Samuel Oldknow

Cotton Manufacturer & Businessman

Samuel Oldknow (5 Oct 1756-18 Sep 1828) was born at Anderton, Lancashire, and he served an apprenticeship at his uncle's drapery business in Nottingham. In 1784 he moved to Stockport and bought a house (Hillgate House) and warehouse on Higher Hillgate where he established a cotton mill for the manufacture of muslin. His move to Stockport was made in order to expand the muslin manufacturing business he had initially established in Anderton in 1782. In Stockport he installed spinning mules, invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779, and looms, the mill being powered by a Boulton and Watt steam engine. Muslin is a finely-woven unbleached or white cloth produced from twisted yarn and mainly used to make curtains, sheets and dresses.

Samuel Oldknow.

Oldknow was a highly motivated and ambitious man who wanted to expand his business interests but, as he was lacking in financial skills, he was unable to raise capital in London where he sold his textile products. Consequently, he turned to his friend, Richard Arkwright Junior of Cromford, for substantial loans, which were granted to him. He was then able to expand his interests to the Marple and Mellor area and, commencing in 1790, he built Mellor Mill to the south of Marple Bridge, for mule spinning. Simultaneously, he became the principal promoter for the construction of the Peak Forest Canal and Tramway to supply limestone and coal to a battery of lime kilns that he built at Marple. In addition, he built Mellor Lodge adjacent to Mellor Mill as his residence, Marple Lodge on the opposite side of the river Goyt for his half-brother, John Clayton, and an Apprentice House about 370 yards south east of the mill on Lakes Road. The latter is also known as Bottom’s Hall. In order to provide homes for his workforce he built houses for them at Stone Row and Brick Row in Marple and at Red Row in Mellor. He also built All Saints Church in Marple as a replacement for a timber-framed church dating from the second half of the 16th century. This opened in 1811.

In 1794 he sold his mill on Higher Hillgate, Stockport, to William Radcliffe of Mellor. Eventually, these premises closed as a mill and the hat manufacturers, Christy & Co, occupied the site. This hat works remained open until 1997 following which it was demolished but Oldknow's house was left standing.

The south-east elevation of the Mellor Mill.

Construction work on the Palladian-style Mellor Mill commenced in 1790 and it opened in 1793. It was a large six-storey, brick-built structure 400-feet long by 42-feet wide. Work for this water-powered mill involved the diversion of the river Goyt and the construction of three millponds. It was destroyed by fire in 1892.

Palladian architecture is a style derived from building designs by Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508/80). Palladio's work was based on the symmetry, perspective and standards of the classical-temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Stone wall plaque from Mellor Mill.

This plaque was set in the central triangular pediment of the north-west elevation of the mill. It depicts Samuel Oldknow’s initials, a shuttle and the year 1890, which records the year that construction of the mill commenced.

Christy & Co, hat manufacturers
Their connection with Samuel Oldknow's house on Higher Hillgate, Stockport, which the company used as offices. Hillgate House is listed Grade II, List Entry No. 1356832.

Christy & Co
This firm of hat manufacturers was founded by Miller Christie (1748-12 Jun 1820) in 1773 and his works was in Bermondsey, London, later becoming known as the House of Christy. The surname spelling can be either 'Christie' or 'Christy'. A later member of the family to own the company was William Miller Christy (d.1858) and in 1826 Christy & Co bought out a firm of hat manufacturers in Stockport and established their works on Hillgate. The tithe map of the Hillgate district for c.1850 shows that Samuel Christy was the occupier of the works site, the landowner being Lady McDougal. In c.1833 the company founded Fairfield Mills in Droylsden, situated on Manchester Road, adjacent to the Hollinwood Branch of the Ashton Canal. This became known as W M Christy & Sons Ltd after William Miller Christy. The success of this company was due to the manufacture of their Royal Turkish Towel, which was introduced at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was favoured by Queen Victoria. Another successful introduction was the Terry Towel. In 1859 Wakefield Christy (6 Dec 1835-22 Feb 1898), son of Thomas Christy and great grandson of Miller Christie, was sent from London to manage hat production at their Stockport works. On arrival he move into Hillgate House (Oldknow's house) where he was joined by his mother, Jane Sandwith, sister, Ellen Sophia (b.1837), and brother, Stephen (b.1841). Following the death of Colonel William Davenport Davenport of Bramall Hall in 1869, the Christy family took a seven-year lease on the hall. When the lease expired in 1876, and after 17 years in Stockport, Wakefield Christy returned to London with his family.
Lt Col Sir Geoffrey Christie-Miller.
On the 28 Aug 1872 Wakefield Christy married Mary Elizabeth Richardson at Kircassock, County Down. The couple had two children while they were living at Bramall Hall, Sydney Richardson (b.1874) and Edith Mary (b.1875). Sons, Charles Wakefield (b.1877) and Geoffrey (b.1881), were both born at Kensington. As Lt Col Sir Geoffrey Christie-Miller DSO MC, he subsequently owned Christy & Co and in turn the company passed to his son, Lt Col John Aylmer Christie-Miller OBE TD. Stephen Christy married Blanche Chichester at Tavistock, Devon, in 1876 and the couple moved into Highfield, Bramhall. Their first child, Hugh Archibald, was born at Highfield in 1877. Subsequent children born there were Stephen Henry (b.1879), Margaret Blanche (b.1882) and Muriel Harriet (b.1885). In 1873 Ellen Sophia Christy married John Harvey at St Mary's Church, Stockport. Thomas Christy and Jane Sandwith Wakefield were married on the 16 Jul 1829. Thomas possibly died in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1846 and his wife died in Chelmsford in 1888, aged 84 years. In 1890 the family surname of Christy was legally changed to Christie-Miller by Royal Licence.

Although the doors and windows of Samuel Oldknow's former house in Stockport were boarded up, it began to suffer from the effects of vandalism and the weather and soon it was in a state of disrepair. However, as a result of the Hillgate Townscape Heritage Initiative Scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Hillgate Regeneration Scheme commenced and the house was saved. Because of its historic importance and connection with Samuel Oldknow, the house is listed as a Grade II building. It has now undergone a sensitive restoration by Fairclough Homes and on completion it contained seven apartments.

Prior to the commencement of the development, an archaeological survey of Oldknow's muslin mill site was undertaken. A number of interesting finds were made, including the remains of the original engine house. The mill foundations were also revealed and all artefacts, including clay pipes, have been placed in the care of Stockport's Heritage Services for display at the restored Staircase House in the Market Place.

Samuel Oldknow's house on Higher Hillgate, Stockport,
undergoing restoration and conversion, May 2007.