Air, Water and Energy in the Industrial Revolution

Water - dirty and deadly

Situated between the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal, the Mill was well situated to use this natural resource for both energy and transport and was one of the main reasons that Gott invested so much money into the rebuild of the Mill in 1805. However, not only did the Mills take from the water, they also contributed to the poor state of it.

The following extracts, describe the effect Armley Mills and other mills like it, had on the condition of the water and sanitation in the city.

1806 Report from the committee on the Woollen Manufacture of England.

The River Aire, which runs through the town (Leeds) in different canals, is everywhere thick and dirty, in consequence of the various contributions made to its waters, from all the different manufactories.

1830 Suggestions from 'the improvements of our towns and houses'.

I shall also just notice the pretty condition of the river Aire, which
runs through Leeds. Instead of being an ornament to the town, and a minister of pleasures to its citizens, by boating, swimming and fishing, its banks are crowded and shut up with buildings, and its waters are like a reservoir of poison, carefully kept for the purpose of breeding a pestilence in the town. 

In that part of the river, extending from Armley mills to the King’s mills, it is charged with the drainage and contents of about two hundred water closets, cesspools, and privies, a great number of common drains, the drainings from dung-hills, the infirmary, (dead leeches, poultices for patients &c.,) slaughterhouses, chemical soap, gas, drug, dye-houses, and manufacturers spent blue and black dye, pig manure, old urine wash, with all sorts of dead animal and vegetable substances, and now and then a decomposed human body; forming an annual mass of filth equal to the thirty millions of gallons.

Today, the waterwheels stand still at Armley Mills, the rich source of power of the river ignored, while the Museum runs on electricity. The canal is still used for transport in a small way as tourists travel in barges during the summer months.


Cesspool - drain or tank to collect sewage
Citizens - people or a nation of people
Committee - a group or team
Consequence - an effect or result
Decomposed - decayed or mouldy
Dung-hill - a pile of animal sewage
Dye-house - a building where fabric or animal skins are dyed
Infirmary - hospital
Invest - to put something in (usually money)
Leeches - blood-sucking worms, thought to cure illnesses in the 1800s 
Manufactories - old fashioned word for factories, where things are made
Natural resource - a natural material e.g. coal or wood
Pestilence - deadly disease or plague
Poultice - a bandage or healing pad
Privies - old fashioned word for outside toilets
Reservoir - tank or pool, often to hold large amounts of water
Sanitation - hygiene and cleanliness
Slaughterhouse - a place where animals are killed before being prepared as food
Water closet - old fashioned word for a toilet that flushes

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