William Lawrence’s Mills, Lyons Lane, Chorley, Lancs.
by John Harrison.
(May 2010 update)

The recent announcement (June 2008) of the intended closure of Wm. Lawrence’s mills on Lyons Lane has correctly been identified by the Chorley Guardian as the “end of an era.”
William Lawrence was one of the great figures of Victorian Chorley who “rose from the ranks”. He worked as a spinner for the Smethursts for 12 years and then became a mill owner himself on a scale to rival the Smethursts, owning 2 large spinning mills as well as weaving sheds.

Initially he went into partnership with George Brown as Muslin Manufacturers. That partnership was dissolved in 1852. His first mill “in his own right” was built between 1857 and 1858, the second in 1866. The first mill is completely demolished, although the offices remain. The development of the first mill was reported in the Preston Chronicle . On 25 October 1856:-
“On Saturday last the workmen employed in erecting the new mill in Lyons Lane, Chorley, belonging to Mr. William Lawrence, were invited by that gentleman to partake of a substantial supper, provided by him at the Cotton Tree Inn, to celebrate the completion of the building. About seventy of the workmen, availing themselves of the gentleman’s hospitality, sat down to supper. The mill is a plain and substantial building, erected under the direction of Messrs. Watson and Allsup of Preston, and is calculated to hold from 23,000 to 24,000 spindles. The erection of the mill will cause a considerable number of hands to be employed, and will be found a great acquisition to that most thriving and populous part of Chorley.”
On 21 March 1857:-
“On Wednesday last, the steam engines connected with the new spinning mills belonging to Mr. William Lawrence, of Chorley, were started for the first time, in the presence of the proprietor and a number of friends. The engines, of 30 horse power, were made by Messrs. Watson and Allsup of Preston and reflect great credit on them.”


The following plan shows land he leased from Robert Townley Parker in 1861.

William Lawrence’s business suffered its downs as well as its ups. He had a fire in 1860 that was caused by “cotton taking fire from the gas.” This was presumably a gas light. Fortunately the fire was quickly extinguished and the Improvement Commissioner’s fire engine, although summoned, was not required. Lawrence’s factory suffered only “trifling damage.” (PG 15.12.1860). Most mills also had experience of workers strikes, and we know of a “turn-out” of “hands” from his mill in 1861. (PG 16.3.1861).
These problems notwithstanding, his business continued to expand and as part of an article on mill expansion in Chorley in the Chorley Standard of 3 November 1866 it was reported “Mr. Lawrence is erecting a new spinning mill to the rear of Lyons Lane Mill which will contain about 40,000 spindles.”
Like the Smethursts, his was a family business and in 1876 he took his three sons into the business as partners.
William was an attender of Hollinshead Independent Chapel and lived at Moss Cottage on Eaves Lane, roughly where the Volvo dealer is currently situated.

Townley Street (2009)

As a Liberal in his politics he “always exhibited a marked candour in the expression of his opinions” and actively supported the Chorley Improvement Act which brought huge changes to the governance, sewerage, drainage and life of the town. He even travelled to Westminster to support the Act before a Parliamentary Committee.
He favoured widening the franchise to working men and took at the chair at major public meetings in support of the National Reform Union. (CS 29.9,1866 and 10.11.1866). He was elected President of the Chorley Branch of the National Reform Union. (CS 24.11.1866).
He died in 1878 and on the day of his funeral his mills were closed from 11am to 2pm to allow his workers to attend the funeral. His memorial in Chorley Cemetery in the sunken area facing the entrance is at the opposite side to the Smethursts, as in death as in life (North Mills v Lyons Lane).
The 1882 Barrett General and Commercial Directory of Preston, Chorley, Kirkham and Garstang showed one of the sons, Edward, living in Lytham, whilst James and John still lived in Chorley at Highfield and Eaves Lane respectively.

John Harrison
May 2010