Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

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Aug 2015
 Check out this report by John Harrison on
Twentieth Century History: The Challenge for future Chorley Historians

Tue 11 Aug 2015
Gregg Butler presents  John Harkness (c1816 – 1898) of Preston,
Ballad Printer and his work


Before the days of mass communication; radio, internet and newspapers for all the general public needed to keep up with news events.

Mr Butler gave us a fascinating insight how John Harkness (c1816 – 1898) printed broadsheets of ballads that helped the spread of news.

Gregg Butler


His career started in Carlisle but he moved to Preston in the 1840s. At that time the general public could not afford newspapers and books due the newspaper tax or sometimes known as the stamp tax. This tax was in force until 1855.
By publishing broadsheets of ballads most people could read about events and share them in song. Some of these were very powerful especially those covering the Preston Lockout Strike of 1853/4

There are 40 surviving ballads from this period that covered the longest and most expensive industrial conflict in the history of Preston.

John Harkness mostly printed broadsheets but he did print railway timetables and other publications. The railways also enabled him to circulate his work throughout the country.
His first premises in Preston were in Manchester Road then he moved to 121/122 Church Street.
Harkness began printing Broadsheets in 1838 but by 1875 they weren’t as popular because of better education and new and cheaper periodicals.

Cowling Mill under construction

The junction of Church St. and Manchester Rd (formerly Water St). Preston.
This is where John Harkness had his premises.

The broadsheets were numbered but not dated. They ran from number 1 to over 1,500. Many can be dated due to them covering events that were well known and documented elsewhere.
John Harkness died in 1898 at the age of 82 and his stock and printing materials were moved to Blackburn and sold for a pittance.
He also had a prolific private life and married 4 times with many sons and daughters.
Mr Butler brought some recordings of the ballads which he was able to play during his presentation. It was easy to imagine how powerful these would have been at a time before radio and records.



The Cowling Mill Spinning Co., Ltd.
An article from John Burlison


The Cowling Mill Spinning Co., Ltd., was registered in May 1905, with £100,000 in 20,000 shares of £5.00 each to contain 120,000 spindles, and building work began, with the foundations being laid in September 1905, and bricklaying commenced, and in such an advanced state of building, by December 1905 the bricklayers had reached the fourth floor.

Cowling Mill, Cowling Brow, Chorley. PR6 0QG
lat/long: 53.647529, -2.613329

Cowling Mill under construction


Work in constructing the mill continued night and day as a flag was hoisted to the top of the chimney at the beginning of May 1906.

In August 1906 machinery was being delivered to the mill and was rapidly being erected. The mills machinery was entrusted to Messrs. Dobson and Barlow (Bolton) for 94,000 mule spindles divided between 72 mules, and 24,000 ring spindles spinning Egyptian 30's to 90's, and American 30's to 40's

It was October 1906, and the steam engines at the mill were given a trial run, and were said to run very smoothly, as spinning operations at the mill were expected to begin in two-three weeks ahead.

At the engine christening ceremony in June 1907, the engines were named "Goliath" and "Sampson." one name for the Low Pressure Cylinder, and the other name for the High Pressure Cylinder.

During the working life of the mill, accidents occurred in often dangerous conditions particularly with little piecers cleaning moving machine parts in the spinning rooms, one newspaper published the following -

Saturday 5th June 1909
Last week a minder named James Westby, employed at Cowling Spinning Mill, was fined 5s. and costs for a breach of the Factory Act. The offence was that the defendant failed to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of a child named Percy Hopkinson, by allowing him to clean a mule while in motion. The lad was sweeping under the mule with a hand brush when he had his hand crushed between the mule carriage as it ran back, and the spring part of the frame. The case, said the Inspector, was not brought in a spirit of aggression but as a warning. This was the first prosecution of the kind in the district, and the Chairman said similar cases would, in future, be dealt with more severely.

During World War Two the Cowling Mill was closed under the concentration war effort scheme, and re-opened by the Cotton Controller in April 1945.

Eventually with the decline in the Lancashire cotton industry with cheap imports it was announced in August 1959 that Combined English Mills (Spinners) Ltd, would close the Cowling Spinning Company branch in the near future as a spokesman at the time said work would be found for most employees at other mills under their control.