Armley Mills is one of Leeds most iconic buildings, dating back considerably farther than the other buildings we’ve explored in this recent series of blog posts. It also has a somewhat darker history than the contrasting buildings we’ve explored, such as the Corn Exchange, Civic Hall and Temple Newsam. As well as being a fantastic museum, giving insight into the Leeds of yesterday, it has a widespread, ghoulish reputation for being one of Leeds most haunted buildings.
It was once at the epicentre of Leeds as an industrial powerhouse and represents an important period in our cities history. It has now been converted into Leeds Industrial Muesum, which is a popular destination for people who visit Leeds, as well as one of the most frequented museums for school children in the region.
In this article, we’re taking a brief history of Armley Mills, as well as what to expect when you visit Leeds Industrial Museum to help you plan your trip.
History of Armley Mills
The earliest records of the mill date back to 1707, when it was a building containing just two wheels and four stocks. It changed hands many times whilst steadily become a more significant industrial power. By 1788, when the mill was put up for sale, it was described “Armley Mill… no situation in the West Riding of Yorkshire is superior if any equal.”
It wasn’t until 1804, when Benjamin Gott – a significant figure in the history of Leeds and Mayor of Leeds in 1799 – bought the mill and following a fire which destroyed the original building and set about creating what was once the largest wool mill in the world.
Although many would consider this something to be proud of, this big reputation also brings countless tales about the frankly horrific working conditions that existed within the walls of Armley Mills. It was because of these conditions that the Mills of this time period became known as the “Dark Satanic Mills.”
This less than flattering nickname alludes to the life that many of the mill workers faced during their time at Armley Mills. Poverty was rife at this time, and in order to afford simple pleasures that we take for granted, like a small roof over their head and a diet able to sustain them families were forced to send their children to work at the mills.
Up until 1833 when the Factory Act set the minimum working age to 9 years old and the maximum hours to 48 per week, children as young as six years old would work over 70 hours a week for very little monetary reward.
With their small stature, they were able to fit underneath the machines to collect scraps of wool which had fallen to the floor – what’s more they were given small brushes which they used to clean the machines which were in constant operation.
The loss of a brush would lead to dismissal or a beating, so they would fasten the brushes to their wrists – which as I’m sure you can imagine, was a hazardous practise, and often resulted in dire consequences.
Although working conditions improved gradually over the next century, the mill remained operational although during the 20th century a number of factors meant that the British textile industry was in decline. The Mill survived until 1969, when it closed its doors.
Armley Mills were bought by Leeds City Council due to its historical importance and in 1982, the mills reopened as Leeds Industrial Museum, where many across the region visit to learn about the history of Leeds.
Leeds Industrial Museum
Leeds Industrial Museum is a wonderful destination for anyone with an interest in history. It’s also a great way to introduce children to Leeds’ proud industrial heritage and give them a better understanding of how our city has developed over the years.
Inside the impressive, industrial building, you’ll find a host of exhibits from as far back as the 18th century, up until the present day. You can expect to find artifacts that were important to the manufacturing success of Leeds as a region, including tools used to manufacture textiles among other things.
Also on show is a number of items which tell the story of many of the industries that have been present in the region. A recreated Victoria cottage, waterwheel and a textile gallery, help introduce a spot of history with the ultimate goal of helping you understand the importance that industry played in Leeds journey to the Northern Powerhouse that it is today.
They also offer a number of multimedia exhibits, including a functioning 1920’s cinema which plays a range of short films.
Leeds Industrial Museum Opening Times
Monday: Closed except for bank holidays when we are open 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00.
Tuesday: 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Wednesday: 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Thursday: 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Friday: 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Saturday: 10:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Sunday: 13:00 – 17:00, last admission is at 16:00
Where is Leeds Industrial Museum
Leeds Industrial Museum can be found just two miles away from the city centre on Canal Road (off the main A65 road to Kirkstall)
You can get to the museum by car – there is a free car park outside the museum, and there are a number of busses which can take you from Leeds City Centre to Vie Cinema in Kirkstall, which is just a short walk to the mill.
How much is it to enter
Membership: Admission is free to members of the Leeds Art Fund, Friends of Leeds City Museums and the National Arts Collection Fund.
Child: £1.80 (children under 5 years are free)
Group: The concessionary rate applies per person for pre-booked groups of 10 or more.
Max Card: General admission is free
Leeds Card: Adult £2.90.
Concessions: (LX, Over 60 & 60 Extra) £2.20.
Child: (Breeze Card) £1.45. Family: £6:10 Leeds Family Card or Breeze card. Please make sure you have your card with you.