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. It 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 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 cooperative 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.
The mills were sold to William Callender in 1861, but Dean Mills went out of business following his death. The buildings deteriorated and were demolished in 1913.
There are three sets of houses in the conservation area. 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. At the northern end, the manager’s homes 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 design of the houses reflects the social status of the original occupants. The worker’s houses are terraced and straightforward in design. The manager’s homes are more extensive, are detached or semi-detached, and boast gardens. Each has a small allotment separated from the house by a footpath.
The institute still stands but is now 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. They now lead visitors to the West Pennine Moors.
There is a reasonably large car park near the end of Barrow Bridge Road, close to the managers’ houses. If you use a satellite navigation system, the postcode BL1 7NH should bring you near the car park entrance.
Bus 526 goes from Bolton Bus Station to Barrow Bridge Village.
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 challenging.
There are no bridges anymore, so crossing the stream involves wet feet. Consequently, the paths are hardly walked and have become very treacherous. There are steep and dangerous drops in places.
For a more leisurely 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. Walking along Colliers Row and through Smithills Country Park, calling at Smithills Hall and Moss Bank Park before returning to Barrow Bridge is also possible.