Brownsfield Mills - A History

April 2001/VL

Brownsfield Mill was built along the Rochdale Canal in 1825. The west wing (the annex) was added shortly after. It was powered by a sixty horse power steam engine. Cotton was spun, doubled, bleached, dyed, wound and made ready for sale in the mill. Indications show that the Rochdale Canal Company owned and built Brownsfield Mill or that the first occupier Nehemiah Gerrard and son built the mill as tenants on the Canal Company’s land.

Construction completed. Originally known as Gerrard’s Mill after the first occupier Nehemiah Gerrard and son, spinners and manufacturers of sewing cotton.

1837 – 50:
Occupied by Binns & Co who dealt with bleaching, dyeing and spinning of cotton. There is no indication that any other activity than cotton spinning was carried out at the mill in this period. Rate books list Binns as both owner and occupier.

A full height “stair tower” was added to the west wing (annex) after 1849.

1858 - 1870:
The mill was still run as a cotton factory, now by the new owner Fairweather & Williams.

1870- 1910
Rate books indicate sundry tenants in occupation. As a result of the Cotton Famine of the
1860s, firms had been forced out of business and the owners had resorted to letting off floors to a variety of new users, none of which related to cotton spinning but included several clothing manufacturers.

All the maps from 1831 – 1910 show an additional small rectangular building, no longer existing, attached to the north side of the main block and forming one side of the entrance to the yard. This was probably the “counting house” listed separately in the Rate books; see attached “Historical Development Sheets”. The maps also show a longitudinal section of the mill yard, indicating that the split level yard was an original feature. It cannot be ascertained from the maps whether the lower section of the yard was originally covered, however.

A private enterprise aircraft factory occupied the ground floor until the end of the First World War.

Ground Floor: There had been two rows of cast iron columns on this floor but the plane makers appear to have removed one row to allow more space for erecting the wings and fuselage.

Roof Space: The roof space was probably used for storage from the evidence of wooden paneling and floor subsequently removed in the west wing.

It was the policy of the Ministry of Aircraft production during the Second World War to disperse the production and storage of aircraft parts to textile mills and other premises away from the main factories to avoid bomb damage. It may be that Brownsfield Mill was used as an air plane factory during the Second World War as well.

Some of the aircraft manufacturing was transferred to alternative locations, as the factory needed more space. Gradually, the building became redundant.

The remains of a triplane were discovered in the roof space. This was restored, and now is exhibited in the Science Museum in London. A replica is on display at the Manchester Air and Space Gallery.

The following text is taken from “The Greater Manchester Textile Mill Survey - Brownsfield Mill, Manchester” (1988). Some described items might have changed/disappeared since the text was written and if relevant, this should be checked at site. The survey contains further descriptions of the mill (see file: 105/01 Piccadilly Basin, History - 1), not described below.

Canal Wharfs
The early maps show that Brownsfield Mill was closely associated with the former canal network. Extensive canal wharfs, including coal wharfs, were situated on three sides (?!) of the mill by the middle of the nineteenth century, and the steam engine must have used canal water for the boilers and condensers. In addition, the west wing of the mill contains a wide stone archway (now blocked) giving access to the former branch canal. This arch is of similar dimensions to those designed to accommodate canal boats in the nearby extant Rochdale Canal Warehouses, and probably served the same function. Both branch canals are now filled in. Brownsfield Mill is probably the best fully intact illustration of the close links between the average-sized early Manchester mill and early nineteenth century canal system.

Internal Engine House, Main Mill
The internal engine room is three stories high and occupies the west end of the mill. The roof of the engine house contains seven lifting rings and a substantial transverse beam, suggesting a single cylinder beam engine with the cylinder positioned at the north end. A recessed brick arch on the east side, suggests that a small wheel was geared to the outside rim of the larger wheel and drove shafting on the other side of the cross wall.

Line Shafting, Main Mill
Cast iron traps for the main upright shaft are located in all the floors from the second to the seventh stories. The traps are positioned in the second bay from the west end. They align with the bolting faces for the line shaft brackets, which are cast into the south sides of the columns on all the upper floors. The ground floor columns have no bolting faces, suggesting that it may have been intended for storage. In the top storey, the position of the upright shaft is marked by two pairs of substantial bolts protruding down from each of the two truss beams at the western end, probably for support or bearing at the top of the shaft, while the other beams to the east contain pairs of plugged holes where line shaft support brackets were formerly attached.

Chimney Stair Tower
The circular stair tower is fireproof and encloses the mill chimney. Brownsfield Mill is thought to be the last example of a circular chimney-stair tower in Manchester to survive completely intact.

Stair Tower, West Wing (Annex)
The side windows added to the east of the stair tower suggests that this contained privies. The base of the main part of the tower contains a double doorway for a lift, indicating that the stair tower was probably converted to a hoist tower in the mid or late twentieth century.

Internal Construction, West Wing (Annex)
The upper storey in the west wing is open through to the roof trusses, but a lip in the north end wall at the height of the truss beam suggests that a former attic floor may have been removed.

Line Shafting, West Wing (Annex)
Bolting faces being cast onto the west sides of the columns in the lower four stores of the west wing suggest that line shafting probably was in use here. The ceiling of the third storey contains the possible remains of a trap for a second upright shaft on the inside of the south wall. On the ground floor a shaft box is partially visible in the south end wall.

Boiler House and Mill Yard (Basement level)
The proportions and proximity to the chimney suggest that the two rectangular rooms alongside the basement of the west wing contained boilers. Water for the boilers would have been extracted from the canal. These rooms have fireproof brick vaulted ceilings.
The lower section of the yard may have been used for coal storage.

Information / Text from:
A.D. George. A note on A. V. Roe and the Brownsfield Mill, Ancoats. Article in Manchester Region History Review. (p.93-96).

M. Williams. The Greater Manchester Textile Mill Survey - Brownsfield Mill, Manchester. County Sites and Monuments Record File No: 12119. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, Greater Manchester Archeological Unit. (1988.)

Brownsfield Mills Production List


AVRO Aircraft constructed at Brownsfield Mill:


Aircraft                                         Delivered to:

Roe II Triplanes                 No. 1  for A.V.Roe (his 5th aircraft)

                                         No. 2  for Cindor Windham

Roe III Triplanes                No. 1  for A.V.Roe

                                         No. 2  for AVRO Flying School

                                         No. 3  R.J. Parrott’s Hybrid

                                         No. 4 for Harvard, USA

Curtiss - Type Biplane                    for Capt. Wakefield

Farman - Type Biplane                   for Maurice F. Edwards

Roe IV Triplane                               for AVRO Flying School

Type D Biplanes               No. 1 to Brooklands

                                         No. 2 to Brooklands

                                         No. 3 AVRO Flying School

                                         No. 4 to Brooklands

                                         No. 5 to Brooklands

                                         No. 6 AVRO Flying School

                                         No. 7 AVRO Flying School

Type F Monoplane                        to Brooklands

Duigan Biplane                             for John R.Duigan

Type G Biplane          Military Aeroplane Competition

Burga Monoplane          for Lt. Burga

Legh empennages           Mr Legh

Sopwith Wing sets (4) Later cancelled and used by AV

Type E                to Brooklands

Avro 500                          No. 1

                                         No. 2

                                         No. 3

All 3 were delivered to the War Office and then  later to central flying school in Upavon

                                          No. 4 War Office, 2nd order

                                          No. 5 War Office, 2nd order

“Republica”                  to Portugal

Avro 501 Hydro floatplane to Admiralty


Total of 28 aircraft, empennage and wing sets created


Source: Research by Peter Clegg

Brownsfield Mills Pictures

Click image to open the gallery.


Clifton Street, Miles Platting, Manchester Gallery

  • Advertising to highlight a Daily Telegraph article

    This sited the "Avro Biplane as one of the finest Aeroplanes ever designed"

    The Aeroplane - January 8th, 1914

    Source:   Dave Robinson - Aviation Ancestry

Click image to open the gallery.


Newton Heath Gallery
  • Avro 504J fuselages outside the Mather & Platt's new works extension,

    Newton Heath

    Source: Museum Of Science & Industry, Manchester

  • 755 (1).jpg

    Mather & Platt extension at Newton Heath.  Fuselage construction of AVRO 504 J's

  • 755 (2).jpg

    Propellor Production

  • 755 (3).jpg

    Wing Production

  • 755 (4).jpg

    AVRO workers with propellers

Click image to open the gallery.


Alexandra Park Airfield Gallery

Click image to open the gallery.


Columbine Yard, East Cowes Gallery

Click image to open the gallery.


Hamble Gallery

  • Worker's Houses at Hamble built in 1916 as the start of a planned garden city. 

  • 755 (1).jpg

    Worker's Houses at Hamble. Rear view of Verdon Avenue

  • 755 (2).jpg

    Worker's Houses at Hamble built in 1916 as the start of a planned garden city. 

  • 755 (3).jpg

    Worker's Houses at Hamble built in 1916 as the start of a planned garden city.

Click image to open the gallery.