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History of Hardcastle Crags

A view of Gibson Mill under scaffolding across a derelict mill pond at Hardcastle Crags
Gibson Mill across a derelict lower mill pond | © National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Easily recognisable, Gibson Mill has sat at the heart of this landscape since 1805. From cotton mill to entertainment emporium, people have lived, worked and played at Hardcastle Crags for over 200 years. Stepping stones, packhorses bridges and old railways give a hint of the evolving history of this special place, from a centre of the industrial revolution to the Hardcastle Crags we see today.

Gibson Mill

Gibson Mill, built in 1805, was one of the first cotton mills of the industrial revolution. Until then, most weaving took place in people’s cottages, and the idea of a ‘factory’ was relatively new.

It was built by the Gibson family, who owned the nearby Greenwood Lee, a house above the village of Slack. They were local landowners and farmers who embraced new technology.

Gibson Mill was at first leased by Titus and James Gaukroger. Records show that men, women and even children worked in the mill, some as young as ten.

The weaving shed was added in 1840 and in 1867 an engine shed was added. The mill produced cotton cloth until 1890.

The growth of industry

The Walshaw Dean Reservoirs

As well as being home to Gibson Mill, the land around Hardcastle Crags became an important location for industry, with three new reservoirs built for the growing town of Halifax.

The reservoirs were constructed on the moorland above Hardcastle Crags, a particularly remote area. To get materials and workers there, a railway and a temporary settlement were built in 1900, with workers living there until 1908.

The Hardcastle Crags Railway

The railway began at White Hill Nook, above Heptonstall, went along the edge of the Hebden Valley to Blake Dean, and then continued up the valley towards Walshaw for five miles.

Eight wooden bridges had to be built, including one at Clough Hole. The railway sleepers were made from the trees at Hardcastle Crags and processed in Gibson Mill.

At Blake Dean, a trestle bridge was built over the Hebden Water, the remains of which still stand today.

Women in the river at Hardcastle Crags
Women in the river at Hardcastle Crags | © Pennine Horizons Digital Archive

Dawson City is built

During the construction of the railway and the reservoirs, a temporary workers’ settlement was built at Heptonstall Slack, near Draper’s Corner.

It was named after Canada’s Dawson City, the location of the 1899 Klondyke goldfields, where it was said some of the navvies had worked.

Made of timber, the buildings had living accommodation, workshops and storerooms.

Living at Dawson City

Large dormitories with wash houses were built to house single men. By the spring of 1901 there were 22 huts to accommodate about 230 men. By September 1905, there were about 540 men living in Dawson City.

There was also accommodation built for families, with many children living in the temporary village.

Who worked here?

The men who built the railway came from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales and Ireland. Their work with picks, shovel and explosives was hard and dangerous, resulting in many injuries and some fatalities.

The navvies worked long days, starting at 6am and not returning home until after 6pm.

Gibson Mill as an entertainment emporium
Gibson Mill as an entertainment emporium | © Pennine Horizons Digital Archive

Gibson Mill becomes an entertainment emporium

By 1902, production at Gibson Mill had ceased. The top floor of the mill was turned into a café and several refreshment rooms were built around the woodland.

Some former mill workers found employment in this new tourist hub. From around 1894, the Pavillion restaurant was run by Lister Hollindrake, who had previously lived in the cottages attached to the mill and worked as a cotton warp dresser.

William Shackleton, who ran the restaurant on the top floor, had also worked in the mill but as an engine tender.

An all-round experience

As well as cafés and dancing at Gibson Mill, there were swings and visitors could take boats out on the mill pond. By the 1920s, more than 500,000 people visited Hardcastle Crags every year.

In 1929, a turbine was built to generate electricity Gibson Mill. After the Second World War, a roller skating rink was installed in the weaving shed. Arnold Binns, a world champion skater, gave lessons there.

The Saville Estate at Hardcastle Crags

The Saville family owned much of the land around Hardcastle Crags, developing Walshaw Lodge into a hunting and a shooting lodge in the 1850s. The family’s history can be traced back to Tudor times.

Many of the pine and beech trees that were planted at Hardcastle Crags were planted by the family in the mid-18th century.

When Midgehole Road was rebuilt, the family charged a toll on the road until the 1950s.

Gibson Mill today

After the Second World War, the mill slipped into misuse until it was saved in 1950 when Lord Saville donated 214 acres of land to the National trust.

As well as telling the story of the history of this special place, Gibson Mill is now home to the Weaving Shed Café and the second-hand bookshop.

It’s also starting a new chapter in its history as a sustainable wedding venue, providing a beautiful backdrop for couples who wish to tie the knot surrounded by nature.

On a visit to Gibson Mill you’ll also see evidence of how a pioneering project led to the building becoming the first fully sustainable place cared for by the National Trust.

Gibson Mill has operated off-grid for more than 10 years. All energy used is generated onsite – the water supply comes direct from the natural spring water in Hardcastle Crags.

Over 200 years after it was first built, it stands as one of our flagship sustainable places.

A room inside Gibson Mill under restoration, with beams supporting the ceiling, a dumb waiter on the back wall and plastic sheeting on the floor
Gibson Mill at Hardcastle Crags under restoration | © National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Contact us


Are you researching the history of Hardcastle Crags? We have an onsite archive which is free to access, please send any enquiries to the email below.
Visitors on a bridge at Hardcastle Crags with Gibson Mill in view, West Yorkshire

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