220 years ago, before the canal or the railway arrived, the Walsden valley was a very different place. The river flowed freely and the trees grew where they wished. The area known as Knowl Farms Estate was on the Eastern slopes; two major farms, HIGHER AND LITTLE KNOWL FARMS, with associated lands and smaller farmsteads. The estate altogether comprised of over 60 acres of meadow, pasture and woodland and 60 acres of common land on Walsden Moor. It was dotted with cottages, gardens, orchards, barns, woods and meadows. From Gauxholme, the Turnpike Road climbed the hillside, wending its way through this settlement before dropping down to the valley floor at Inchfield Bottom. It was not until 1825 that the road was built along the valley bottom. It would have been a busy and thriving community. The Lord family leased the whole estate from 1720.


Knowlwood in 2007 from the opposite hillside

People kept bees and grew fruit trees, flowers and vegetables in their gardens. They sold their produce, mainly honey, in the local shops. There were butchers who reared their own pigs for slaughter, saddlers, blacksmiths and carters.

Higher Knowl Farm in 2004

Thomas Lord was born there in 1733. He later became the farmer at Little Knowl Farm. When the leases on the land expired about 1786, Thomas of Little Knowl and his family at Higher Knowl were given the choice of purchasing the land or giving it up. They chose to purchase, and the whole estate sold for £1850 in July 1787. Thomas bought the farms at Little Knowl and Woodbottom, leaving the rest of the estate for other members of his family to buy.

His land comprised Little Knowl and Woodbottom Farms, a cliff and lands down to the area known as Swineshead Clough with 4 cottages in the Clough and 3 others nearby, and seven acres of woodland, commonly called Knowlwood. It reached down to the valley bottom and the river.



Little Knowl Farm in 2004


Meanwhile, a young man was making his mark on the world. He was Abraham Crossley and he lived in Knowlwood. His best friend was Moses Dawson, also of Knowlwood. It was round about the year 1786. Moses was still a bachelor and Abraham had a new bride, Sarah. Abraham and Moses were celebrated members of the CHOIR AT ST. MARY'S CHURCH in Todmorden. The choirmaster, Jeremy Howarth, also lived in Knowlwood, and it was at his home where the troops would gather for rehearsals. The men supped plenty of ale on these occasions, and maybe it was during a break in the singing that Abraham and Moses decided to approach Thomas Lord with their plan to build a cotton-spinning mill.


Abraham, Moses and Thomas were all aware of the potential in the newly emerging cotton spinning industry. Now there was a half decent road through to Manchester, passing through the middle of Knowlwood, raw cotton and finished cloth could be carted with much less difficulty than the previous pack horse method. In the valley, at the bottom of Knowlwood on Little Knowl land, the river ran swiftly and there was a fall of about 6 or 7 yards. This was sufficient for powering a water wheel.


A drawing of the original mill

by kind permission of the widow of

Lawrence Greenwood

The three men formed a partnership, Abraham Crossley & Co., and built one of the first cotton spinning mills in the area on this spot, calling it KNOWLWOOD BOTTOM MILL. It was powered by water wheel for the next 45 years. Part of this original mill still stands today, converted in to a pair of semi-detached houses by the riverside.

Thomas Lord died in 1790, aged 57.


Moses Dawson married Hannah Tattersall. They moved to Newbridge in Walsden and then went to live at Todmorden Edge to be near their son, Abraham. Moses continued in the choir, moving to the new church after it was built. By then he was quite old and frail, but insisted on singing, having to prop himself up on a pillar to avoid falling over. His wife always attended the services with him, dressed in a red cloak. Moses sang to the end of his days. He was an old man of 74 when he died in 1835.

Abraham Crossley remained in Knowlwood with Sarah. In 1791, he appears to have bought the land at Knowlwood Bottom on which the mill lay, presumably on the death of his partner, Thomas Lord. He built his own house on the land. The tax was 4s.9d per annum on this substantial house. Knowlwood Bottom Mill was insured with stock for £400 in 1791 and in 1792 for £700. Abraham and Sarah raised 5 children to adulthood there; a further 3 died in infancy.

Spinning mills were just that. The spun cotton was put out to local hand weavers, and then the woven cloth had to be finished by fulling and then dyeing and printing. Abraham saw the potential in the dyeing industry, and built a small factory at the far end of his land where he manufactured a substance known as copperas. This is a bluish green vitriol used for dyeing and tanning amongst other things. The area is still known as Copperas House today.

The copperas works


Construction on the ROCHDALE CANAL began in 1794. The area must have been a hive of activity during the construction stages. Many labourers and navvies arrived from other parts of Lancashire to work on the canal, and many of these men and their families lived in shanty huts, particularly at Gauxholme, close by to Knowlwood Bottom. The area became renowned as a place of mysterious deaths and disappearances. One such mystery involved Abraham's brother, Ely. He was found dead in the canal just after it was filled with water for the first time. Local rumour and family tradition has it that Ely was murdered after an argument with a man over the price of a cow, being pushed off the new bridge at Copperas House. This was in 1798. Ely left a pregnant widow and 7 children. 


By the time he died in 1817, Abraham had his spinning mill and copperas works, plus his own dwelling house, 4 other houses and a smithy at Knowlwood, a field at Smithyholme along the road and an interest in a coal pit at Midgelden, Dulesgate. Abraham was keen to protect his businesses even after his death. His WILL ensured that nothing would be sold until at least 1819 when his youngest son attained the age of 21 years. In the meantime, he directed that his son Abraham should run the businesses on behalf of his widow and children. With certain provisos, each of his 5 children and his widow was to receive equal shares of the business once they had all reached 21.


Abraham's 5 children were: Ely who worked in the coal pit as a banksman and later went to farm at Lawhey, an 11-acre farm at Walsden. His sons started their own business in the carpet dyeing and printing trade; Betty, who married William Highley and continued to live in Knowlwood; Abraham, who ran the business until at least 1819 and then took over and enlarged the copperas works, remaining in the business until his death in 1857; William, who took over the mill; and Thomas, who went to live and work in Manchester.


The original mill, 2005. The river runs alongside.

William took over the management of the mill, and very little changed until about 1834. The age of steam power had arrived and it was time to modernise. William built a shed on a small piece of land between the mill and his house, which he then filled with powered weaving looms. He later altered the original mill by building a long, narrow, 3-storey extension alongside the new road.

He installed power looms in two of the long rooms, and used the top room for throstle spinning, winding and warping. He was doing well in a competitive world. However, he needed a partner, and engaged a Mr. Ashton in the business.


They arched over a dam behind the mills and erected new engine and boiler houses, and a new warehouse and offices over the dam space. They also made a new road down to the back portion of the premises from near the canal bridge at Copperas House. An iron foundry was begun near the boiler and engine houses, a new flue was carried under the main road, and a brick chimney built on land taken on lease on the other side of the turnpike road. Two new boilers were also put in and a high pressure engine of 40 horse power, indicating that the partners were embarking in a new business in addition to extending the old one. For several years, the masons and tradesmen were never away from the premises. There was plenty of work coming in from a new firm of machine makers, Messrs. John Lord and sons, who had commenced business at CLOUGH MILL, Walsden.


photo by kind permission of Frank Woolrych.

Please click image to enlarge

Looking towards the factory from the Todmorden end, the mill chimney can be seen centre right on the other side of the road from the factory, adjacent to a row of double-decker houses. The mill is between the road and the canal. It stretches from the railway viaduct to the far canal bridge
The chimney is long demolished, along with the double-decker houses next to it, but the brick base can still be seen today.

Jeremiah Crossley (no known relation) and his sons of Knowlwood were moulders, and had the management of the iron and brass business, having previously been employed at one of the Salford foundries in Todmorden. The workshop and the foundry were not far apart, and it was a common sight to see 6 or 8 men carrying a large iron scutcher along the road from one place to the other.


The mill and iron foundry gave work to many people, including Joseph Dawson, a nephew of one of the founders, Moses Dawson. Joseph was a carter. He had stables at Knowlwood where he kept several of his own horses, employing lads to help with the business. He carried coals, cotton, and anything else that needed moving from one place to another. In particular, he carried cotton to and from Manchester for William Crossley. Not only did he carry goods, but also branched out in to carrying people. He and his brother James bought a very special carriage with steps up to a seating area where 3 persons could sit on each side and facing each other, with a further two next to the driver, running a successful business for many years with this carriage, as it became popular for wedding parties and Sunday picnics.


Joseph was a favourite driver for Sunday jaunts as he had a wealth of gossip and information in his head, gleaned from years as a traveller on the roads. He was never at a loss for words and was kind and jovial throughout the journeys, and usually in very good humour . He became known as a great wit and with a little education or training could have become a genius. However, that option had not been available to him.


Joseph had done the work for a long time for William Crossley and then the factory grew larger and turned out more work and required more materials, so Joseph's business had gone on increasing in a corresponding degree all the time.


Knowlwood Chapel and cottages in the vicinity

By this time, Knowlwood was changing its character. The Methodists built a CHAPEL there in 1826. The overseers of Todmorden & Walsden purchased a piece of land known as the Potato Ground from Joshua Fielden on which they erected a building comprising living accommodation and hand-loom work shops. The object was to install a number of poor families who were on Parish Relief, to give them a place to live and the means by which they could earn a living.


A few years later, rows of terraced cottages were built along the roadside. These are double-decker houses, each house was 2 storeys, built one on top of the other. Access to the upper houses was from the road behind. The mill chimney stood at the far end of this particular row. Although these houses are now demolished, the basements and stone work can still be seen.

The car has just passed over Copperas House Bridge on its way to Todmorden


William was now a man of substance. He was a member of the town's SELECT VESTRY, the forerunner of the Local Council, and spent some time as the Overseer. He held this position during the POOR LAW RIOTS of 1838. During the riots, some cloth was stolen from his mill and was later offered for sale on Todmorden Market.

That same year, 1838, the assets of Knowlwood Mill were examined for the purpose of a Poor Rate Assessment. The assessment, issued to the Crossley Brothers of Knowlwood Mill, was as follows:


Factory and waterfall


Engine House


New room over old road


Houses and conveniences


Widow Highley's cottage


Robert Smith's cottage


Gauxholme Stones Farm (Abraham Crossley)


Copperas Works (Abraham Crossley)


Lawhey Farm (Ely Crossley)



On a personal level, Willam married Mary Stansfield in 1817, but sadly, she died in childbirth with their fifth child. She was buried the same day the child was baptised at St. Mary's church in Todmorden, 8th November 1825. The child was buried 2 days later. William was left with 4 children under the age of 7 years. Not surprisingly, he married again within the year. His second wife was Jane Wilkinson, a daughter of a calico manufacturer from Downham, Lancashire. Jane gave him 5 more children in a short space of time.


A period of bad trade combined with overstretching in the expansion of the business left William and his partner in a financial mess. They were forced to cease trading and became bankrupt. They had even failed to slate the roof of the new factory extension, although it had been open for business for some time. This brought great hardship to many people, not just the employees who had the difficulty of finding work elsewhere, but to many small firms to whom they owed money, and to people such as Joseph Dawson, whose own business depended heavily on the success of the mill. There was a lot of discontent in the area, which was never fully mended. The machinery was sold off, and Abraham Robertshaw bought the plant, engines and other fixtures.


William was forced out of the vicinity, whether in shame or in fear is not recorded, but he fled the country with Jane and his second group of children. After a spell running a beer shop in Hanover Street in Manchester, they sailed from Liverpool on the Packet Ship 'Sheridan' , arriving in New York on August 16th 1842. His first group of children remained behind at Knowlwood Bottom.

He and his sons did well for themselves in North America. William started again in business, becoming a shingle manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. His sons Gabriel and Abraham studied at the Millbury Academy in Massachusetts. William died 4th January 1876 in Ohio, aged 79.


view of the site of the mill in 2005, taken from

beside the old chimney