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Draycott’s Victoria Mills.

Cotton Towle The industrial ‘rumblings’ took a significant step in 1800, when John Towle, destined to be a big noise in Draycott, started a cotton doubling business in the village (exactly where we don’t know). Business must have boomed, for in 1814 Towle constructed the first buildings at the Draycott Mills site (on the west side of Market Street), a location that was to witness a bewildering variety of commercial activities, right up to the 21st Century.  Towle expanded his mill only four years later and it was probably around this time that Coulsons Yard and Codons Yard were built.  These were short terraces at right-angles to Market Street, to the south of the mill, on land now occupied by Milner Avenue.  In 1842 the present Draycott Mills buildings were started, including Draycott Lace Mill(also known as Melbourne Mill), the long and now rather dilapidated section that fronts on to Market Street (a Grade-II listed building since 1986).  The octagonal chimney to the rear of the site,and which still stands as Draycott’s second-highest landmark, was completed in 1860, as recorded by the plaque halfway up its eastern side.  At around the same time, more housing was built for the workers, on Clay Street and New Street. Lace manufacturing had in fact made its first appearance in Draycott in 1842, probably at another mill owned by the Towle family and situated by the canal a little way east of Draycott Fields Farm, using cotton yarn from Manchester and elsewhere. So the leading entrepreneur in this phase of Draycott’s industrial development was undoubtedly John Towle and when he died in 1861, by the terms of his will a bible was given to each of the 323 employees of Draycott Mill, an event which, according to the Derby Mercury caused “a considerable degree of excitement” Wilne Mills were still going strong at this time, with cotton spinning and doubling, their employment pealing at 190 people in 1871 when Marcus Astle was the owner, but the new businesses were all being set up away from the flood plain in Draycott.  1895 saw the construction of another lace factory, this time on Derby Road by Joseph and Arthur Bryan, their premises now having been converted into the Conservative Club, and in the same year Draycott Mills was host to the Fairbank Wood Rim Company (wooden bike wheel rims) and Simpsons Lever Chain and Cycle Company. However, all these developments were eclipsed by the mammoth enterprise whose construction lasted from 1888 to 1907 and which gave Draycott its dominant landmark to this day. A few facts about Victoria Mills It was built as a ‘tenement mill’, i.e. its occupants were small lace manufacturers with only a few machines, possibly only one each. The physical layout was standard for lace mills at the time being divided into standings, each occupied by one lace machine and in this case running east to west across the factory.  The narrow building and large windows (228 down one side) meant that daylight was widely available. Each tenant rented both space and machine from the owner. Ernest Jardine, who manufactured lace machines. Power was originally supplied by two on-site steam engines, one engine ceased operation only in 1959, when it was under the care of the engineer, Mr Haywood. Until 1952 there were no toilets in the building and much time was spent scrambling up and down the four flights of stairs to use the outdoor facilities. The factory is often quoted as being as big as Noah’s Ark. To modem minds this seems a strange comparison, Noah’s Ark usually being represented as dwarfed by the necks of two cartoon giraffes protruding from within!  However, the Bible says the dimensions of the craft were 300 cubits ( l50m) long by 50 cubits (25m) wide by 30 cubits (15m) high.  The approximate dimensions of Victoria Mills are 295m long by15m wide by 25m high (to the top of the cupola), and so the comparison is in any case an underestimate. .. not to mention the dubious sea worthiness of any craft shaped like Victoria Mills!  Using a more modem yardstick, the factory is over twice the length of the largest official football pitch, but only a third the width of the smallest, while its height is not particularly unusual for lace mills.  What are remarkable are its narrow shape, the body being even narrower than the façade, and its massive proportions relative to the village that spreads at it feet. * Strangely enough, the vexed question of lavatorial provision crops up again more than once in the unfolding tale of Draycott. (Extracts from Neddytown: a History of Draycott and Church Wilne by Richard Guise)
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