In this blog we start reviewing the history of ‘Spital Mills’ – more recently known as the premises of Spital Tile – which started out as a steam-powered lace mill, probably in the 1840s. Today it’s a dance studio with most of the former mill building used for storage.
A large, brick-built, steam-powered mill on the right bank of the Rother near the northern end of Spital Lane was probably erected by Thomas Holmes and Francis Algernon Sidney Smith, who in 1849 were the owners and occupiers, trading in partnership as Holmes & Smith, machine builders and lace manufacturers. Holmes appears previously to have been in partnership with Thomas Johnson, in a firm named Johnson & Holmes, which made gingham in a workshop in Castle Yard, behind the Castle Inn at 41 Low Pavement. He was living at Spital Lodge in 1841 and ten years later at The Terrace on Saltergate, when he gave his occupation as gingham manufacturer. Gingham is lightweight plain-woven cotton cloth. The firm of Holmes & Smith continued into the 1850s, but on 1 January 1858 the partnership was dissolved and the business taken over by John Drabble (1834–1908) and William Edwin Dutton (1821–63), a master draper with a shop on Lordsmill Street.
By 1862 the works had evidently been divided between two firms, Drabble & Dutton, lace manufacturers, and Drabble, Dutton & Parker, gingham makers. The third partner was Richard Parker, a draper on Low Pavement. In 1860 Dutton was the defendant in an action brought by Richard Holland, a mechanic from Preston (Lancs.), who unsuccessfully claimed that he was owed money for obtaining, building and installing improved gingham looms of his own invention at Spital. Both partnerships would have come to an end with Dutton’s death in his early forties in June 1863.
In 1864 John Drabble applied for a patent for improvements in the manufacture of bobbin net, made on bobbin net or twist lace machines. The lace-making side was given up when the rising price of raw material made the business unprofitable and the machinery was removed to the factory of Messrs Jacoby of Nottingham. A few years later gingham making also came to an end and Spital Mills (as the premises were always known, although there was only one mill building) became a tobacco manufacturing works.
In 1861, when he still had the lace-making business at Spital, Drabble was living in Nottingham. He later occupied the mill behind Lordsmill Street, on Hipper Street, which had once been a twist factory, and made gingham there, although in 1871–81 he described himself as a cotton doubler. He was then living at Herne House (in Calow).
Drabble was a member of Chesterfield corporation between 1871 and 1879, and mayor in 1877. In the 1891 census, by which date he had moved to Stanley Street in Spital, Drabble was enumerated as a commission agent and merchant, and ten years later as a timber merchant. He died at Spital in 1908, leaving personal estate of only £58.28.
We’ll be covering the later history these premises in future blogs, looking in particular at its short history as a tobacco manufactory under George Mason.
Part two of our history of Spital Mills can be found here.
The third and final part of our history of Spital Mills can be found here.
This text is a slightly edited version of that appearing in our ‘History of Hasland …’ book, which is now of print, but you can find copies in Chesterfield Local Studies Library. All sources are fully referenced in our book.