Restoration of A mill and B Mill at Dean Clough, Halifax, and conversion to offices.
Since the Halifax Civic Trust Awards were launched in 1992 to encourage high standards
of building and design the watchword has always been "quality" - high quality of
design, of materials, of craftsmanship, of vision. And so the number of awards in
any one year has varied considerably, from as few as one, as in 1996, when the award
went to the restoration of two 17th-century cottages in Tetley Lane, Northowram,
to as many as six in 2006, when the winners included the conversion of old Electric
Cinema in Commercial Street into the Electric Bowl, the construction of new flats
to a traditional design in Stafford Avenue, and the conversion of the Royal Halifax
Infirmary into apartments.
In this, the 26th year of the awards there is again just one - but it is a major
project, indeed a landmark development for the site and for the town of Halifax.
The 2017 Halifax Civic Trust Award is for the impressive restoration of A Mill and
B Mill at Dean Clough, former home of the carpet making empire of John Crossley and
his family. The £14 million renovation and conversion of the two mills for the Covea
Insurance company very nearly completes the restoration of the huge Dean Clough estate;
only Marshall's Mill on the edge of the site below the Burdock Way's Hebble Viaduct
remains to be tackled. The resurrection of A and B mills marks the completion of
the renovation of all the surviving great Crossley mills.
The Crossley story will be well known to many of our members, but for the record
here is the short version! John Crossley, born in 1772, began his life in the carpet
industry as an apprentice with William Currer in Luddenden Foot. In 1800 John married
Martha Turner and in 1802 John, his brother, Thomas, and one James Travis leased
Dean Clough Mill as worsted spinners. When the partnership ended John and Martha
continued at Dean Clough Mill - which is thought to have been on part of the site
now occupied by E Mill - and eventually bought it.
John and Martha had eight children and when John died in 1837, three of their sons,
John, Joseph and Frank, took over the business and began a rapid expansion, thanks
to the increasing use of steam power and advancing technologies in carpet production.
A Mill and B Mill - originally Centre Mill No 1 and 2 - were the first to be built,
A Mill in 1941 and B Mill in 1944, followed by the first of the weaving sheds Old
Shed (Gripper Shed), of 1849 (now demolished), then C Mill (1850, demolished), New
Shed (Axminster Shed, 1853, demolished), D Mill (1854), E Mill (1857), F Mill (1858),
G Mill (1867) and H Mill (1869, pulled down to make way for Burdock Way, the Halifax
Inner Relief Road). By 1879 John Crossley and Sons was the world's biggest carpet
making company; Dean Clough Mills, with 1.25 million sq ft of floorspace, ran for
half a mile up the Hebble Valley and eventually occupied as many as 5,000 workers.
The Crossley brothers, John, Joseph and Frank, used their wealth to improve and enhance
their home town. They built an orphanage near King Cross, now Crossley Heath School,
built Park Road Baths and were supporters of various Congregational churches. Joseph,
who spent most of his time running the company, built almshouses in Arden Road. John,
twice Mayor of Halifax, built Crossley Street and Princess Street, including the
White Swan Hotel, in the town centre and provided the land for the building of Halifax
Town Hall in 1863. He also created the workers' industrial village of West Hill Park,
between Gibbet Street and Hanson Lane, and built himself a great mansion called Manor
Heath. Frank bought Belle Vue house in Lister Lane and turned it into the finest
Victorian mansion in Halifax. He built almshouses in nearby Margaret Street and then,
following a visit to America, gave Halifax People's Park, one of the finest urban
parks in the country. He was MP for Halifax and the West Riding and in 1863 he was
created a baronet.
Expansion continued into the 20th century, the Elizabeth Shed being built as late
as 1961. But Crossley's could not escape the downturn which was affecting the entire
British textile industry. In 1969 John Crossley and Sons merged with Carpet Trade
Holdings and the Carpet Trades Manufacturing Company, of Kidderminster, to form Carpets
International. During the 1970s the Dean Clough mills were gradually run down and
finally closed in 1982.
A year later the Dean Clough estate was acquired by a consortium led by Ernest Hall
and Jonathan Silver with their plan to create a "practical utopia" of business living
side-by-side with the arts, offering space to meet clients' needs, from as little
as 100 sq ft to as large as 60,000 sq feet. Although Silver soon moved on to Salt's
Mill in Saltaire, Ernest Hall (knighted in 1993) with fellow director Maurice Miller
and Ernest Hall's son, Jeremy Hall, now chairman of Dean Clough Ltd, followed the
Dean Clough journey, adding further buildings to the estate which were not originally
part of Crossley's, such as Bowling (Dyke) Mill and the nearby Fearnley's Mill and
Crossley's Mill, all built for worsted manufacturer James Akroyd and Sons.
More than three decades on Dean Clough now houses about 140 organisations employing
around 4,000 people. They range from major concerns such as Lloyds Banking Group,
the NHS, the Benefits Agency and, now, Covea Insurance, a Travelodge and a Jack
Wills designer outlet, to a huge range of smaller businesses, from artists to a bow
maker, printers to graphic designers, and including restaurants, bars, a post office
and even a radio station as well as arts organisations such as the Northern Broadsides
Theatre Company and IOU Theatre, not forgetting Dean Clough's own six art galleries.
Staff gather on the new terrace outside B mill for the official opening of Covea's
new offices at A mill and B mill Dean Clough in July 2016. In front are Covea's president
Thierry Darez and James Reader, CEO at Halifax.
Faced with the gigantic task of restoring and putting to use 1.25 million sq feet
of floorspace in a dozen huge multi-storey mills, the Dean Clough modus operandi
from the start has been to restore piecemeal, one building at a time, perhaps one
floor at a time, as demand and finances allowed. In the case of A Mill and B Mill
the approach has been quite different. The two buildings, the oldest of the giant
Dean Clough mills, had been empty for many years, were in places semi-derelict and
had potentially serious structural problems. They were almost the last of the mills
to be tackled and the probably the most challenging and expensive to renovate and
convert to a new use. Dean Clough Ltd decided to draw up a plan and then find a tenant
who could carry it out. The company engaged chartered surveyors Bonnington's, of
Haworth, and Leeds architects Enjoy Design to produce a comprehensive restoration
and conversion scheme to turn the two mills into offices that would attract a tenant
with the financial clout to take on the project. It was Covea, the French mutual
insurance firm, founded in 1999 and headquartered in Paris, which took on the challenge.
The firm's British subsidiary, Covea Insurance UK, was founded in 2012, when the
French parent acquired and merged three longstanding British insurers. They included
Provident Insurance, thriving specialists in motor insurance, founded in Halifax
in 1996 and employing latterly around 590 people in various buildings scattered around
the town, including in Blackwall, Crown Street and Harrison Road. Several sites were
considered by Covea for its northern HQ, including space earmarked for offices at
the Broad Street Plaza and the site of the demolished multi-storey Cow Green car
park. But Dean Clough was deemed the best if, at £14 million, not the cheapest of
the alternatives. Covea engaged Sheffield builders and developers Finnegan to undertake
the work. The task was enormous. It included inserting new floors throughout the
six-storey mills, shoring up part of B Mill, installing new lifts and stairs, demolishing
an old lavatory block and building a new plant extension, reroofing both mills, providing
new windows throughout, laying out a new external terrace and, of course, ending
with a complete internal refit.
The mills were infested with pigeons and among the first jobs was the removal of
an estimated eight tons of droppings. The "to do" list was formidable. All doors
and windows were replaced, including the doors in the twin loading towers, which
were replaced with full-height windows. All the stonework, inside and out, was cleaned.
The cast iron columns which run down the centre of all the floors and the floor beams
and roof trusses were stripped and cleaned. Parts of the old stone staircases were
removed. The existing floors, supported by rows of cast-iron columns, were inadequate
for present-day loadings and structural engineers Thomasons in Leeds determined that
new steel columns would have to be built beside the old cast iron ones to support
new floors, while the old timber floors below were retained as ceilings. In addition
a section of B Mill was leaning outwards, towards the car park. More steel columns
were erected inside the rear, north wall, to prevent further movement of that wall
and they were connected to the new floor structure which was then bolted to the front,
south wall to prevent that wall from moving further.
The rear (north) of A and B mills, facing Old Lane, showing the lavatory tower, water
tank and general poor condition of the empty mills, which were built in 1841 and
1844. The tower has since been demolished and replaced with a modern, silver-clad
enclosure housing electrical and mechanical plant. A and B mills were built into
the hillside below Old Lane, which is why, although the buildings are six storeys
high, only four storeys are visible on this side.
The floors at A and B mills are relatively narrow from front to back and the ground
floor and parts of the first are even narrower - half the depth - as the mills were
built into the hillside below Old Lane. On such a small footprint the architects
were keen to maintain the existing openness of the floorspace and so it followed
that any major new components should be built outside the existing footprint rather
than inside. Thus two new lift towers were constructed next to the existing loading
and stair towers facing the car park, the tower for B Mill also containing stairs.
A new fire escape stair, though, was created within the building at the party wall
between the two mills. At the rear, in the courtyard between the mills and a retaining
wall which supports Old Lane, an old, dilapidated toilet tower, too small to be useful,
was demolished and the site used for a new enclosure containing electrical and mechanical
gear, essentially the air conditioning system for both mills.
These new-build elements were designed of light, neutral materials to contrast with
the stone masonry of the Victorian mills. So the lift towers are glazed - as with
similar towers at F Mill and G Mill - but at B Mill the glazing is married to high-quality
panelling. The rear-wall enclosure, which is not visible from the front of the building,
is four storeys high, rising above the eaves, in silver profiled cladding with silver
louvres, an unmistakably modern contrast to the masonry massed behind. The redundant
pedimented loading and stair towers, projecting from the main facade, have mostly
been converted into meeting rooms - there are 33 of them altogether in the two mills.
The fourth floor of B mill before restoration. Note the cast iron columns down the
centre. The old floors were not strong enough for modern loading and have been overlaid
by new ones supported by steel columns. The old beams, joists and boards, now cleaned,
remain as ceilings and a reminder of how the mills appeared.
The fifth floor at B mill, showing the old roof trusses, now beautifully renovated
Apart from essentials such as toilets, cloakrooms and kitchen the openness of the
old mill floors remains. The spaces are filled with desks with circulation along
the line of the old and new columns down the centre of each room. The result is necessarily
functional but the scheme has retained, wherever possible, existing architectural
features and added one or two attractive new touches. Outside and inside, the beautiful
Yorkshire sandstone has been cleaned and exposed. The old timber floors and joists
remain visible, even though they now serve only as ceilings. Above all, on the fifth
floor the original heavy roof trusses survive, restored and open to view. Signage
on the various floors is colour coded, green on the ground floor, orange on the second,
red on the fifth, for example. And beside the entrance to each of the loading tower
meeting rooms is described a little piece of Crossley history, on the second floor,
for example, some lines about Jacquard looms, the French invention that revolutionised
textile manufacture during the 19th century, and on the third a mention of Karvel
carpet, once used in motor vehicles.
Outside, landscape specialists The Landscape Practice, of Northallerton, have transformed
what was once a dreary area of car parking between the old loading towers into a
most attractive terrace. This area has been raised to ground floor level and new
flights of steps, high quality paving, ramps, planting and a range of stainless steel
furniture, from seating to handrails, installed. From here visitors enter the mills
via a reception area at the base of the old B Mill loading tower, a spot marked outside
by an attractive canopy and inside by a space that rises impressively through two
floors. There is a second entrance, for staff, at the east end of A Mill. Apart from
these entrances the ground floor has a cafe and coffee bar and also houses the company's
facilities team. The first floor has a training area and human resources and the
remaining floors deal with the business of insurance, apart from the fourth, where
the company's IT teams are based. Covea at A and B Mills is now the largest employer
at Dean Clough with 720 workers, and there is room for another 60.
The restoration and reuse of A Mill and B Mill is the latest - almost the last -
stage in Dean Clough's near 40-year journey from dereliction to Sir Ernest Hall's
"practical utopia". Sir Ernest retired in 2008 but the journey and the same ethos
continue under the chairmanship of his son, Jeremy. What a brilliant idea - to combine
the talents of business people with those in the arts and bring it to fruition in
one of the world's largest collection of "dark satanic mills". Satanic they are no
more. Instead we have a community of 4,000 people in 140 businesses and organisations,
inventing, making, doing their own thing in a place buzzing with ideas and creativity
in magnificent buildings magnificently restored.
A mill, right, and B mill at Dean Clough, renovated by insurance company Covea at
a cost of £14 million. Prominent on the left is the new glazed lift and stair tower,
built next to the pedimented former loading and stair tower. The mills house 720
The Dean Clough journey has been done prudently, step by step, and this place that
once ruled the carpet making world is today acknowledged everywhere as a model for
business regeneration. It's a job well done - in the sense that the organisations
now based at Dean Clough employ nearly as many people as John Crossley's sons did
more than a century ago. And well done also in the way the project has been carried
out, with respect for the place, the buildings, the architecture. Dean Clough Ltd,
Covea and their many partners in this thorough, honest and thoughtful restoration
and revitalisation of A Mill and B Mill have done Halifax proud!
Halifax Civic Trust Awards 2017 David Hanson
The Mayor of Calderdale, Howard Blagbrough and consort, with John Hargreaves, Chair
of Halifax Civic Trust, and the Award winners