Pleasley Vale Mills and the Viyella fabric :: Shared Description

By 1650 there was a water-powered forge in this narrow valley making saws and swords. In 1784 Henry Hollins and four partners leased the site and built a mechanised cotton spinning mill. By 1800, this had become a successful business, but it had a reputation for hard conditions and low pay, employing hundreds of children. In 1828 the two cotton mills, their dams and 15 acres of land were bought outright by the Hollins Company for £7,600 when the lease expired. In 1839 Hollins Co. installed a ‘gas apparatus’ to produce their own gas light for the mills.

There were two major fires within a relatively short space of time. The upper mill burnt down on Christmas Day 1840. The mill had just been refitted with new machinery and it was vastly under-insured, resulting in a huge loss for the company and the loss of 300 local jobs. The cause of the fire was never discovered but it was reported that Henry Hollins had received an anonymous letter stating that, 'if he didn't take great care, the other mill would be burnt and that it would be useless to rebuild the one destroyed as the same fate would befall it'. In late September 1846, after the upper mill had just resumed full production, the lower mill was burnt down. The cause of the fires was never established, but many said it was due to worker unrest at the poor conditions and it was assumed to be arson. An anonymous Nottingham artist painted a graphic picture of the second fire – almost certainly tipped off and the equivalent of an at-the-scene photographer today!

Following the first fire, an exhausted Henry Hollins retired and passed management of the business to his 25-year-old son William, whose benevolence and skilled leadership introduced a complete change for the better in the working conditions and treatment of the employees. He re-launched the business using modern steam-powered machines and in a short time the firm become a major producer of textiles. William Hollins also built several houses, the local school, a mechanics institute, a library, baths and a recreation room for the 500 employees and their families. He also supplied gas lighting for the village and local colliery.

Some years later the nephew of William Hollins, Henry Ernest Hollins continued the family business and took the company to a whole new level. James and Robert Sissons, who worked for William Hollins & Co, researched and developed the ‘Viyella’ branded fabric in 1890. This textile was a mixture of 55% Merino wool and 45% cotton which had combined properties of softness and durability. The brand name was first registered as a trademark in 1894 - the first ever branded fabric in the world. It was also registered in the United States in 1907. The trademark covered the textile itself and all items of clothing produced from it. The fabric was first used to manufacture men's shirts and nightshirts, but the brand eventually became associated with high quality women's wear. Today, the fabric has developed into a blend of around 80% cotton and 20% Merino wool.

In 1890 Henry Hollins bought a new mill around twenty miles away close to Matlock, and in the process doubled the output of the company. The mill was situated in the valley running from Cromford to Grange Mill on the 'Via Gellia Road' (see SK2857 : Via Gellia Mill and Pond ), probably named in a mock-Latin style by (or after) Phillip Eyre Gell, the man responsible for building it. The rock face at the Pleasley Vale Mill site is still known as ‘Little Matlock’.
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During the 19th and 20th centuries, the firm continued to build its reputation worldwide. In 1941 part of the mill was cleared out to make room for making anti-tank guns. In 1960 the firm was awarded the Queen's Royal Warrant. A series of mergers led to the firm becoming ‘Coats Viyella’ in 1967, a FTSE 30 listed company. The Pleasley Vale Mills factory eventually closed in 1987 due to foreign competition, with 220 job losses. The site was later declared a conservation area by Bolsover District Council, who started to let the buildings to several businesses, effectively turning the site into the business park we see today.

The Viyella trade name is still going strong (note the bottom left corner of the home page quoting ‘since 1784’… LinkExternal link .

The Pleasley Vale Mills were built on top of a Stone Age cave system where the bones of woolly rhinoceros and mammoth have been found, along with evidence of prehistoric human habitation. The caves and the harsh conditions in the original mills have led to a reputation for the site to be haunted. Many strange and terrifying experiences have been reported over the years. It's said that the most aggressive spirit is that of a male supervisor who likes to make men feel intimidated, especially in and around the Dye Room. Many mediums have picked up on the fact that he committed murder and rape during his life on the premises. One of the murder victims was a young lady who has been known to show herself on the top floor of Mill 1. Also on the same floor, people have burst into tears for no reason, felt nauseous, depressed and extremely disorientated. Perhaps not a part of the business park to lease for your business?
by Trevor Rickard
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20 images use this description:

SK5164 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5164 : Pleasley Vale Mills - Mill 2 by Trevor Rickard
SK5164 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5265 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5265 : Pleasley Vale Mills - Mill 3 by Trevor Rickard
SK5264 : Entrance to Pleasley Vale Business Park by Trevor Rickard
SK5265 : Pleasley Vale Mills - Mill 3 by Trevor Rickard
SK5164 : Pleasley Vale Mills - Mill 1 by Trevor Rickard
SK5164 : Pleasley Mills, top mill west front by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5164 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5165 : Pleasley Vale Mills - Mill Owner's House by Trevor Rickard
SK5164 : Pleasley Vale - No. 2 Mill by Chris Allen
SK5164 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5164 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5165 : Pleasley Mills - Mill 3 by Trevor Rickard
SK5265 : Pleasley Mills by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5164 : Tunnel through the mill by Alan Murray-Rust
SK5164 : Pleasely Vale Mills - Mill 1 by Trevor Rickard
SK5265 : Pleasley Vale No. 3 Mill by Chris Allen
SK5165 : Pleasley Mills, Gardeners Lodge by Alan Murray-Rust


These Shared Descriptions are common to multiple images. For example, you can create a generic description for an object shown in a photo, and reuse the description on all photos of the object. All descriptions are public and shared between contributors, i.e. you can reuse a description created by others, just as they can use yours.
Created: Tue, 25 Jan 2011, Updated: Mon, 24 Oct 2016

The 'Shared Description' text on this page is Copyright 2011 Trevor Rickard, however it is specifically licensed so that contributors can reuse it on their own images without restriction.

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