Samuel Oldknow

(1756-1828) Businessman

His house and mill on Upper Hillgate, Stockport,
(later owned by the Christy family of hat
manufacturers) and Mellor Mill

Born in Anderton, Lancashire, Samuel Oldknow served an apprenticeship in his uncle's drapery business in Nottingham. In 1784 he moved to Stockport and bought a house and warehouse on Upper Hillgate where he established a cottton mill for the manufacture of muslin. His move to Stockport was made in order to expand a muslin manufacturing business he had initially established in Anderton in 1782. Here 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 corded yarn and mainly used to make curtains, sheets and dresses.

Commencing in 1790, he built Mellor Mill, to the south of Marple Bridge, for mule spinning. At the same time 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 proposed to build in Marple.

Mellor Mill

The front (south-east) elevation Mellor Mill, pre-1892.

Construction work on Mellor Mill commenced in 1790 and it came into production in 1793. This Palladian style mill was brick-built, six storeys high and 400 feet long. 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 (1508–1580). Palladio's work was based on the symmetry, perspective and standards of the classical-temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

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.

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

The hat-making firm of Christy & Company was founded by Miller Christie (1748 - 12 June 1820) and his works was in Bermondsey, London, south of the river Thames (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 & Company 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.

Col Sir Geoffry Christie-Miller, 1957.
On Wednesday, 28 August 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 Geoffry (b.1881), were both born at Kensington. As Col Sir Geoffry Christie-Miller he subsequently owned Christy & Co and in turn the company passed to his son, Lt Col John Christie-Miller.

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 July 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 the house 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 now 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.

Samuel Oldknow's house on Upper Hillgate, Stockport, undergoing restoration and conversion, 20 May 2007.