We saw the smoke when we went to pick Little D up from school. We assumed it was the stone yard on the main road burning again, that things had got out of control. Fires have a habit of doing that when you burn the wrong things. As children we knew someone who once burnt tyres in their back yard to dispose of them, it disposed of the tyres, the house, the neighbouring houses and most of the back yards along the block. Some things burn brighter and hotter than you would think. The smoke billowed over the school yard and there were jokes about barbeques and then we saw the first fire engine fly past, sirens wailing, quickly followed by a second fire engine and then we knew something was wrong. We still thought it was the stone yard, it was probably their fire out of control but then on the drive home we saw this. Bailey Mill was burning.
Bailey Mill in Delph has been part of the landscape for over a hundred years, most of the people who lived around it worked there. Carol worked there in the summer holidays when she was at college and university. Her Mum worked in the offices. We know that the family that lived at Pig Row before us worked in this mill, walking the four miles downhill and uphill each day to work at the machines. Then in the 1990s, Mallalieus working out of Bailey Mill since 1863 went bust, shortly after being brought out by an American company. Yet, the company still exists and Mallalieus of Delph rose from the ashes in 1997 to carry on producing fabulous textiles, you're probably wearing some now or even sitting on some but Bailey Mill remained derelict. For two decades the mill has been open to the elements and vandalism, councillors have fought for it to be saved, to be pulled down, for it to be developed. There were calls for it to be listed, as it was a valuable piece of architecture in what is a conservation area, but the death knell was rung on Bailey Mill earlier in 2015 when it was approved for demolition. The fight to save it has been raging on ever since, there was always trouble at t'mill and no one ever expected the fire of the Spanish Inquisition. Yet, this is what we have got with too many rules, too many arguments and too much red tape to save this mill. We have lost not just a building of historic importance, and so few of them are left from the age of wool around here, but we have lost a socially historic important building.
The Python joke may seem flippant but the same confusion that abounds at the start of the sketch has been played out around Bailey Mill. It has been a farce and the fire is the final punchline. It didn't take long for the fire to take hold in the mill. We could smell the smoke all the way over the valley and within a couple of hours the roof and floors had collapsed leaving only a shell. 50% is gone. It's a crying waste as this mill, which was structurally sound before the fire, could have been converted, could have housed many more families compared to flattening it and building houses on it's footmark. Sadly, this is a story we have probably all seen before, mills are left open to the weather, people get in, fires are started and a piece of history is destroyed in a matter of hours. The mill still contained machinery and many rolls of cloth from when it was a working mill, such was its rapid closure in 1996. This machinery is now lost, just mangled, twisted metal, floorboards older than any of us just ash, cast iron pillars not even useful as scrap now and then there is the wildlife, the bats and birds that made the mill their home. The rats that fled the fire. The bats that couldn't. The birds who didn't. Carol cried when she saw Bailey Mill burn, we suspect many people did, it was a loss of not a building but a place in the landscape, a collective memory, of names and marks carved into the stone of the mill. We can be grateful that no one was hurt or killed in the fire. We should be angry at those that started it. People who start fires to keep warm is one thing. This is an act of survival. People who start fires for fun have something wrong with them. This is an act of madness. People who start fires do so illegally and with no regard for life. Luckily this fire didn't spread to the houses surrounding the mill and that is thanks to the tireless actions of our fire service, who as we write this are still at the scene dampening down the fire. Let's hope what is left of the mill can be saved and that we do not, once more, wipe away the past for a future that has no anchor.