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 Explore Armley Mills

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Armley Mills contains exhibits from the 18th century to the present day and tells the history of manufacturing in Leeds, including textiles, clothing, printing and engineering.

The galleries and collections tell the story of a number of industries that have shaped the city we know and love today, from the recreated Victorian cottages through to the waterwheel.

Visit our textile gallery, the milling room and fulling mill to find out more about Leeds' connection with the wool and cloth industries.

Leeds has a long history of involvement in the wool trade and its position as a centre of the cloth trade was greatly enhanced by the opening of navigable waterways, the Aire and Calder Navigation in 1690 and the Leeds/Liverpool Canal in 1700, which provided a direct link between Leeds and its customers and suppliers in Europe, Australia and the Americas.

In 1801 there were about 20 factories in Leeds, not all of them textile mills. By about 1838 there were 106 woollen mills alone, employing 10,000 people transforming Leeds into a major city.  The new mills replaced traditional skilled operatives creating extremes of wealth alongside poverty, cultural opportunities alongside environmental devastation, learning alongside ignorance. 

Working conditions in the mills were unregulated and frequently appalling. In one notorious case in 1832 a child died in a Leeds mill when he was not allowed to stop work to go to the toilet.

For those of you with a keen interest in steam power and engineering, we have exhibitions showcasing our collection of large and small engines, machine tools and road vehicles galleries and best of all, a super collection of locomotives including the well-known and loved working engine, 'Jack'.

The demand for machinery and equipment produced by the textile industry created opportunities for engineers in Leeds. One of the first was Matthew Murray, who produced textile machinery, steam engines and locomotives, including the world's first commercially successful steam locomotive.  During the nineteenth century many small, and some giant, engineering companies grew in Leeds, exporting locomotives, cranes, traction engines and other heavy engineering products around the nation and around the globe.

Leeds was central to the concept of ready-made clothing, garments that you bought off the peg that we know and recognise today.  Explore the tailoring gallery, the 'Unzipped' and Hainsworth galleries and of course the 'Behind the Seams' exhibition for more.

In the second half of the nineteenth century the woollen industry  in Leeds declined in the face of competition from other growing towns like Bradford. Another textile related industry appeared to take its place, often in the mills abandoned by the woollen manufacturers - ready made clothing. The inspiration behind this new industry came from John Barran. Barran came up with the revolutionary idea of off the peg, ready-made clothing.  The industry flourished in Leeds with a number of companies involved who later  became household names, such as Burtons and Hepworths.

A very famous Leeds printing company was John Waddington Ltd, which started life printing posters for the theatre around 1900 and then diversified into games and packaging, most notably Monopoly!

The first known printer in Leeds was John Hirst who in 1718 began printing the 'Leeds Mercury' newspaper. In 1810 there were still only eight printing houses in Leeds but in the next decade the numbers mushroomed. By 1911 printing was the fourth largest employer in Leeds, employing 8000 people in a number of small and large printing houses.

Did you know that the world’s first ever moving image was filmed in Leeds?

Leeds has an interesting history with the world of film and photography.  Find out more about the story of Louise le Prince, his life and interesting death and explore the fantastic collection of original cameras.

Armley Mills Museum has one of the smallest working 1920s cinemas in the world that you can take a seat in and enjoy a black and white film during your visit.

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