Mossley Mill

Back in March I wrote about an afternoon stroll with added photos of an old Flax Mill. Today I have another one. This time with a happier twist.

Mossley Mill

Mossley Mill, 1930s.

Now for a little history lesson with the help of Newtownabbey Borough Council.

Mossley was originally a bleaching establishment and carried on by a late Mr Thompson but ceased above 80 years back. It afterwards became a flax scutching establishment, next a cotton factory, which business was carried on by Stanton and Graham but ceased about 35 years back. It was next changed to a calico (cotton) printing establishment by the Messrs Grimshaw and remained so from about 1818 up to 1834, when it was changed to a spinning factory by the present proprietor (Edmund Grimshaw). The Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1839

After Edmund Grimshaw’s death, Mossley was mortgaged to the Ulster Bank until 1859. The property was then sold to the Gunning & Campbell Co. At the time of this sale the property was described as:

“Two mills for the spinning of flax and tow, 22 worker’s houses, manager’s house and garden with a dwelling house and grounds, ornamentally planted. The machinery of the mill was run by two steam engines with boilers (25 horsepower each with shafting and great gearing attached)”. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs 1839

Although the name Gunning appears on the deed of sale, he had little or nothing to do with Mossley. Soon after the purchase of the mill the name of the mill changed to Henry Campbell & Co.

Henry Campbell & Co. consisted of second cousins Henry and John Campbell. It appears that Henry provided most of the capital for Mossley Mill but John was the one who ran it. Henry retired soon after purchasing the mill and this left John as the sole proprietor. It was John who would make many changes to Mossley. He expanded the mill, village, set up the school and improved the conditions for his employees.

There are several reasons for the success of the mill. Although the Campbells invested in new buildings and machinery, they did not over extend. They remained with the part of linen manufacture they knew best – flax and tow spinning.

While many companies were diversifying into many other linen products, the Campbells remained specialised.

In addition, the company looked after its workers well, given the standards of the time. This good business sense kept Mossley competitive. It was not until the 1880s that the Campbells diversified.

It was around this time that thread making was added to the business.

In 1978 the mill was sold to the Hanson Trust and was then amalgamated with Barbour Threads of Hilden, near Lisburn. The joint company was renamed Barbour Campbell Threads Ltd and in the ensuing rationalisation all thread production was transferred to Hilden and spinning to Mossley.

In 1993 the site was bought by Herdmans, flax spinners at Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone. Mossley Mill finally closed in 1995 and virtually all the machinery was scrapped or sold. Newtownabbey Borough Council bought the mill in 1996 and phase 1 of the development opened in 2000 has the Council Civic Centre.

Phase 2 of the development includes a proposal for a heritage and arts facility which would consist of a heritage gallery, temporary exhibition gallery and education room.

Mossley Mill_4

The chimney still stands and the new and old blend well together. There is a self service coffee shop open to the public on the first floor of the new extension overlooking the car park. What a pity it is not overlooking the lake!

Mossley Mill_2

A little imagination can breathe new life into an old building, pity the walls can’t talk!

Mossley Mill_1

The lake had few visitors on the day I was there.

This little fellow kept disappearing, I think he was practising for the Guinness book of records to see how long he could stay underwater!

35 thoughts on “Mossley Mill

  1. The ‘history’ of the flax mill is so interesting . It’s lovely to see old buildings being put to good use.

  2. Grannymar,

    My sister lives in North Belfast. There were so many fine mill buildings that could have been used imaginatively, I’m glad to see N’abbey giving it some thought.

    Conditions for the people working in them were often pretty miserable though!

  3. Grannymar, you’re a mine of information (or should that be mill of information?) Good to know the Campbells treated their workers well when so many employers were (as always) just out to get their pound of flesh. A pity the mill had to close but there again factory work is usually pretty grim.

  4. Grannymar,

    Thanks for the link to Nelly.

    Her foties o’ the Thirteenth in Ballymena are brilliant, so they are!

  5. Nick, WWW and Ian,

    When I find something that interests me I like to share it.

  6. In Sydney (and indeed other cities) we have many such buildings since our history is so young, preservation of these places has become mandatory. Some old warehouses are converted into apartments such as the old Stock Exchange, The Power House Museum used to be exactly that, Sydney Powerhouse. Even the old tank stream pumping station is now a restaurant and pub. Down the road from me, the facade of Sydney Woollen Mills has been retained to form the front of Bunnings . . . OK not too glamorous but at least a little bit of history’s repeating!

  7. Baino

    I like to see buildings with Character being restored or reused in some way. They are links and reminders to the past, a past without which, we would not be here.

  8. Many of my family Members worked here over the period of 50 or more years. My Uncle Samuel worked for over 50 years as a Lift Operator moving heavy Bags of Flax from floor to floor. My older Brother and Sister worked in the spinning rooms for a few years before the closure of the Mill. I have many happy memories of the Mill and the life of those who worked there. My other Brother and I were the last two members of the Family and thankfully found Suit and Tie jobs in the City of Belfast so we didnt have to work as Hard as the rest of my Family… I am now glad to see it still there after all these years and being put to good use..

  9. Welcome Jody, and thank you for your input. It is always interesting to get some background information and a ‘personal’ feel of the place. It somehow brings it to life for those more recent passers by.

    I realise that Campbell was a common name in that area and wonder if you were a descendent of Henry or John Campbell?

  10. My family Tree (Campbell side from my Father) stems back in Mossley for more than 100 years or so. My Grandfather told me when I was a young boy that we had ties far longer than this but could not produce documentary evidence to support this. We have ties in the Greater Newtownabbey Area and out as far as Larne. My Grandfather was sadly Orphaned during the Great War and was moved from Mossley to Larne for a number of years as a young boy but then met my Grandmother who was from Carnmoney and subsequently moved back… I was always fascinated by the Mill and the Campbell ownership and like to think that we may have had ties but sadly can not know it for sure….

  11. Jody,

    Thanks for coming back so quickly. I loved hearing about your family history.

    If you are ever back in Mossley make sure to call and see the Mill. There is a coffee shop on the first floor and it serves light lunches.

  12. I am currently doing a dissertation on the reuse of listed buildings and mossley mill is a case study i was going to talk about.
    could you give some of your opinions to its current reuse and what impact it would have on the area i would also be greatfull of any further info anyone may have on the mill.

  13. Welcome Gerard to my blog. Good luck with the dissertation on the reuse of listed buildings.

    I am away from home at the moment and will make contact with you at the weekend when I return.

    I am sure if you contacted Newtownabbey Borough Council they would arrange a tour for you and possibly have information that is unknown to me.

  14. know anything about the building across the road; its got Old Mill wrote on it and was previously used by Gaston insurance and presently some sort of eco car wash, which i think has just closed down. who owns it now? council or developer? just wondering cause I thought i could use the building for a community project. Mark.

  15. Hello Mark and welcome.

    I am sorry that I am unable to help you on this one. Perhaps a call to the council office across the road would be a worthwhile first call.

  16. Hi
    I live in New Zealand and doing a family tree.
    I have just discovered my maternal great grandfather who lived in Flax St in Belfast beside a big mill.
    In street directory he is listed as a “beamer’ and I was wondering if it had anything to do with flax mills?

  17. Welcome Brian to my blog.

    As a blow-in from Dublin, I really know little about the Linen/Flax industry. On a Google search I found the following:-

    Beamer – A weaver’s beamer drew yarn through and onto the long heavy beam of a loom.


    The ‘beamer’ was the most skilled workman because he tied the weaving threads to the beam.

    The latter was part of an article from the Newry Journal about Damolly Mill which closed down in 1979.

    Well worth a read :

  18. Takes me back to my childhood of the late 1960s / early 1970s. My late father worked in Mossley Mill and I remember all the stories and experiences. Talking about men like ‘Mr James’ (ie. Henshall). Collecting conkers in the extensive grounds. Gathering strawberries in the enclosed gardens. The musty smell of the drying rooms and the hessian bags of bobbins. Ghosts in Mossley House. A world war two fire engine pump waiting to be used and lookouts on the roof of the factory. And that horn to call the workers into work. Every morning and every evening. I once remember being told that there was a man employed to go round the white and red crescents in Mossley to wake the workers up in the morning. Seems so distant now.

  19. Sorry. Forgot to add, my mother (Sarah Campbell) is a relative of John and Henry Campbell, but haven’t worked out what relative she is!!! Probably 3rd/4th/5th cousins or whatever.

  20. Colin, welcome to my blog.

    It is wonderful to come across somebody with direct connections to Mossley Mill. I have not visited since last May. I see the new Theatre will open at the end of January 2010 and you can find out more about it here

  21. I too am from NZ and doing research on my husbands family. Grandmother was Jane Campbell a weaver married a Robert Hamill a cooper they lived in Belfast area Imperial Street. Wondering whethering this Campbell family is any relation to Mossley Mill???? Cheers

  22. My Mother and Aunt both worked at the Mossley Mill. They walked from home at Whiteabbey and were often worried about getting there late because if you did the gate was closed and you couldn’t get in. I know that my Mother enjoyed her days at the mill, mainly because of the friendships she made. She always said it was great fun! I don’t think people were as frightened of hard work and poor conditions in those days as they are now but guess that’s because they knew no different. It was lovely to find this site. Thank you.

  23. Madeline – Welcome to my blog. I am fascinated that two years after first posting about Mossley Mill, people are still appearing here with titbits of past history. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Hello Grannymar, I read your blog about Mossley Mill with interest. My maternal grandfather, James Gilliland, was a manager at the mill and my mother lived in Mossley House as a child.
    My grandfather was quite a character – a large man with a huge laugh, who could tell quite the story. He was missing part of two fingers on his right hand, undoubtedly due to a mill accident. My mother had many happy memories of Mossley.
    Their family relocated to Canada, and my mother married an Amercian (my father) in WWII. I live in the United States, but have visited Northern Ireland & Mossley Mill three times. The first was before the town of Newtonabbey bought the property, and the white house where my mother lived was still standing, but in disrepair. The last was in 2007 when a security guard took us on a tour of the building even though it was closed for the evening. I appreciated that very much, and I DID wish the walls could talk!
    We have been fortunate to stay in touch with our cousins and family in Northern Ireland and look at the chimmney of Mossley Mill will fondness. I am glad the building has been put to such good use. I think my grandfather would approve.

  25. Hi Karen, welcome to my blog. I am pleased my post brought back memories for you. Little did I realise that a morning drive and short walk would prove of so much interest to ex-workers and their relatives.

    The final stage of renovation is complete with a theatre providing a varied programme of entertainment.

  26. Thank you for the welcome and the memories, Grannymar! I did see pictures of the new theatre online after your comment. It looks lovely.
    Also, as an afterthought, I mentioned above that my mother, Nora Gilliland, married an American, but that is not quite the case. My father was actually born in Dromara and his family emigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. The families were aquainted in NI.
    I enjoyed reading your blog and seeing posts from others who have family connections to Mossley Mill. You never know where a morning drive may take you.

  27. Karen, So you are well and truly Irish!

    If you click on the title Grannymar at the top of the page it will bring you to the latest post. I have a series of posts about travel in Ireland that appear on Sundays. I began them at the beginning of September 2010. At this stage I have completed all but two of the ROI and then will move across the non existent border to Northern Ireland. You might find them interesting. An easy way to find them is to go to the Tag Cloud on the left hand side of the page and scroll down to Ireland and then click on it. The latest post appears first, but you can work backwards. Enjoy.

  28. Thank you, Grannymar – that is quite a compliment, although I would sound very American to you. :o) My mother did instill a love of her home country and it’s people in me.
    I will read your travel articles with interest. My husband and I circled the entire island on one trip and loved it! One of our favorite destinations was Dingle. You are fortunate to live in a beautiful and wonderful place.

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