Lister Mills Historic Building Survey

West Yorkshire


Urban Splash



NAA was commissioned to carry out a historic building recording of the surviving elements of the impressive Lister Mills in Bradford, as part of consolidation works for future development. Originally built in 1838, it was once the world’s largest silk mill. Our client, purchased the complex in 2000 and has already converted some of the complex into residential and commercial units.

Bradford developed in the industrial revolution as the capital of the worsted industry, even earning the name ‘Worstedopolis.’ Worsted, which took its name from the Norfolk village of Worstead, where the cloth was first made in the 12th century by Flemish weavers, was the production of combed wool. Its manufacture was greatly facilitated by the mechanisation of wool-combing, an invention of Samuel Cunliffe Lister, later Lord Masham, textile baron and key player in the development of Manningham and Bradford. He and his brother John owned and ran the Lily Croft Mill, built for them by their father in 1838-9. John withdrew from the business in 1842, leaving Samuel, a dogged entrepreneur, to run it. His subsequent inventions would make him one of the dominant figures of the British textile industry.

Lister’s first development, the wool-combing machine, earned him an almost complete monopoly on the worsted industry and an immense personal fortune. He then dedicated significant sums of money to the invention of a silk comb from silk waste, partly in attempt to diversify the economy of Worstedopolis. In 1860, production changed to this new fibre, using the facilities at Lily Croft Mills. The existing buildings were soon found to be insufficient for the increasing scale of operations and Bradford architects Andrews and Pepper were commissioned to build a new velvet mill and offices. The new buildings were barely finished when the entire mill complex was badly damaged in a fire in 1871.

Despite this setback, Lister seized the opportunity to construct a mill purpose-fitted for his new machinery, including the double-velvet loom. The result was the current Lister Mills, a state-of-the-art complex for producing silk and velvet. The building campaign was complete by 1873, yet further construction, concentrated on the land north of Beamsley Road, took place between 1881 and 1885 to accommodate expanding production to meet increasing demand. By this point, Lister manufactured fancy cloths, plush and velvet, ribbons, as well as coarse silk for sacks, carpets and machine cloths. However, production in the 20th century declined, and the mill closed in 1990 due to stiff foreign competition and changes in textile trends toward artificial fibres.

Re-development at the site to date has seen the renovation of the multi-storey Velvet Mill and Silk Warehouse into flats and commercial units. The next phase of works includes consolidation of the remaining fragile structural remains ahead of future residential development. NAA carried out historic building recording of the surviving elements, including the Green Shed and the Lily Shed, the former used for manufacture of fancy goods and the latter for combing, doubling and carding. NAA has already compiled an accurate photogrammetric record of the 230m-long external elevation facing Heaton Road, between Lilycroft Road and Beamsley Road. A general photographic and descriptive record of all elements of the buildings has also been compiled.

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