The Abraham Gibson's were landowners and farmers who each demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, an enthusiasm for technological developments and a willingness to adapt their business activities in tune with the economic circumstances of the times in which they lived.
Abraham Gibson ‘the elder’
The first Abraham Gibson (1720-1780) from Causey in Langfield married Susannah Mitchell in 1741. They had five children, including a son also named Abraham. In 1762 he purchased Greenwood Lee. According to local legend, Abraham was drunk at the auction and the following morning he was surprised to learn that he was the owner of Greenwood Lee! ‘Greenwooodley’ appears on a map of 1610 and the name Greenwood came from a settlement dating to the Saxon Age. Like a previous owner, Robert Sutcliffe - a ‘yeoman clothier’, Abraham combined activity in both agriculture and textiles, using hand spinners and handloom weavers to produce cotton cloth though the domestic system.
Abraham Gibson ‘ the younger’
The second Abraham Gibson (1750-1839 ) married Grace Cockcroft in 1778. They had eight children, including a son named Abraham. He continued to develop cotton production by installing a water wheel and machinery at Greenwood Lee, around 1800. Part of the upper floor of the house was cut away to accommodate a water wheel, 24 feet in diameter and 18 inches in width, with water transported to the wheel by a conduit. The wheel powered a double carding engine, 30 inches in width on the cards, a billey and a picker and, in all likelihood, spinning jennies. At this time, weaving was carried out by handloom weavers in their cottages.
An accidental death
The third Abraham Gibson (1781-1805) married Hannah Ogden in 1801. They had three daughters, one of whom died in infancy, soon after her father. Abraham died in 1805 as a result of falling from his horse while returning from Manchester. Gibson Mill, (originally named Lord Holme Mill) was not completed at the time of his death but was advertised for lease by his widow, Hannah and his father Abraham. The water wheel and the machinery from Greenwood Lee were offered for sale. In 1805, the mill was smaller than it appears today, being three storeys and six bays, plus a mill pond and three cottages. The mill was water powered by an internally housed undershot wheel 16 feet in diameter and six feet in width within the shields.
Cotton Mill to Entertainment Emporium
The fourth Abraham Gibson (1827-1907) was the son of William Gibson, a brother of the third Abraham Gibson. In 1886, he married Mary Elizabeth Mitchell and they had one child, Abraham. From 1832 Gibson Mill was leased by Titus and James Gaukroger but in 1861, the Gibsons started manufacturing cotton worsted in the mill. By March 1902, production had ceased. The top floor was transformed into a restaurant which by 1905 was leased to William Shackleton who had previously lived in the cottages and worked as an engine tender (stationary).
The use of the mill for catering was preceded by several refreshment rooms in the surrounding woods. The Pavilion Restaurant, whose proprietor Lister Hollinrake had also lived in the cottages and worked as a cotton warp dresser, was advertised in the 1894 guide to Hardcastle Crags.
The fifth Abraham Gibson (1887-1956), known as “Young Ab” died unmarried and was the last of the line. He continued to run the property as a tourist attraction. The mill, now an “Entertainment Emporium” not only contained first and second class restaurants but dancing took place on the middle floor. By the 1920s the number of visitors to Hardcastle Crags exceeded 500,000.
In 1929 Abraham installed a turbine to generate electricity to supply the mill and Greenwood Lee. Following the Second World War there was a roller-skating rink in the weaving shed where Arnold Binns, the World Champion skater gave lessons but by the mid- 1950s, the number of visitors to Hardcastle Crags was falling. On his death in 1956 Abraham left his property to the National Trust.