunately not yet possible to open the museum to the public on a regular basis, although special Steam Open Days are held each year. However, visits by genuine enthusiasts or organised groups can always be accommodated by prior arrangement with either :-

The Hon Secretary, John Phillp at
84 Watkin Road
Clayton-le-Woods
Chorley
PR6 7PX
Telephone 01257 265003.
Email:- john.phillp@blueyonder.co.uk

Or telephone David Lewis on 01204 846490.