Higher Mill Waterwheel Restored

After almost three years of being immobilised the waterwheel at the 1789 Higher Mill, part of the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, has been restored to full working condition.  This favourite and greatly missed feature of the Museum has undergone major repair and restoration work but is now performing beautifully again for its loyal public.

Although Higher Mill was built as a woollen cloth mill in 1789 with two small waterwheels, the present wheel was not commissioned until 1847 and set to work driving fulling stocks. It was later linked through line-shafting to machines in the fabric washing, scouring and raising processes.  For over 100 years this wheel ran the old mill, but after suffering a major breakdown in 1954 it was replaced by electric motors. For many years it stood idle until the Higher Mill Trust acquired the mill, and saved it from redevelopment. The Trustees then entered into an agreement with Lancashire County Council Museum Service, to open the combined site as a Museum of the Lancashire Textile Industry. Under the new management the waterwheel underwent a complete rebuild with several major components being sent as far as Woodbridge in Suffolk to undergo specialist repair. In 1978 the public were again able to see water flowing through the wheel.

However over the following thirty three years, time and water took their toll on the wheel, the bolts suffered severe wear and tear and gradually worked loose, opening up the timbers, and the wheel lost its circular shape.  The revolving buckets, began to drag on the masonry below the wheel and in 2011 it had to be stopped.

A specially designed steel “spider” was installed like the hub in a bicycle wheel. This was linked to the iron outer ring through threaded spokes. Turnbuckle type links allowed the wheel to be pulled gently back into correct shape, and enabled accurate measurements to be taken.  

Straight grained green oak was imported from Europe in bulks that were cut and shaped on site, after a suitable wetting period. With the demise of sailing ships, suitable timber for this job is no longer available in this country.  The bolts, with forged square heads and shanks together with coarse threaded nuts, had to be specially turned before restoration work could start.  The wheel was eventually handed back to the Trustees on the 24th November, sadly too late for the 2014 museum season but ready for the 2015 visitors.

We are deeply grateful to the Cotton Industry War Memorial Trust for providing the bulk of the funds needed. The Arts Council England’s PRISM Fund, Lancashire County Museum Service, The Higher Mill Trustees and The Friends of Helmshore Textile Museums all willingly supported the project financially.    On behalf of our members and the patient visitors we thank these donors for this help.


Millwright Peter Janczyk hoists the water wheel around

Waterwheel arms have been working loose in the sockets and the bolt wearing the castings

Tie bars installed to align the wheel back to circular


Photographs by

Peter Janczyk   

Report by Bernard Rostron ~ Chairman of The Higher Mill Museum Trust