Monday, 12 December 2016

Bleach Works (Holden Wood Bleaching Co.Ltd.)

Thank you to Bob for kindly sharing with us the above "engraving/advert" (Click over to enlarge)

Photo: kindly shared by Alec Taylor (Please click over to enlarge)

Photo: kindly shared by Chris Kirby


It was a place that everyone knew! The Bleach Works (Holden Wood Bleach Works).  The amount of turnover of workers that place had, was phenomenal!.  In fact during the late fifties early sixties, they in particular seemed to always be crying out for labour.  I was one out of the many hundreds who ended up there

Either you went down direct to the Mill or was sent by the dole, you were told to ask for Mr. Davis, he was the manager (and director) a small welsh chap who seemed to have all the shout, in fact everything was run by Mr. Davis.  You approached him not knowing what to expect and he would probably have said yes and what do you want, the reply, I want a job, OK then when can you start--- tomorrow? And that was it, a quick look over and the quickest interview ever!  Start over in the Sheeting plant and ask for Harry Seville, we start at 6am. Wow that was it!!

I found out before long that more or less everyone started off in the sheeting plant and then if you were lucky you may later have been moved to the warehouse, and if you were luckier still you may have been moved over to the wet end.
Harry was foreman of the sheeting plant a great ex mancunian who later became real good friend. He told us go over there to that table and join the other guys they will show you what to do.  Well they made it look so easy! Twisting and turning these oblong bales of compressed bleached paper which looked just like super white bales of cotton.  You had to place the bale in the middle of the table with brown paper equalled sides and then parcel it up with string in readiness to be later transported by what they called the “bogey” from there and up to the warehouse for storage.

Another great chap in the sheeting plant was Jimmy Ryan who was a character that everyone seem to love, he was Irish (and had the twang) with long wavy dark hair and he was a thin wiry sort of chap.  He operated this machine which I think cut the “blotting paper” the machine sort of went backwards and forwards and ever so noisy, just cannot think of what it used to be called. What I do know is that Jimmy could operate this machine like no other.  If the machine was playing up they would always send for Jimmy Ryan before they sent for the engineer.

Another job they did in the sheeting plant but rarely was the “reeling” and this was done on a different sort of machine again.  Usually this was checked out with Steve Crossfield who was the Main Engineer for the whole plant, but somehow he used to love taking command of the “reeling”.  I hated it because the machine went too fast and you had to try and keep up with it by pulling the cut ribbon edges off whilst feeding through your hands and then letting it drop on the floor below you. It would regularly get tangled and Steve would go mental! Shouting and bawling at whoever was the operative. 

For me it was one of those OK for the moment jobs and it served its purpose, I did manage a few months and that’s about all and being honest I certainly didn’t lose any sleep with that one………….

Possibly more to follow soon..........

A lovely engraving of Holden Vale Bleach Works (Click over to enlarge)
Kindly shared to us by: Bob


Dear Mr. Yorke

I have been reading old posts about Holden Vale Flash.  Mike in France writes “Around the back of the bleach works there were railway lines which ran to warehouse loading bays facing the so called "lake" which was full of industrial waste with a nasty chemical odour.

That made me think about a piece of memoir that I wrote about working in the bleach works in the 1970s.  You may be interested to read it – it is attached.
  • Holden Vale Manufacturing Company was closed down in 1997.  There was an accident some time before with chlorine bleach in which several workers were injured (I believe some lost their lives).  Do you know of any Press references to that accident?
In my day, we hadn’t learned to be scared of the bleach.  I had my mind focused on the possibility of byssinosis:

Cleaning the drier

The weekly maintenance of the cotton drier is what triggered my intention to be a shop-steward.  Byssinosis is a nasty disease of the lungs, caused by breathing in cotton fibres.  Everyone in the Lancashire valleys knows about "brown lung disease" - it is the occupational disease of the cotton worker.  Every Sunday, on the afternoon shift, we got our prime chance to start a career into byssinosis.
The continuous process in the factory was shut down on Sunday afternoon, for as short a time as possible, for cleaning the cotton drier.  This was a tunnel about 80 yards long, just big enough for a man to crawl into, lined with fine wire mesh on sides and top.  On Sunday afternoon, the drier heaters were turned off long enough for it to be possible for two guys on that shift to crawl up the tunnel without burning their gloved hands on the metal floor or suffocating.  They each took a dust-pan and brush, and swept the cotton dust down from the far end towards the mouth.
Factory rules required the sweepers to wear a mask - the most rudimentary "protection" of 5mm of gauze held in a flat, bendy metal frame.  Most of the guys wouldn't wear this - they said it made it even harder to breathe in there.  A couple of them brought in big coloured hankies that they tied over their mouths like bandits.
I raised the uncomfortable word - byssinosis.  "Oh, no - you get byssinosis in weaving or spinning.  This is different."

Wet end

The Holden Vale Bleach Works in 1975 was a simple place.  One raw material – cotton linters – one product – cellulose – provided in two forms of packaging: block and sheet.  The process that transformed the raw material into the product was pretty simple too – wash, bleach and dry.
One set of tubs for washing and bleaching everything that came in through the devil hole, and then wet white cotton pumped either to be dried and pressed into blocks, or laid on a paper-making machine to be rolled up as sheets of thick blotting paper.
Very little was automated.  The big tubs were filled and emptied with the simple control of a 20 foot long wooden dipstick.  Pumping to one or other output process was simply a matter of the team running that process calling the keeper of the blend tub – “Pump some!”  (And I mean calling - just shouts across the factory.)  And then “Stop pumping!” (and therein lies a tale – later).  This is not high tech; this is a factory that hasn’t been touched since it was built sometime in the 1920s, I guess.  The gap between “Pump some!” and “Stop pumping!” is a matter of handed-down knowledge – just enough minutes to supply the need which has been the same half-a-dozen times a day every day for the 21,000 days since the factory was built.
The “wet end” is the wet end of the highest tech process in the factory – the paper-making machine.  Clean cotton suspended in lots of water is pumped to a holding tank about 25 feet off the ground from which it runs off evenly and gently over an 8 foot wide lip into a long shallow bath with a moving bottom conveyor made of fine wire mesh.  The flow of water down the bath keeps the layer of cotton moving, and as the water drains away, the layer forms a wet deposit on the moving mesh.  
The nascent paper, forming as an even film on the mesh conveyor as the water drains out of it should be just coherent enough to transfer (carefully!) an inch or so down and across onto another conveyor, this time of felt.  Hot air dries the cotton mat as it passes along on the mesh until it spills over as the mesh belt doubles back.  What spills over has some integrity as a damp mat, and it drops an inch or so down and across onto another continuous band, this time of felt. 
The felt of which the second conveyor is made has a very even surface which transfers into the smooth surface on the forming paper. (This surface is created by the urea in which the felt is pounded during its formation - this is the finish that used to be created just round the corner in Higher Mill - I alluded to this in my discussion of toilet matters.) The forming paper is dried with heat as it is conveyed along, forming something closer to a wide ribbon of paper, with the beginning of a paper’s strength.  
At the end of the felt (where that band doubles back) the sheet drops, maybe an inch or so, onto a big heated roller (maybe 7 foot in diameter, 8 foot wide), turning slowly to carry the paper along..  This second transfer is another vulnerable point in the process.  The surface of the roller has to be turning at exactly the same speed as the paper coming down the felt runway.  The forming paper has to be dry enough to cohere, but wet enough to be flexible.  If everything is right, the paper, maybe 8 feet wide, will cross the inches of space between felt conveyor and roller and be carried on steadily round the roller and on to three or four rollers in turn, the heat diminishing as it passes.
What comes off the end is a continuous sheet of the consistency of blotting paper,  which is either rolled up for shipment, or put through a cutter for those customers whose factory processes demand sheets of cellulose.
The technological demands are fairly obvious.  The rollers have to be going at exactly the same speed, or they will tear the paper.  The speed of the rollers, picking up the wet paper needs to match the speed of the felt band which needs to match the speed of the wire mesh band.  The gradation of heating (drying) through the process needs to be right within fairly close tolerances.  And so on.  Not exactly high tech – but higher tech than anything else in this factory.
And some art, too.  How the cotton wash slops over onto the start of the production line determines how evenly the cotton will be laid and therefore the consistency of the paper produced.  Taking the wet mat from the wire mesh onto the felt is a delicate process, and so from the felt onto the rollers.  Even drawing paper from roller to roller demands some care.  After a break in the production (an accidental tear, or something deliberate) the wet end man comes into his own, with the chance to put production back on again in a few deft steps, or to lose production as the paper tears or collapses over and over.
An honour, therefore, for me to have been made a wet end man, after 11 months mostly wrapping blocks of cotton in brown paper and 3 months absence teaching developmental psychology at Cambridge.
I was never the wet end man, though – just a wet end man; assistant to Donald.  Now, Donald – there’s a few stories.

"The Bleach Works"  (Click over to enlarge)

Photo kindly shared to us by Alec Taylor


I presume that Donald must have had many episodes of working at Holden Vale, or maybe he had been a steady employee some time ago.  He was a recognized master of the wet end, and he had to have learned that sometime.  He turned up after I had been in Holden Vale a few months, and stepped straight into the wet-end job.  But he carried the air always of someone who was not going to be with us for long, and who would give no warning when he wandered away.
He was one of the very few people I connected with in that place for the years I was there.  Which is, superficially odd, because Donald was one of the most unconnected people I have ever met.  He was a gypsy.  (That may not, nowadays be a politically correct word to use, but in this case it is the mot juste - it encapsulates perfectly Donald's lack of investment in the practical here and now and the sense he exuded of being transitory.)  For all I know, he might actually have been a Romany – he didn’t sound like a Lancashire man.  What I meant, though, was that he moved among us like a gypsy.  Always a few days growth of stubble.  Odd that – for a period I saw him up close every day.  You would have thought that I would see him after he shaved, or else I would see a beard grow.  The perpetual two-day growth was just one of the mysteries.
The sense of connection that emerged for me with Donald was one of mood and empathy with his detachment.  I know I recognised him in this; I came to believe that he recognised me.  His detachment was life-long, or at least by the time I encountered him it seemed so.  At that stage, I did not know if my detachment was life-long, but I was beginning to fear it was so.  In me, it was my separation into an unreachable mental state that detached me from the world.  God knows what it was in Donald - upbringing? deprivation? some sort of madness? even a spiritual state, whatever that is?
Donald always wore a jacket.  Greasy and old, with a torn pocket, but it contributed to his air of dignity.  His hair was mostly grey, on black, and straight.  Quite long (maybe collar length) and always combed across his head.  He was quiet, hardly talking to anyone.  The guys who had been in the factory forever respected that.  They did not try to engage him in conversation – they gave him a respectful distance.  And Donald put the newer guys effortlessly in their place if they accosted him.  He had presence.
I joined Donald when I was promoted to being second man on the wet end, after a longer stint on the base-level folding job than most employees.  The label “student” sticks hard, and one of the things it meant was – “don’t promote, he's not staying long”.  Ironically, it was after I had come back from a three monthe gap, when I was lecturing at Cambridge, that they decided I could move on.
The wet end is one of those jobs like being an anaesthetist or an infantryman: mostly long gaps of inactivity with occasional bursts of panic.  The bursts of panic – planned very occasionally when there was a break between batches, or caused of a sudden by breaks in the paper – were occupied with the business of getting the stream of wet cotton running through until it was a wide ribbon of rolling paper again.  
I have given the mechanical description of the paper-making process above.  This should be flavoured with a sense of what the work felt like.  I don’t want to make too much of it.  No-one in that place really cared a damn whether we were productive or not.  Nevertheless, there are two of you, standing high up on the gantry where the wet flow begins, responsible for restarting the flow of paper without which all the hands below you are idle - on the rollers, the cutters, stacking, moving pallets and in the warehouse.  This does induce a sense of responsibility, even urgency.
When restarting is hampered by cotton that won’t flow smoothly, and tears appear between the conveyors or between the felt and the roller, between the rollers, and so on, then all of these men are not only idle, but sarcastic.  If the foreman decides that they should not be idle, but should be busy doing something like cleaning up (usually when a suit is expected to be visiting from the other side – the offices), then the sarcasm rapidly gets nasty.
Working with Donald, I rarely suffered these indignities.  Donald always adjusted the flow so the cotton spread evenly; when Donald caught the end of the wet proto-paper and flipped it onto the felt and then onto first hot roller, it always stuck and rolled without a break.  I followed behind him, in close and respectful attendance.
As a result, the gaps of inactivity with Donald were long – often a whole shift.
Donald spent those periods, apparently, almost completely without occupation.  He would roll a cigarette.  He would smoke it very slowly.  He did not appear to be looking at anything, but he looked attentive.  He would patrol his machinery, occasionally making little adjustments that were mysterious to me both in terms of what they were and what had alerted him to their necessity.
I would read.  I could get through two novels in a shift, and make huge inroads into more serious stuff.  I read George Trevelyan’s History of England as if it was a whodunit (which it is – or many, many interlocking whodunits), in a series of concentrated bursts.  
There was an unfortunate consequence to that particular burst of reading.  Absorbed in the Tudors and the birth of modern government, I failed to test for the completion of a batch of cotton pumped over from the bleach tubs.  (The test was very high-tech – an 18 foot wooden stick dipped into the tub to see how deep it is.)  I failed to call over to stop the pumping.  Only when a guy on break, smoking a cigarette in the open air, saw the cotton spilling over from the tub and ran in to shout an alert, did I remember that I ought to tell them to stop pumping.
That one stopped the whole factory.  It was the middle of the night-shift, with no management in sight.  Tom the foreman, a phlegmatic chap from Duckworth Clough, decided to get the problem out of the way before management came in the morning.  He closed down the whole factory, gave every man a shovel, and we shifted a huge pile of wet cotton, stinking of chlorine, from our car park over the wall into the neighbour’s yard.  (I am not sure who the neighbour was.  It might have been the bottom end of the lot occupied by the candlewick bedspread factory, formerly the Mission Hall, by Holden Tenements.  In any case, the yard did not look as if it was in constant tidy use so as anyone would notice any time soon the change wreaked by a few hundredweight of cotton.)
Donald didn’t mind that.  He was quietly amused.  He liked the fact that I didn’t need him as a source of diversion during the long shifts.  He contemplated; I read.  It worked comfortably for both of us.
Donald introduced me to his local – the Robin Hood.  That was a major act of social grace.  We took to meeting there before shifts, and going up to the factory together.  I have described this fine institution elsewhere in this book, and recounted the habits of Donald’s breakfast – a pint before the 2.00 p.m. shift, drawn as soon as the landlord saw Donald’s curtains twitch.
Donald lived in a terrace of houses opposite to the Robin Hood, across Holcombe Road.  The atmosphere of the whole of that road, below the factory, felt as if it was unchanged since before the First World War.  The fabric was unchanged, of course – solid blocks of grey stone stained by water and age, slate roofs, stony ground and a few scraggy sheep looking miserable.  Holcombe Road winds in and out beside the branch railway line, and the cottages are tucked in by the railway or lining Swinnell Brook.  The Robin Hood is hunched down on the east side of the road, between road and railway and brook, and Donald’s little terrace of six houses was opposite.  I guess they were built for the favoured workers at Sunny Bank Mill in the previous century.
The terrace did not look occupied.  It was as if Donald was squatting there.  It was not just that Donald did not leave much impression on the place he lived in, but one could see little evidence of the other residents either.  It was a place that a gypsy was passing through.
I did not learn much more about Donald from this new friendship.  Whether we were in the saloon bar at the Robin Hood or up at the back of the gantry by the filthy windows of the factory, we just coexisted in companionable silence.  I felt that the quality of the silence was changing – that was my only measure of the friendship.  I do not think that there was any externally observable change.  But I felt, increasingly, that I was being let into a private space that Donald normally kept to himself.  I have to admit that my own mental state must have been a factor in this perception – this was a period of intermittent, but continuing, mania for me.

I am reasonably sure that my intimacy with Donald was privileged.  I do not think that he had many others in the factory (or outside) with whom he had the same comfortable, long silences.  However, I am also reasonably sure that if I could have had a conversation with him (which was, itself, fairly inconceivable) on these lines, he would regard me as if I was demented – these are lines of thought on which I am sure his mind never travelled.

by Bob (Ex Pat living down South)


Chris Kirby has kindly shared the following photos with us 14th December 2016 - Please Click over the photo to enlarge

This photo of the "Wet End" was captured just before demolition

This photo is from the Office Block side and shows the gatehouse and other parts of the works

This is especially interesting, it shows the boxed in conveyor which travelled both sides of the road. Also on this photo you can see the laboratory building middle left hand side


It seems ages ago since I did this blog (further down the page) for
my Grane Blogsite, in fact it was in 2009 when I wrote it, but it refers to times around the beginning of the 1990's. And nowadays I regular think about the "Holden Wood Flash" and wondering how its doing. Just at the moment I am hearing all sorts of stories about a local company with proposals to fill in the "wildlife area" and develop the site for commercial vehicle hardstanding.

A lot of people will be well upset if this is allowed to go ahead. I still remember the words being uttered from the mouth of the Lancashire County Council Engineer, who at the time of the original development gave us his assurances that this sites future was "purely for the long term benefits of wildlife". It was at that time the home of the rare schedule one (protected) breeding bird "The Little Ringed Plover". Also it has become a well established breeding area for toads - a protected species (see photo above - I took this photo near the East side outlet of the pond in 2009.

On Sunday last Wadey had lots of beautiful dragonflies at the pond. I have always suspected Water Voles being present at this site, simply because they are or were present very closeby on the bottom boundary of Holden Wood Reservoir (a few hundred yards away), they certainly where on my last check at the turn of the millenium. I also knew the area to support breeding Reed Bunting, and Sedge and Grasshopper Warblers in the more recent past along with the more commoner Mallard and Moorhen etc.

Here is a copy of that original blog:

" When all them years ago, we stood in front of the bulldozers to stop the destruction of the Little Ringed Plover site, and after negotiation with the LCC Engineer, we actually thought we had won a do for them little birds!!"
These are four photos which I took of when the Lancashire County Council were making the Holden Vale Flash (Clearing the old toxic waste dumping area of the long gone nicknamed "bleach works", or the Holden Wood Manufacturing Co. Ltd a subsidary partner of the corporate giant USA Hercules group. (Please click over photos to enlarge)....
The whole idea had been to try and preserve some resemblance of the original habitat for the continuation of the breeding of the rare Little Ringed Plover, which had successfully bred on this site for each year over a decade, prior to this excavation and rebuild of the area.

Sadly, all went wrong!! the outcome to what was originally proposed, never materialized as it was supposed to do, and consequently it was tragic and devastating to lots of us, to find out that the LRP never returned the following year.

Some excellent news is that thankfully in more recent times the LRP has actually bred at another habitat closeby, and we do hope that at sometime in the future it may return to its long established breeding site at the "Flash".

19th March 2009 (Click over to enlarge)

19th March 2009 - Proof of Toads breeding (Click over to enlarge)

A email received on 30th August 2012 from Mike in France (ex pat) :
Hello Bryan,
Around the back of the bleach works there were railway lines which ran to warehouse loading bays facing the so called "lake" which was full of industrial waste with a nasty chemical odour.
In between these two sites there was a huge pile of clinkers from the "boiler house" and an area where the clinkers had been flattened to make a lorry park. In several places, the ground was warm as some of the coal waste was still burning and had been for years. The local kids used to dig around these warm places to catch small lizards and we were told that they were sand lizards. Recently I have been searching the internet for photos and information about them and I am pretty certain that they were not "sand lizards". In fact, I have not been able to find any photos which match these reptiles. They were up to 2 inches long with a brown back and a beige underside with orangey/light brown stripes on each side of the body, separating the brown from the beige.
I often wondered if these lizards had been hiding in the bales of cotton (the warehouse was full of these) which came from foreign countries and were naturalised because of the ground temperature.

My Letter sent to the Rossendale Free Press on 4th Sept 2012 - In response to their letter of the week offered by Messrs. Solomons.

To: Rossendale Free Press. dated: 4th September 2012.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I would be extremely grateful if you would kindly print the following reply to the letter offered up by Messrs. Solomons. I do think that the public have a right to know exactly what that "Pond" was built for.

In reply to the “Letter of the Week” from Messrs Solomon Commercials Ltd. I do feel I need to go over a “historic point” which has been incorrectly outlined in their letter of intent in regards to the history of “The Pond”.

First of all let me assure you that the area you classify as “The Pond” was only built in the early 1990’s, specifically with the intentions for wildlife in mind. It was not built for any other reason whatsoever.

You will probably have noted that one side of “The Pond” is a shallow pebbly scrape, intentionally put there for the purpose of “breeding waders” especially with the main purpose in mind of the rare Schedule 1 “Little Ringed Plover” which had been nesting within close proximity to “the pond” for the previous ten years prior development. “The Pond”, was also set to create suitable habitat for other birds species, small mammals, amphibians, insects, and varied flora, which over the years since the 1990s has become very successful and matured ecologically just has was expected of it. It has been specifically successful in the population growth of the “Common Toad” (with at least 20/30 breeding pairs in 2009 – monitored during Feb/March from their breeding area at the small outlet).

I will try and give a brief summary of how the pond got there in the first place.

It started as a sort of Flash or shallow lake and used in the main for the dumping of industrial waste (a sort of blotting paper – cotton waste product) manufactured by the Holden Vale Manufacturing Company Limited (nicknamed: Bleach Works). The size of the Flash (or Lake) was perhaps six times the size of what you see “as the Pond today”. After the Company ceased trading, it was later considered that this area was very toxic and contaminated with “Caustic” and other dangerous chemical elements.

Lancashire County Council moved in and it was decided that the area needed to be cleaned up of such a hazard. I am sure that this must have been a tremendous cost to the Ratepayer/Taxpayer at the time.

At the start of the clean up, I received a phone call from a friend to say all this heavy equipment had turned up on the site and had started digging and moving soil about.
On hearing this, I plus another individual quickly moved down there and went on site to try and stop the work immediately which we successfully did. The reason for this was that the site held a very rare Schedule 1 protected breeding bird called the Little Ringed Plover and that at that time of this disturbance the birds had chicks, and on our arrival it was quite obvious the parent birds were under much distress.

Immediately the “Lancashire County Council Engineer” was called and it was decided there and then that the proposed work be stopped completely until we where all fully satisfied that the birds had finished breeding and left the site to return to Africa.

When work recommenced several weeks later, it had then been decided that we should first try and preserve the “crust coating” (a sort of thick blotting paper), which was to be piled to one side to be re-instated later, but this never turned out as planned. Also it was decided that the new plans should have a pond built at one side, with a gravelly shallow sloping scrape for the intentions of breeding waders. And that’s the pond you have today (built in the early 1990s).

We where told at the time categorically by the Lancashire County Council Engineer that this site (the new pond area) would be preserved for evermore for the long term benefit of wildlife. And that this had been agreed by all parties concerned, and that the sites future was secure for these purposes.

Yours faithfully,
Bryan Yorke
(Haslingden resident for 62 years) 

A Email kindly received from John Sumner on 16th September 2012.
Hi Bryan
Regarding the "newts" in the lodge at the back of Holden Vale Bleachworks. There was quite a lot of varied wildlife in and around the lodge which was actually a catchment area for waste cotton from the mill.
It is quite possible that they came in with the cotton bales as we used to chase allsorts of weird & wonderful things from the bales.
I was actually on the last shift when it closed down and someone mentioned it was to be preserved as a nature reserve because of the wildlife and also because no-one knew how deep it really was.

A Email kindly received from John Sumner on 17th September 2012.

Hi Bryan
Re- reading the blog your corespondant says it was nicknamed 'bleachworks'. It was known as Holden Vale Bleachworks as their main business was the bleaching of cotton.
I spent 8yrs there starting in the dryhouse. Then had a spell as a forklift driver working between the dryhouse & sheeting plant moving the finished product.then had a spell as a floater working between the warehouse, devil hole & wet end before finally ending up as chargehand in the sheeting plant operating the cutter & reeler.
Eventually the dryhouse wrapping area was moved into the sheeting plant so they could cut down on staff.
I still have the company tie that Hercules gave to every member of staff when they took over.It would be good to read your article in the rfp as I haven't read it for years.