Photo: Mark Stevenson

Mark’s History: Benjamin Gott, pollution and Armley Mills

19 January 2020

Calverley today is a suburb of Leeds, just on the border with Bradford – but back in 1762 it would have been a village still not yet absorbed by Leeds, writes Mark Stevenson.

It was here that one of the biggest polluters of his time was born.

Armley Mills
Workers enjoyed good conditions at Armley Mills. Photo: Mark Stevenson

He had numerous mills along the canal and river that poured waste into them, as well as chimneys that bellowed out smoke, forcing people out of their homes.

Part of his workforce was treated so badly it was said he felt the need to sleep with a gun under his pillow (the Bean Ings Mill workforce apparently did not like him much).

If he was alive today would we stand for someone poisoning our city just for money? His mills at Armley are probably the thing he is most remembered for.

Historic Armley Mills. Photo: Mark Stevenson

I know that sounds all bitter and twisted but Benjamin Gott was a businessman of his time.

On the other side of the coin, he treated his workers at Armley Mills really well, even by today’s standards. No fines for talking, sick pay, pensions and gifts – all groundbreaking for the time, I would think.

View over to Kirkstall Brewery, at the bottom of Kirkstall Road, and town behind it. Photo: Mark Stevenson

Gott at first rented space at Armley Mills but it was not the Armley Mills we know today. There has been a mill on the site since at least 1590.

By the time Gott came along the relatively new mill (built by Thomas Lloyd, who lived on South Parade in town) occupied the site.

In 1805 the mills were badly damaged by fire so Lloyd had them rebuilt. Gott was to buy them outright in 1807.

Canalside at Armley Mills. Photo: Mark Stevenson

A few years later when Gott was showing off his mill to Repton (his gardener). He claimed it to be the most powerful, safest and technically advanced mill in the area as Lloyd had rebuilt the mill to Gott’s specifications.

Gott may have had experience at rebuilding mills to a high safety specification as his mill at Bean Ing (where the Yorkshire Post used to be) had burnt down a few years before and he had rebuilt it.

It was said at the time that Armley Mills was the best-looking building in the area devoted to the making of cloth. Armley Mill is Grade ll listed.

Catch up with more on West Leeds’ past with the Mark’s History column here.

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