Air, Water and Energy in the Industrial Revolution

Armley Mills - A Typical Victorian Mill

The Armley Mills site has been used for industrial purposes since Medieval times, when a fulling mill (used to clean cloth or wool) was built there. The first written description of Armley Mills dates from 1708, when it was leased to local clothier Henry Saville as a fulling mill. Its proximity to water for power and transport, as well as its close location to the city centre made it a prime site. 

Armley Mills expanded hugely during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th-19th Century. For a time it became the largest woollen mill in the world. In 1788, the mill was bought by Colonel Thomas Lloyd who was a leading and influential cloth merchant. In 1804 he sold it to another influential businessman, Benjamin Gott. 

Set backs and Steam Power

Disaster struck in 1805, when a fire virtually destroyed many of the buildings. Determined this would never happen again, Gott used fireproofing technology and re-built in brick and iron. Gott and his sons expanded the mill further to profit from the latest inventions. In 1850 the first steam engine was installed. It worked with the water wheel to power and speed up production.

From the 1860s the mill was leased to Kinnear, Holt and Company, who installed improved spinning machinery. After becoming tenants in the 1880s, the firm Bentley and Tempest took over the whole building in 1907. Bentley and Tempest produced woollen cloth and exported it around the world. They employed approximately 150 people in all stages of production. 

With competition from abroad and the increasing use of man-made fibres, the company began to suffer after the Second World War. In 1969 the firm closed – signalling the end of a chapter in the history of the mill.

Although the Leeds cityscape has changed, the buildings of Armley Mills today stand as a proud reminder of its industrial heritage. Situated on an island between the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal and is surrounded by a flourishing natural habitat and wildlife.


Cityscape - view of a city
Corn milling - a place where corn was crushed to make flour
Corn Laws - introduced in Britain in 1804 to restrict the import of foreign corn, ended in 1846
Demise - end or finish
Fulling Mill - place where the cloth or wool was cleaned or ‘scoured’
Heritage - tradition
Industrious - hard- working or productive
Leased - to rent or hire
Man-made fibres - a fibre not made from natural materials
Tenant - lodger or occupant
Utilise - make use of
Water wheel - wheel driven by water, used to power machinery 

Document icon Learning article provided by: Armley Mills Museum, Leeds Museums and Galleries | 
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