The 1890s were a period of distress in Blackburn. At the start of the decade, a fund was necessary to provide relief in the form of a New Year's Dinner, and distributions of loaves and flour. In 1892, 10,000 looms were stopped, and soup kitchens were opened. In 1895 the weavers marched to the Town Hall on February 7th, demanding work. Dickinson's Mill at Bank Top, and Turner Street Mill were closed, and the soup kitchens were once more necessary. To help with relief work, the Charity Organisation Society was formed. 1897 was regarded as the most unprofitable for many years, owing largely to a famine in India which greatly reduced sales.
As the decade closed, a proposal was announced to build a spinning mill in Blackburn. This venture was the Imperial Mill at Greenbank, which was to be equipped with a new type of spinning machine - the ring frame - which had been developed in America, and could be worked with less skilled operatives than the mules. The frames also had the double advantage of occupying less space and giving increased output.
A company was formed to build the mill, and fill it with machinery. The engines were started in December, 1901. The method of financing the mill was by an issue of shares, which were advertised by means of a prospectus and announcements in the paper. This was a means of raising capital which had been tried with great success in Oldham in the 1870s. The growth of the "Oldhams Limiteds" as they were known had caused Oldham to dominate the spinning side of the cotton industry.
The large scale of the new mills enabled them to quote prices for yarn that other textile districts could not match. The traditional method of financing the industry in Blackburn was for a proportion of the trading profits to be set aside for investment, coupled with loans from friends and relatives of the partners, and later from banks. The Imperial Mill proving to be a success, other companies were floated in the town to buy up spinning mills, clear out the old machinery, renovate the buildings, and install ring spinning frames. From the manufacturer's point of view, the new spinning mills saved the cost of carriage of the yarn from Oldham. It was estimated that £500 would be saved each year in railway charges for every 1,000 looms.
The same method of financing was also used to build a series of weaving sheds in Blackburn from 1904 onwards. There was a meeting of persons interested in investing in the cotton industry in Mill Hill school, supported by the Mayor and local clergy, on December 13th, 1904. It was explained that shares at £10 each would be sold, and £20,000 would purchase the building site, and £12,000 the machinery. The wage bill for the operatives in the mill would total £250 per week. By the end of the meeting, £5,000 had been promised. Shortly afterwards, the Livesey Mill Co., was formed to erect the mill, which was to be worked by the Blackburn Pioneer Co., and built on the canal bank near Moorgate, and was called Pioneer Mill.
In the next ten years, nineteen new weaving sheds were built, and enlargements made to six existing mills, one of these, Ewood Mill being largely rebuilt. The first fourteen years of the 20th Century were thus ones of great activity in the textile trade. The population continued to expand, and 3,000 new houses were built, so providing boom conditions in the building trade.
The social amenities for the weavers were improved. The new mills had to be built with better toilet facilities and dining rooms, while old mills were gradually modernised. In 1901 the mills began to close at 12 o'clock on Saturday. In 1912 holidays were increased to give a full week off in August. In 1914, two more days were granted in September. The number of looms in Blackburn had grown to 90,538.
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