A Fireproof Mill

After the disastrous fire, a new fireproof mill was designed and constructed by Fairbairn and Sons of Manchester using the latest techniques.

In the 18th century mill fires were not uncommon. Small mills were sometimes built entirely of brick or stone, but the larger buildings had wooden floors and supporting columns, and were often lit by candlelight, so fires were inevitable.

In 1817 two young Scotsmen William Fairbairn and James Lillie set them themselves up as millwrights in Manchester. Fairbairn gained a lot of experience in the use of wrought iron, and advanced the technology, using it in the construction of ships, high pressure locomotive boilers, machinery, roofs, and bridges. Fairbairn and Sons became one of the leading engineering companies, and fitted-out large numbers of fireproof textile and corn mills throughout the country. In 1850 Fairbairn’s firm was responsible for the fireproof construction of Saltaire Mills near Bradford, which he regarded as “a source of pride to myself”. In the building he used cast iron beams supported by cast iron supporting columns, with brick arches supporting each floor.

Fairbairn's fireproof construction.

The cast iron supporting columns and brick arches in the old steam mill. As seen through an open door a few days after the fire in 2008.

When asked to design the replacement mill at Wolverhampton he decided to use a mixture of cast iron and wrought iron beams. The wrought iron beams were used ‘experimentally’ because they were lighter than cast iron beams, were better in tension and so less liable to break, and could be used in longer lengths to give larger and less cluttered spaces. The building was built in 1852. Two years later Fairbairn wrote the following:

“The arches, as well of the beams of this building, are of great strength, having to support immense quantities of grain and flour, filled at times to the ceiling, exclusively of the vibratory action of the machinery of 18 pairs of millstones which are always in motion.”

A plan of the mill from 1875.

A pair of Fairbairn millstones.

The 18 pairs of stones in the new mill would have needed around 100h.p. to drive them, so the two original steam engines were probably used.

In 1875 another piece of land was conveyed to the L.N.W.R. for extensions at the High Level railway station.

The extension went over part of the boiler house and so coal for the boilers could be directly fed from railway wagons through a hatch in the roof.

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A Disastrous Fire
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The New Mill