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.