Barrow Bridge is a picturesque village and conservation area in north Bolton. It was created during the Industrial Revolution as a model community village for mill workers and lies within the Smithills Estate. The cotton mills have long since gone but the workers’ cottages still stand and are amongst the most sought-after homes in Bolton.
In the late 18th century brothers John and Robert Lord opened the first cotton spinning mill here using Samuel Crompton’s spinning mules.
In 1830 the brothers sold the business to Thomas Bazley and Richard Gardner. The new owners demolished the water powered mill and built Dean Mills; two six-storey mills powered by a central steam engine.
Bazley and Gardner also established a model industrial community at Barrow Bridge, building houses for workers and managers, a co-operative shop, and an educational institute.
Benjamin Disraeli visited Barrow Bridge in 1840 and based the fictional village of Millbank on it in his political novel Coningsby, published in 1844. He describes it:
About a quarter of a mile further on, appeared a village of not inconsiderable size, and remarkable from the neatness and even picturesque character of its architecture, and the gay gardens that surrounded it.
The village, too, could boast of another public building; an Institute where there were a library and a lecture-room; and a reading-hall, which any one might frequent at certain hours, and under reasonable regulations.
In 1861 the mills were sold to William Callender, but following his death Dean Mills went out of business. The buildings deteriorated and were demolished in 1913.
There are three sets of houses in the conservation area. At the northern end the manager’s houses enjoy a picturesque setting on Barrow Bridge Road overlooking Dean Brook. Just up the road from the bus terminus are a handful of cottages built by the Lord brothers. The workers’ houses of the model village built by Bazley and Gardner are situated off Bazley Street on First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Streets.
The institute still stands but is now private apartments (Borrowdene House). A bus terminus stands on the site of Dean Mills.
The 345 foot tall ‘Barrow Bridge Chimney’ is not part of the conservation area. It was not connected with the cotton mills at Barrow Bridge but was part of Halliwell Bleach Works.
The famous ’63 Steps’ were once trodden by folk on their way to the coal mines on Winter Hill now lead visitors to the West Pennine Moors.
There’s a fairly large car park near the end of Barrow Bridge Road, close to the manager’ houses. If you are using a satellite navigation system, the postcode BL1 7NH should bring you near the car park entrance.
Many years ago it used to be possible to walk up Dean Brook to the ‘cigarette tunnel’ at Walker Fold Road/Colliers Row. We recently tried it and although it’s still possible, it is extremely difficult.
There are no bridges anymore, so when crossing the stream involves wet feet. As a consequence, the paths are hardly walked and have become fairly treacherous. There are steep and dangerous drops in places.
For an easier walk to the ‘cigarette tunnel’ take the 63 Steps. The path from here is in good condition and leads to Walker Fold Road, just south of the tunnel.
From Walker Fold Road there are many further walking options. Numerous paths lead to Winter Hill and Rivington. It’s also possible to walk along Colliers Row and through Smithills Country Park, calling at Smithills Hall and Moss Bank Park before returning to Barrow Bridge.
Reviews and Additional Information
Many happy memories of Barrow Bridge, lived in Bolton all my life , spent most of my six weeks holidays up Barrow Bridge with a gang of mates, knowing we were safe and sound happy very happy memories, still go regularly even in my 70’s but don’t go in the stream now ???, love it lucky Bolton, remember it being used in some production of ‘Sam’ on Tv. Brenda Green was Costello x x
I loved by Barrow Bridge as a child many lovely memories of this beautiful village.
I lived at Barrow Bridge as a young child. My Father and Mother ( Bill and Bessie Helme) owned the tea rooms and boating lake. Also my Nanny( Alice Kirkman) also lived in the village. I was only young but have wonderful happy memories. My parents eventually moved to Southport. We lived in one of the houses across the stream. I think it was no63 Barrow Bridge Rd. Happy, happy memories. I am now 77 but remember it all so clearly. 63 steps and a tiny Mission near the bus stop.
Just walked up Dean Brook to cigarette tunnel, Very difficult but passable as stream was very low.At the cigarette tunnel there’s building/ wall repairing being done, had to scramble up to the road.
I have many memories of Barrow Bridge as a child in the 1950’s, Swing boats, boating lake, tuck shop,dandelion burdock.Taking our children on picnics to the bridge passed the 63 steps, following Dean Brook ( no longer there)
Would be good if path could be restored
As a child my friends and i would spend hours in Barrow Bridge during school breaks, walking the stream, seeing who could run all the way up the 63 steps, All without adult supervision.
Kids today don’t know what they’re missing. How I wish I was that child again. I’m 65 now and I still love the place. Fond memories.
I was born in Bolton on Spa Road near Queens Park. I had the best years of my life there. Barrow bridge was my wonderland. Growing up in the 1950s we could not afford holidays, so a bus trip to Moss Bank Park and Barrow Bridge was magic. I now live in Western Australia, but i have never forgotten Bolton and Barrow Bridge.
Barrow Bridge was a childhood playground for my Brother and I.
We used to live on Wentworth Street in the 50’s and 60’s close to Merehall St. Walking from the village to the cigarette tunnel up the river was a common occurance. Those days were a blast. We could leave home and be out all day as long as we were home for tea time. We were 7 and 9 years old. If we could do it all over again, we would. England was a great place growing up, now the kids are involved in politics and cell phones.
You have no idea what growing up really is. TTFN.
I was brought up in Great Lever Bolton tho left there 40yrs ago….as a young child growing up Barrow Bridge was a big part of my life, an then even more into my teens…picnics an walks many many times…an now at almost 63…its still a very MAGICAL place an my best place in BOLTON…ive just returned from a family visit to Bolton and of course I have been an took photos, I even did the 63 steps !!….tho not as quick as the many times in the past, its tranquil , pretty, an a wonderful place to see…..never ever will I ferget it.
What bus do you get to Barrow Bridge?
I presume you are coming from Bolton town centre. If so, catch the 526 from Bolton Interchange (on Newport Street, next to the train station).
Barrow Bridge is so beautiful, quiet and safe. It is a rural haven with some of the most stunning walks in the country on the doorstep, and yet you get in your car and you’re in Bolton town centre in ten minutes! Love it here.
I live in Bolton and am so glad to as there are so many sights to see here.
Has won numerous awards for best kept/most beautiful village.