Map Ref. SD931238



Known Occupiers

c1817 - warehouse built by the Sutcliffe family for their water-carriage business, (John, Henry and Robert Sutcliffe), converted to weaving shed after 1841.


Before 1853

BAMFORD John Hill & STELL Joseph



DUGDALE William & MILLS John


Todmorden Commercial Spinning & Manufacturing Co. Ltd.




HEY Thomas


DAWSON George & Co.

(partner - John Fielden)






HOLT Fielden & sons



Illustrated story


In the days before the Rochdale Canal, there were just 3 cottages in the area now known as Shade. During the construction of the canal just before 1800, the contractors built a smithy and a carpenters yard behind these houses, to be used as workshops, calling it Wood-shade. It is thought this is the origin of the name of the area.

Once the canal was finished, additional cottages were erected on the site of the smithy and wood yard, and then John Sutcliffe, a successful carrier by water, built a large storage warehouse on the site, with stables and more housing, occupying all the land from the road to the canal tow path.

His brother Henry Sutcliffe continued the carrying business after John finished, and then Henry's son Robert took over. Robert was there in 1841. With the arrival of the railway about that time, the Sutcliffe family business dwindled as far as carrying by water was concerned. Robert altered the warehouse, stables and two of the cottages to make them suitable for weaving looms on two of the floors. An engine, boiler, and other necessary equipment were added, turning the original storage depot into a weaving mill. This was the birth of Shade Mill, also known as Low Moor Mill.

The photograph shows part of Shade as it was in the 1970's. These back-to-back cottages were built to house the workers at Shade Mill and other nearby mills. Photo by kind permission of Roger Birch.

The first tenants of the new mill were John Hill Bamford and Joseph Stell. These men were sons-in-law of one of the Messrs. Sutcliffe. They remained at the mill just 2 years, selling the machinery and stock as a going concern to George Howarth of Bacup. George stayed for two or three years and then left. All the machinery was cleared and the mill vacated.


Soon afterwards, William Dugdale and brothers Henry and James Shepherd took over the mill. The three men were neighbours in the Shade area, and this was their first venture into business on their own accounts. They furnished the mill with new looms and machinery and began to manufacture cotton. However, there was an unforeseen problem with the partnership. The Fielden Brothers employed the Shepherd brothers as loom tacklers at WATERSIDE MILL, and when they heard about their employees' new venture they were unhappy, stating that the brothers could not be masters and men at the same time.


Henry and James were given the choice of remaining in the employ of the Fielden Brothers at Waterside and giving up their newly formed partnership at Shade Mill, or parting company with Waterside Mill. The Shepherds decided on caution and continued to work for the Fieldens, rescinding their partnership with William Dugdale. Ironically, another employee of the Fieldens, John Mills, filled their shoes immediately. The new firm was launched as Messrs. Dugdale and Mills, which partnership grew from strength to strength.

In 1853, William Dugdale and John Mills leased land at Bottoms in Walsden and built a new purpose-built mill. (More about Dugdale and Mills HERE). They sub-let the vacant premises at Shade to a new company, the Todmorden Commercial Spinning and Manufacturing Company, registered in late 1854 in anticipation of the new Companies Act.


The Company was composed mainly of ordinary working class men, managed by a Board of Directors, and the first Secretary and Manager was William Barker of Todmorden.


John Travis

The Company furnished Shade Mill with machinery and commenced the business of cotton manufacture. William Barker left the Company almost immediately, and was replaced by John Travis who was later to become a well-known local historian.

No sooner had the Company started than the Directors made the decision to build their own mill rather than pay rent on the one at Shade. This they did, and as soon as the new mill was ready, the Company transferred its business over to ALMA MILL in Walsden.


When the Todmorden Commercial Spinning and Manufacturing Company abandoned the premises, no further tenants came forward, and the buildings stood empty for a while. Someone then advised the owners, still the Sutcliffe family, to demolish the old buildings and construct a small three storey building along side the canal tow path and make it more suitable for a manufacturing mill. The Sutcliffes did just that, making a compact factory with ample room for a boiler and an engine, far more suitable than the old wool warehouse, stables and cottages. The new purpose-built mill attracted the attention of John Stephenson.


Shade Mill and weaving sheds about 1962

by kind permission of Roger Birch

He was one of the most successful tenants of William Clegg on the Room and Power system at VALE MILL in Todmorden. John purchased the place and also leased all the back land at Shade from Dr. Hardman, which at that time was virgin land. On this land he erected a new weaving shed for over 200 looms, with a large warehouse, plus beaming and twisting rooms. There was access to the premises via three near-by streets.

John was a native of Hebden Bridge, and he began in a small way at Shade, employing just 25 people in 1861. In that year, he and his family lived on Raglan Street in Todmorden. However, during the following ten years he prospered well. He added spinning machinery to the mill and leased out that section to Thomas Hey, also of Hebden Bridge. Thomas held the lease until about 1880. 

In 1871, John was living at Stones Villas, which he purchased from the Wild family. He also bought Woodbottom Farm and cottages in Walsden, starting a new career in farming. He stocked the land with cattle, leaving a carter in charge whilst he attended to his manufacturing concerns.

Stones Villas


According to John Travis, a contemporary of John Stephenson, John remained modest and mild mannered despite his obvious wealth. He lived his life calmly, was never stressed and always a laid back sort of chap, giving the impression that his businesses were doing well. He was married with a young family to whom he was very close, and was always seen with them about town.


However, working life was not without problems for John, as he was prosecuted on at least one occasion for having wilfully made a false entry in the register of young persons, thus contravening the Factories Act. For that offence he was fined £10, a huge sum of money in 1866, with costs of £1.7s.0d. This was followed by a complicated prosecution in 1867 for "having neglected to send a notice to the certifying surgeon of an accident to a young person employed in the factory, which caused bodily injury and prevented the said young person from pursuing her regular employment". On this occasion, the Magistrates dismissed the case against him without cost, but allowed the Factory Inspector, Mr. Lakeman, a right of appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench, to be heard on the 9th November 1867.


The following report appeared in the local press on 22nd January 1868:


"The case Lakeman v. Stephenson was heard in the Court of Queens bench. The appellant was the Inspector of Factories for this district, and the respondent Mr. John Stephenson, manufacturer, Shade. This was a case under the Factory Regulation Act 1841. The respondent was summoned upon the following charge, namely: that he had neglected, by himself, or his agent, to give notice of an accident that occurred in his factory to Jane Greenwood, who was under 18 years of age, under the provisions of the Factory Act. The accident happened by the girl falling over a rope tied across the passage between the looms as a practical joke. The girl was injured in her right wrist and arm. She remained at the mill to await the return of the respondent from Manchester. On the following morning, she again came to the mill. No notice was sent to the factory surgeon on the ground that it was not necessary as she returned to her work on the following morning before 9 o'clock as pointed out by the Factory Act. The sub-inspector contended that the meaning of the words "return to his work" was the returning and performing continuously the proper amount of regular work. The magistrates at Todmorden, when the case was heard before them, dismissed it on the ground that as the girl did actually return to her work on the day following the accident, no notice was required to have been sent by the respondent to the certifying surgeon. The Lord Chief Justice was of the opinion that the case was within the meaning of the Act, and judgement was given for the appellant."


On 13th February 1868, the Magistrates re-heard the case. This time, John Stephenson was found guilty and fined £3 with costs of £2.4s.0d.


In 1879, his health was not good, and he went to stay in Buxton where the air was reputed to be healthy. One day whilst out for a walk near Poole's Cavern, he was drenched by a sudden downpour of rain, resulting in a chill. He rushed back to Stones Villas in Walsden to his wife and children, but never recovered. After a couple of days of suffering he died a relatively young man of 57. He was buried at St. Paul's Church at Cross Stone.


He had clearly continued to prosper as his family remained at Stones Villas for many years to come. His widow, Mary Ann, took over the running of the business, helped by her sons Albert and Fred Stephenson. By 1891, the family is still at Stones Villas and the members are living off their own means.


The next tenants were George Dawson and John Fielden, who occupied the weaving sheds. George was the senior partner of the firm, which traded as George Dawson & Co. Manufacturers, Low Moor Sheds, Shade. George leased the weaving sheds for his operations from about 1890, whilst Young Helliwell occupied other parts of the mill for his picker making concern, and Samuel Starkie used part of the buildings for his machinery business.


George Dawson

George Dawson was a self-made man, the eighth child of James Dawson, a quarry labourer. He was born in 1840 at Butcher Hill, Walsden, and earned his living as a factory worker.


Industrial Street

In 1865, he married Sarah Sunderland and by 1871, he was working as a cotton mule overlooker. In 1881, he was a cotton manager and he and his family lived on Industrial Street in Todmorden. He may have received little formal education, but through sheer determination and endurance he climbed his way up the ladder.

By about 1890 he had made enough money to risk all on his new venture with partner John Fielden at Shade weaving sheds.

An unfortunate event happened in 1892, as reported in the Todmorden Advertiser of the time:




On Sunday the office of Messrs. George Dawson and Co. Lowmoor shed, was entered by thieves, who, disappointed in their search for money, did as much mischief as possible.  The place is in a quiet corner of Shade adjoining the canal bank and entrance was affected by the smashing of a window 26in by 16in.  The drawers were thoroughly ransacked, and invoices, memorandum books and other papers were strewn over the floor, which was so littered with these things that those who were first to enter on Monday morning has difficulty in opening the door.  No cash had been taken (being concealed in a place of absolute security), and only a few post cards and half a dozen boxes of matches were missed.  The worst was that the rascally visitors, chagrined at finding nothing substantial after the pains they had taken and the risks they had run, revenged themselves by maliciously committing unmentionable abominations.


In June 1896, Todmorden became a Borough in its own right, and in November the people of Todmorden and Walsden voted in their first Borough Councillors. George Dawson was one of those elected to the new council, representing the people of the Todmorden Ward. A special edition of the local newspaper listed the businesses of the time, and the following paragraph appeared:



Amongst the numerous firms devoted to the manufacture of cotton in its various commercial forms, a position of some local importance is held by Messrs. George Dawson and Co. of Low Moor Mill, Todmorden.  This business has been established for the past seven years.  The principal goods that the firm manufacture comprise what are known in the trade as Wigans, domestics, twills, drills, and one or two other sorts.  The machinery at Low Moor Mill is, like that in most Todmorden factories, of the most approved description, and includes 180 looms.  Employment is given to an average of about sixty hands.  The output of manufactured goods totals up to about £20,000 a year, and Messrs George Dawson and Co. have a widespread connection and an excellent reputation in the trade.


On 4th July 1898, George's partner in the firm, John Fielden, died after a brief illness. The local press reported:


Mr John Fielden, aged 40 years, of Copperashouse Terrace, died after a very brief illness. He was a partner in the firm of Messrs Geo Dawson & Co. of Low Moor Shed, and one of the Directors of the Bridge End Equitable Progressionists Society.


George continued, but on 17th January the following year, he also passed away at 116 Rochdale Road, Dobroyd.


17 Jan 1899


At an early hour this morning, Mr. George Dawson of Dobroyd, who had been a member of the Todmorden Town Council since the town's incorporation in 1896, passed away after a rather lingering illness, aged 57 years. He was well known in the district, and at various times took part in public matters. Mr. Dawson was head of the firm Messrs. Geo. Dawson & Co., Manufacturers, Lowmoor Shed, Shade, but more especially he will be remembered by reason with his long and honourable connection with Patmos Church and Sunday School.


At the same time that George Dawson & Co. were running a successful weaving business at Shade Mill, a man by the name of Young Helliwell was continuing to make his mark in the Picker Making business in another part of the mill. Young began at FRITHSWOOD PICKER WORKS as a boy apprentice under Martin Holt about 1860 alongside Martin's son, Fielden Holt. THE HOLTS had a long time connection with picker making. In 1881, Martin Holt handed over the concern at Frithswood to his loyal employee, Young Helliwell, who ran the business until 1890 when he left to set up at Shade Mill.


In 1891, Young and his family are living at 42 Shade between Lewis Street and Vernon Street. He stayed at Shade Mill about 8 years at which point, his old friend Fielden Holt took over. Fielden was the son of Martin and Elizabeth Holt, Martin being one of six brothers involved in the picker making business.


Fielden and his father had a disagreement at some point, causing him to set up on his own at Shade, trading as Fielden Holt & Sons. His father left him nothing in his will, declaring:

"My son Fielden Holt has been excluded from the trusts of my will in as much as he has during my life time enjoyed certain pecuniary benefits derived from my estate."

Fielden Holt, by kind permission of Sally Hinchliffe


Garden Street

Fielden married Emma Sutcliffe and they had 7 children, four daughters and three sons who followed him in to the picker making business. Arthur Holt married Maudetta Gaukroger and they had 3 daughters. Walter married Annie Sunderland and had no children. Fred married Emily Cockcroft and had 2 children, Clifford and Edith Annie. In 1901, Fielden and his family are living at 11, Garden Street in Todmorden.

His grandson, Clifford, carried on the business until the early 1960's when the mill was purchased under a Council Compulsory Purchase Order. He was the last of the Holts to be involved in picker making. Fielden died in 1927 and is buried at Cloughfoot with his wife Emma who died in 1931.

The mill was demolished to make way for a block of flats, which still occupy the site today, as can be seen from the photograph.

I am indebted to Sharon Trewhitt for the information about her ancestor George Dawson and his time at the mill, and also to Sally Hinchliffe for details about her ancestor Fielden Holt.

Additional information

researched, recorded and referenced by Mrs Sheila Wade

Hebden Bridge WEA Local History Group


Halifax Guardian 12th March 1853

To be sold by auction 31st March 1853, weaving shed with steam engine, shafting, boiler and outbuildings at Shade near Todmorden, lately in the occupation of Bamford & Stell and now of Mills & Dugdale. Leasehold 999 years commenced 1817, subject to apportioned yearly rent of £3.


White 1853

Dugdale & Mills, cotton spinners & manufacturers, Shade


Slater 1855

William Dugdale, manufacturer of cotton goods, Shade


Todmorden Rates Book 1860

No occupiers; owner Henry Sutcliffe; Shade; loom shop; rateable value £18.13s.4d; rates not paid.


Todmorden Rates Book 1861-1865

Owned and occupied by Stephenson & Co; mill and shed; 140 looms at 9hp; Shade; rateable value £96.8s.6d.


Census 1861

John Stephenson, Raglan Street, aged 40, manufacturer employing 25 hands.


Todmorden Rates Book 1866-1879

Owned and occupied by John Stephenson; (house 60 Shade); mill, shed, power; Shade; rateable value £11.4s.0d; new warehouse £21.10s.6d.


Census 1871

John Stephenson, Stones Villas, aged 50, manufacturer employing 54 hands.


Todmorden Rates Book 1880-1881

Owned and occupied by John Stephenson; mill, shed, power; Shade; rateable value £160.10s.0d

1881 - £127.5s.0d.


Census 1881

Mary Stephenson, widow, 14 Stones Villas, manufacturer employing 41 hands. Sons Albert and Fred are "learning cotton manufacture"


Todmorden Rates Book 1885

Owned and occupied by John Stephenson executors; mill, shed, power; Shade; rateable value £97.10s.0d.


Todmorden Rates Book 1890

  1. Occupied by George Dawson & Co;  (house Willow Bank); owners John Ramsbottom executors; loomshed; Shade; rateable value £52.10s.0d.
  2. Occupied by Samuel Starkie; owner John Ramsbottom executors; Shade; part mill and power; Shade; rateable value £45.10s.0d.


Todmorden Coronation Year Souvenir booklet 1902

Fielden Holt & Sons, picker makers, Shade Pickerworks Todmorden


Kelly 1908

Young Helliwell & Son, picker makers, Shade Mill