Book reveals story of 'pauper apprentices'

Ilkley Gazette: Historian Dennis Warwick at Greenholme Mills with his new book about the pauper apprentices that were brought to work there. Buy this photo Historian Dennis Warwick at Greenholme Mills with his new book about the pauper apprentices that were brought to work there.

The story of more than 250 children forced to move from London to work at Burley-in-Wharfedale mills is told in a new book published this week.

The child labourers, some as young as seven, were employed at Greenholme Mills at the start of the 19th century as ‘pauper apprentices’.

And now, new information has been unearthed about the children and features in Greenholme Mills Remembered Again, by Burley historian Dennis Warwick.

Medical records show how a total of 260 paupers were working as apprentices at the mills in 1802.

“It was common practice at the start of the 19th century for paupers to be shipped all over the country to work in mills,” said Mr Warwick.

“In its early days, Greenholme Mills struggled to find adult workers because many feared they would be targeted by Luddites, a movement that had turned to violence to resist the industrial revolution, then sweeping the country.

“By all accounts, the children who were sent to Burley-in-Wharfedale were reasonably well looked after in comparison to others elsewhere in Britain,” he said.

The book goes back to 1792 when Greenholme Mills was founded and Jonas Whitaker and Partners first harnessed the power of the River Wharfe for cotton production.

Goits or water channels fed the water to two five-storey mills at Greenholme.

Originally they produced cotton cloth, but after 1850 they produced worsted and woollen goods and became famous for blue serge, a fine quality cloth, which was used for making uniforms for the British Army, the Royal Navy, various police forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The mills went into decline after the Second World War as cheap imports undermined their profitability.

They finally closed in 1966 following an arson attack, although they reopened under new owners as a trading estate for small businesses.

Today, several small businesses operate from the Mills and a new hydro-electric turbine is currently being installed on the site of the original cotton mill which, on completion, is expected to generate enough electricity to power up to 300 homes.

Mr Warwick’s book updates a collaboration called Greenholme Mills Remembered, published in 1988 with his late wife Margaret, and uses fresh details uncovered by Katrina Honeyman, a professor of history at Leeds University.

The original book took in the history of the Mills from around 1850 when William Fison and WE Forster (after whom Forster Square in Bradford is named) took over the business.

Mrs Warwick did much of the work for the updated version of the book prior to her death in May.

The book will be launched at Burley Library on Saturday, from 9am, with proceeds going to the Marie Curie Hospice in Bradford.

The book is published by the Burley Local History Group and will be on sale from Burley Library, Burley Post Office and The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, costing £5.

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