The main reason for returning to Wigan was to visit the steam engine at the red brick Trencherfield Mill, we had passed on Friday a bronze statue of a mill worker sat outside by the canal just before The Wigan Pier.
The train deposited us at Wallgate Station and within a minute or so we could see the mill tower with a banner advertising apartments and office space for sale and after a total of ten minute walk we arrived at the entrance door of the Mill Museum, only to find it closed, why was it closed? The sign on the door said open Sundays 11.00 to 11.45 and 1 to 1.45. we had missed it by less than a minute.
Ho hum! Nothing for it but to walk back up to the town centre, what a joy for Jacquie, all of the shops and stores in The Grand Arcade were open. I had lost her; there would be no return to the mill for Jacquie, I was on my own as I retraced my steps to the mill to be there for the 1pm. tour.
A blast from the hooter announced that the doors were open and into the reception area I went, I was greeted by Bill in his blue overalls. Bill explained that the cotton spinning machines were not operational; they had all been disconnected in readiness to move them in preparation for the arrival of more machinery, but sadly lack of funding had drawn a halt to the work and now the demonstrations of how the raw cotton was cleaned and spun had stopped for the time being.
Young Ben, also in his blue overalls, joined Bill and then Mike the chief engineer arrived to start the tour, you can imagine what Mike might be called amongst his colleagues, but I couldn’t possible repeat it. Up a few steps and into the engine hall and wow! This shiny green and brass giant of an engine dominated the hall. The engine built in 1907 was state of the art, four cylinders, sixteen valves, triple expansion, sounds a bit like a modern internal combustion engine, is considered to be the largest, still working steam engine in Europe.
It ran full time for over sixty years, providing lighting and power for all the hundreds of machines engaged in every aspect of producing high quality spun cotton yarn, in this five storey mill. It only came to a stop when spinning cotton was no longer commercially viable in the late 60’s. It was taken over by the council in 1984 as a visitor attraction, but in 2001 it was deemed unsafe and again stopped. Following a complete £600,000 plus restoration it was restarted in 2004 and is magnificent.
There was only two other visitors present, a young mother and small daughter, It was thought that a Rugby match was keeping visitors away, but so much the better for me. Ben turned a valve and steam could be heard throbbing through the unseen pipes and only when he turned the large wheel in the centre of the pedestal was there a hiss of steam and slowly this massive machine came to life, with the connecting rods starting to spin the seventy ton fly wheel, as if it was a bicycle wheel. At full revolutions the wheel is revolving at over fifty mile and hour, producing two and a half thousand horse power. All of this power is transferred from the fly wheel by cotton ropes to wheels high up in the roof of the hall and from there the energy was sent to shafts on every floor of the mill. Bill told me that the term ‘Grease Monkey’ was given to the small children that scurried around the gantries high up in the roof, their job was to lubricate the bearings that supported these spinning shafts with tallow to ensure that friction didn’t cause a fire. Imagine dodging around all of those whirring, flapping wide leather belts that fed the power down to the spinning machines on the floor, stuff of nightmares.
The little girl was given the privilege of turning the valve to the hooter and it was several seconds later that the blast reverberated down in to the engine hall, ah, if only I could get SKYY’s hooter to sound as good. I do hope that the funding is sorted out, to enable all of the spinning machinery to be put back into working order and the museum to be opened for more days and longer hours, but even as the museum is now, it is worth every effort to ensure you get there on a Sunday and at the right time.
I met up with Jacquie and caught the 3.13 train back to Gathurst, after the splendour of the steam engine; this spartan two coach train looked as if it had been imported from some third world country, but it did what was required and we were back on SKYY within six minutes just before the forecasted rain arrived.