There appears to be little evidence as to the origins of Woodbrow Mill. What is known is that there was a mill, some 50 yds west of the River Tame about half way between Calf Hey Mill and Old Tame Mill. This mill was on the 1820 map of Saddleworth, but was not named, and it appears from a Manchester Mercury sale notice of May 1819 that it was bought by Thomas Gartside of Friar Mere Lodge.
The original mill can be seen, unnamed, by the river. Access was difficult and steep. At the time of this map (1820), Friarmere House stood on its own, on the hillside above the Ripponden – Oldham Turnpike.
Thomas Gartside is listed in several Directories in the 1820s and 30s as a wool printer of Woodbrow. He is also mentioned in the Poll List of 1832. There is however no reference to him in the Church Rates Book of 1835, and the map of 1845 shows the mill to be in ruins. By now it would appear that he had moved up the valley side to what is marked on the 1845 map as a Print Works directly behind his home at Friar Mere Lodge. Just when this move took place is not clear, but was likely to have been at some date between 1832 and 1845.
The second Woodbrow Mill was certainly not in being in 1820, as it does not exist on the map of that year. It had however been built by 1845 behind and up the hillside from Thomas Gartside’s home.
By 1845 the Gartsides had moved to new premises. The difficulties of the valley site, ease of access, particularly the improved Turnpike, and the expanded purpose built site, no doubt favoured development here.
Thomas Gartside is listed many, many times, in Directories, between 1830 and 1858, as a wool printer, and in 1841 there was reference to him as a fuller. Throughout these years he is listed as of Friar Mere Lodge, Woodbrow or Old Tame. He appears to have had continuous ownership of the premises, yet there is no reference to him in the Church Rates Book of 1852.
We do know from a Deed of 1854 that he directed ownership to his sons,Thomas junior and H. N. Gartside. The Deed is “concerning a capital messuage at Woodbrow called Friarmere Lodge in the occupation of Thomas Gartside the elder, and H. N. Gartside, plus large and commodious workshops, now used for woollen printing, and barns and offices, plus several cottages near the said house called Barracks, and land containing 52 acres and 5 perches”.
Thomas senior had also purchased Horest Mill in 1845 as a cotton spinning mill, and the Gartsides maintained their interests here until the late 1870s. The 1868 Pollution Committee Report claimed employment for 12 at Woodbrow. The mill was not rated in 1870, but appears to have continued until the mid 1880s as a wool printers.
The 1890 O.S. map clearly shows the buildings and reservoir still intact, but gives no clue as to
The original site of Woodbrow mill can be seen in the bottom centre of this picture. The cart track that swings diagonally up the hill to the right was probably the road that serviced the mill. Woodbrow mill itself can just be seen above the “Barrack” cottages on Ripponden Road. Friarmere House is on the left.