New Hey, Rochdale

Adjacent M62, Jct 21

For Steam Enthusiasts !!



Updated: 25 Sept 2014



In 1892, a group of capital owners in the Newhey area south of Rochdale identified the need for a large mule spinning mill.

They built the Ellenroad Mill, 270,000 square feet of typical brick-built factory, beside the water source of the River Beal, along with the engine house, two large steam engines, supplied by J. & W. Mcnaught, and installed five Lancashire boilers all in the space of eighteen months, a feat which could probably not be achieved even today.

In 1916, a disastrous fire almost completely destroyed the mill, only the engine and boiler house survived.

In 1919, after the war years, it was decided to rebuild the mill using the modern technology of ring-spinning which demanded more power.

To meet this demand, the engines were upgraded and new, and higher pressure boilers were installed.

The modifications resulted in the present twin tandem compound engine, one of the largest and heaviest ever to run a spinning mill at 82 tons and just under 3000hp.

In 1970, it was decided to convert the machinery to individual electric drive, and as the process continued, the load on the steam engine was reduced until, in 1975, it was taken out of service.

In 1982, the Ellenroad Ring Spinning Company ceased trading on this site, and the property stood empty.











In 1984, the Ellenroad site was bought by Coates Brothers PLC to locate a modern plant for the production of highly specialised inks.

Coates assessed the site and decided to save the engines Victoria and Alexandra and associated plant.

In 1985, the Ellenroad Trust took over and began restoration work.One of the original coal-fired boilers from 1921 was refurbished to generate steam once more.

In 1986, the Trust acquired the Whitelees Beam Engine and installed it in the part of the old boiler house vacated by the redundant boilers.

This engine is a fine example of an early beam engine of 1842 and was originally installed at Whitelees Mill, Littleborough.

The Engine House is open and in steam on the first Sunday of each month (closed January). Admission from 11 a.m., with steaming from 12 noon to 4 p.m.


There are railway stations at Milnrow and Newhey, just a few minutes walk away on the Manchester Metrolink.


By road from Junction 21 of the M62, take the A640 south towards Shaw. Pass under the motorway, and then turn first right.





NK writes: Should the spelling be Ellen Road?

Researching this, I have discovered that the mill is actually located in Ellenroad Street . . .





At the heart of any steam driven cotton mill is the boiler house. Here we see the last remaining boiler of five Lancashire Boilers used to power the huge steam engines.

The original boilers were fuelled by coal brought to Newhey Station by train, then by horse and cart or latterly wagons to the site.

This was introduced into the furnaces by a mechanical sprinkler system driven by belt shafting above the boilers.

This boiler has two hand fed hoppers dropping coal onto a screw transporter system into the furnace where air is introduced under the grate together with natural draught from the 220 ft chimney stack.

There is also another remaining boiler, which has been sectioned to show its construction.


This view illustrates the manual feed hoppers where coal is introduced by shovel  from the large stock behind.

It is apparently becoming difficult to obtain the correct balance of coal to ensure adequate steam production and prevention of coal break up whilst passing through the screw conveyor feed.

Reverting to manual feeding is therefore envisaged.















In 1986 The Ellenroad Trust acquired the Whitelees Beam Engine, built in 1841 by John Petri & Company of Rochdale, and installed in the part of the boiler house vacated by the redundant boilers in 1992.

It is a single vertical cylinder engine with condenser and the valves are round-seated with a twist movement to prevent scoring. It is still in fine working order and were it not for the air pump operates almost silently.

This is well illustrated by the fact that it is installed adjacent to the eating area in the cafe!



The gear teeth here seen around the periphery of the eighteen feet diameter flywheel transmitted the drive to a spur gear in mesh with a bevel gear, then through a transmission shaft that was arranged vertically into the mill.

Compounding, the addition of a second cylinder to the beam, was introduced in 1845 as technology improved to allow boiler pressures in the range 60-70lb/sq.in.

This meant that the whitelees engine would have developed 170 iHP (indicated horse power) at 34 RPM (revolutions per minute).








This is a general view of the Twin Compound Expansion Engines, Victoria on the left and Alexandria on the right, built by J&W McNaught of Rochdale.

These used to be Triple Compound Expansion Engines producing around 1700 iHp but were upgraded to Twin Compound engines producing just under 3000 iHP in later years.

At 2.30pm on 19th January 1916, a fire broke out in the second spinning room and very quickly spread to the rest of the mill.

The fire brigade attended the blaze, and appeared to have it under control.

However, by 7.30pm, the fire broke out again, and, unfortunately, a strong wind had got up, and was blowing through the broken windows, fanning the flames.

The building was completely destroyed, and several walls collapsed.

Disaster had struck!












In this picture of Victoria, the vertical operating mechanism for the piston valves can be clearly seen in the left foreground.

The large steel wheel with protruding handles at the bottom right is the main steam operating valve.

The starting procedure is extremely interesting, and requires the attention of two or three operatives. It is also necessary to have the engine in the correct starting position, ( more of this later ).

The Steam pressure gauge is then checked to ensure sufficient steam for the running period envisaged.

First, the drain cocks are opened to prevent condensed water in the cylinders from forming a "hydraulic lock" and damaging the ends of the cylinders, (which I have observed causing much damage on mainline locomotives).

The inlet valve on the right hand high pressure cylinder is opened with a spanner from the outside, at the same time as the main steam valve is opened.

The engine then slowly begins to turn and the mechanical system for the valve gear takes over, admitting steam to the cylinders in the correct synchronisation.

As speed slowly builds up, vacuum begins to increase and is observed on the twin gauges in the centre of the engines.

When the engines begin to run at normal efficiency, the sound changes and becomes very smooth.


British Engineering at its finest!









Because of the intervening war years, nothing was done, but, by 1921, the mill had reopened as The Ellenroad Ring Spinning Mill.

This new system required the mighty engines to be uprated to 3000iHP, and changed to Twin Condensing Compounds.

This is a highly efficient system, whereby steam is introduced to the high pressure cylinders, then exhausts to the low pressure cylinders to push further pistons.

As the exhaust steam leaves, it is quickly condensed by the addition of cold water from the nearby river, creating a large vacuum, which helps to draw the piston backwards, and thus becomes a steam/vacuum engine.

The huge 28ft diameter, cast iron flywheel, weighs 82 tons, and is clad in wood to cut down the wind resistance. It has 44 grooves around the circumference, which held 1 3/4" ropes driving the individual shafting on every floor of the mill, providing power to the Ring Spinning machines. . . .


. . . On the river, there is a weir, which maintains the well water to provide the 6000 gallons of water per minute required to condense the steam in the massive cylinders!

Underneath the large engines are huge air pumps, driven by linkages from the crossheads, which remove the air, water, and remaining steam back to three large tanks, which allows the removal of oil before being returned to the river.











Built in 1892 on the banks of the River Beal in Milnrow near Rochdale, the Ellenroad Cotton Mill produced fine cotton yarn using Mule Spinning.

The mill machinery was driven by a triple-expansion horizontal steam engine taking power from five Lancashire Boilers.

This is a view of the remaining Engine House taken from supplied literature.







This view shows the pressure gauges mounted in the centre of the engines.

The large centre gauge indicates the steam pressure from the boiler below and when approximately 50psi is achieved the engines can be started. This is more than adequate for present use, as the engines are no longer running under load and will quite happily run down to 15psi!

The other two large gauges show the amount of vacuum achieved in the left and right low pressure cylinders respectively whilst the engines are in operation, 25 ins Hg (mercury) being the norm.

I forgot to ask what the two smaller gauges indicate, but would hazard a guess that they show steam chest pressure!









In this picture can be clearly seen the gear teeth arranged round the inside circumference of the main flywheel.

These engage with a gear on the steam driven "Barring Engine", which is used to turn the main engines to "top dead centre" to facilitate starting.


A close up view of the meshing gears between the Barring Engine and the flywheel.










The Whitehead Governor adjusts the valve gear continuously to ensure the right amount of steam is admitted to produce the correct speed and power of the engines.





This small governor was originally used to detect engine overspeed, and was connected to an electrical device (Tate's Patent Stop Mechanism) that would disconnect the valve gear from the governor, and stop the engines should the driving speed exceed the safe maximum.

It could also be used as an emergency stop, the controls being situated in the spinning mill.









This picture illustrates the enormous scale of everything  connected with the engines.

On top of the main crankshaft can just be seen a huge brass container with glass sides, which contains a vast amount of oil to lubricate the bearing, allowing a many hours trouble-free operation.

There is an ingenious system for lubricating the "big end" bearing, consisting of a static glass sided oil container, which allows one drop of oil every 4 or 5 seconds to enter the round banjo and oil pipe, which rotates with the connecting rod and return crank.

The oil is fed down the pipe when the banjo reaches the top of every stroke.

The linkage to operate the huge air pumps below the engines can also be seen here.

The smoothness of the engines is such, that three 2p pieces were stood on end alongside the moving crosshead, which travels about 4 or 5 feet along the slidebar, without them falling over!


Although the mill was lit by electricity, powered from the main steam engines, when the workers were arriving and leaving work, it would have been dark until the large engines were started, so a small donkey steam engine was used to provide electricity during these short periods, seen here in this shot.
















The Ellenroad Mill was equipped with a sprinkler system, a Mather & Platt (Manchester) steam-driven sprinkler pump being used to provide pressure to this system.

Behind the tall red pipe in the corner at the far-right of the picture, a green, conical shaped container, can just be seen. This was the pressure sensing valve which switched on the pump when the pressure fell in the system.

Unfortunately, due to the ferocity of the fire and a lack of steam, it was unable to prevent the disastrous events of 1916. It is the last one of its kind still in perfect working order.



The small pressure gauges at the bottom of this shot indicate the difference between steam and vacuum pressure in the low pressure steam cylinders.

The mill was electrified in 1975, and the steam engines stopped for the last time.

The mill only survived a few more years, and was demolished in 1985.


Peter Bleasdale




The Ellenroad Steam Museum

is well-worth a visit,


and is located close to Jct 21 of the  M62

- head towards Shaw,

under the motorway

and turn first right.


The engines are in steam on the

first Sunday of every month


12 noon until approximately 4.00pm.


For further information, visit the

Ellenroad Steam Museum website







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