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Drinkwater Park

[with thanks to Peter Corbally for some of the content on the water mill, and his article The Tudor Water Mill]


The map of 1845 shows the the location of Irwell House within Drinkwater Park.

The Langley family as Lords of the Manor, had acquired the land that makes up Drinkwater park in 1389.

In the above map there are several interesting features that merit discussion. In 1543 Sir Robert Langley of Agecroft Hall, Lord of the Manor of Prestwich, built a weir across the River Irwell, to provide water for a water mill. The weir rose the level of the river and allowed the diversion of water to be used to work the wheel at the mill.

Their was also a reference to an earlier mill in an Agecroft deed of 1338, whereby Sir Richard de Radcliffe, gave a quitclaim of all his rights in the manor of Prestwich, “together with one water mill in the same vill”. In 1559, Sir Robert owned a water Mill and a fulling Mill.

[fulling, also known as walking or tucking is the cleaning of cloth to remove impurities - which lead to the Bleach mills such as the ones at Buckleys in the Clough and Waterdale. This occupation lives on in the surnames of Fuller, Walker and Tucker]

Possible Location of the weir

The exact location of the 14th century Mill is unknown, but a massive clue is in the name of Fleams farm, which stood North of the site of Irwell House. The weir of 1543 required the use of the land on both sides of the river, the West bank being owned by the Hollands of Clifton, and the East owned by the Langleys of Agecroft.

[An Agecroft deed of 1562 refers to "Over Fleams" and "Lower Fleams" suggesting the fleam from the river to the mill and the fleam from the mill back to the river]

The small channel on the West bank suggests and overflow channel which would have catered for excess water when the river was in full flow.

The weir of 1543 was agreed to be 20 yards long and 28 inches high above the river level raising the river level by an extra 24 inches. Presumably there was a mill race (aka fleam or leet) above/upstream of the weir, which would have led a forceful stream of water to the mill.

LIDAR map of the possible water channels to and from the Mill on the East flood plain

The possible location of the 16th century Mill is suggested by the ground works still present in Drinkwater Park.

On 20th June 1548, Thomas Holland, Lord of the Manor of Clifton came with six other men and broke down the end of the weir on the western bank. The water flowed out through the broken weir and the mill ceased operation. This destruction was possibly due to damage cause by flooding of the fields up stream of the weir, or just a general fallign out between the families. Sir Langley lodged a complaint and the weir dimension and access rights were clarified and reinstated in 1550.

No mention was made of the mills in the property of the then Lord of the Manor, William Dauntsey, when he died in 1625.

Possible diversions of the streams from Mere Clough(colvert from Damshead Lodge),Prestwich Clough & Hertswell (Rainsough), and two dams/sluices to create the pond/reservoir

This reservoir is fed by the streams tumbling down Rainsough, Spring Vale, Cart Clough, and Prestwich Clough, and is a previous course of the river Irwell which used to meander over the flood plain between Prestwich and Pendlebury.

The first and last of these streams were potentially diverted from their course towards the Irwell, to instead feed into the Drinkwater reservoir. As this is a less reliable and less strong flow of water, this represent an alternative, maybe earlier, water source prior to the weir on the Irwell, and maybe indicating that this location was also that of the 14th century Mill.

[Perhaps the fulling Mill of 1559 was the Buckleys/Old engine house of Prestwich Clough, but it could have been Spring Vale (Hilton Lane) or elsewhere ]

1938 map of the possible Mill location

This possible location of the Mill at Drinkwater, would allow for the reservoir to be used as an alternative water source to that of the river.

[There was also a Kersall Mill, first mentioned in 1570, and rebuilt in 1612 This was located above the site of the (now demolished) Cussons Factory]


Irwell House

Irwell House (built in the 1790's, but with deeds dating back to 1660) stood in Fleams Farmland, what is now Drinkwater Park. The land was bought in 1788 and the house built for the industrialist, fustian manufacturer and textile merchant, Peter Drinkwater, son of Thomas Drinkwater of Whalley. Peter (1742–1801) had a business in Spring Gardens Manchester in 1781, prior to him diversifying into cotton manufacturing, with the purchase of a Cotton Factory in Northwich. He married Margaret Bolton, sister of Mr Serjeant Bolton (council for the crown in Rex versus Arkwright 1785).

[The surname Drinkwater comes from the fact that water was less safe to drink than beer, very poor people drank water, and it may have been applied with irony to an Inn keeping family]

In 1784, Peter donated 40 guineas to the Committee of the Fustian Trade, which matched to Sir Richard Arkwright's donation, and as such were the largest donors, an indication of Drinkwaters position in the industry...and his wealth.

Arkwrights factory, near Angel Meadow, was the subject of a Time Team dig in 2006.

Showing innovation, Drinkwater built the first mill (in the world) to be powered by a Boulton and Watt steam engine - previously more commonly used for Railway engines. Peter asked Boulton and Watt, apologising for his ignorance in such matters, that the engine "is one with power equal to six horses".

Drinkwater Mill 1788

"Bank Top" or Piccadilly Mill stood in the Piccadilly area of Manchester, but Peter's neighbours complained of the safety of such a machine, the location was moved to Auburn Street, several hundred yards out of town in order to allow for the installation of the engine, also installing a centrifugal governor to the steam engine, which reduced the violence and irregularity of the engine’s stroke.

The Mill had to be purpose built, with raised floors, foundations sunk to 9 feet, and its outer walls thickened to 23 inches. The mill-wright was Thomas Lowe, who had worked for William Fairbairn and helped with the planning of two of Arkwright's earliest factories.

Shortly after this installation, and depite a new war with France, Boulton and Watt saw sales of thier engines massively increase, with Drinkwater's engine acting as a great advert, the mills and factories of Manchester and Lancashire moved away from the alternative "fire engines" towards steam. Boulton and Watt sold 162 steam engines by 1798, nearly doubling their number of installations.

In 1792, Peter employed Robert Owen, the Utopian Socialist, as his mill manager at Top Bank. Here Robert had become concerned with the moral and physical condition of his workforce. He began to apply the principle which was to dominate most of his life, namely that character was derived from "circumstances" rather than created by the will. The mill using Samuel Crompton's new mules, with 144 spindle hand-mules and carding engines, employed 500 people.

[other pioneers :George Lee (manager of Drinkwter's Northwich Mill),and Thomas Lowe were also associated with the Mill]

In 1873 the mill was converted for use as a lithographic printing and engraving works. By 1932, however, the printing works had been demolished, and the site was redeveloped.

Drinkwater Mill as a print works (1908)

Drinkwater Mill excavations (2005)

Meanwhile back in Prestwich....

In 1792 Drinkwater was appointed J.P. In keeping with his new status Peter Drinkwater built this excellent mansion on the banks of the River Irwell, and in 1794 was listed as having a "country residence" called Irwell House, where he lived during the summer. He also had a house on Fountain Street which he used as a winter residence. (nobody loves to commute in the rain!)

Also in 1794 Peter Drinkwater bought the title of Lord of the Manor of Prestwich and the remaining manorial lands (333 acres) from the famous agricultural improver, Thomas William Coke (‘Cook’), thus becoming Peter Drinkwater Esquire. The deal cost £4,482 - that's £600,000 today.

In April 1797, at St Mary's in Prestwich, Peter's daughter Margaret married John Pemberton, son of Arthur Heywood, a deceased Liverpool slave merchant. John's cousin, Benjamin Arthur lived at Clifton Hall just over the Irwell, John himself lived in LincolnsInn Middlesex. John's uncle founded Heywoods Bank in Manchester, and the grandson of Benjamin Arthur lived at The How

Peter died, aged 51 in 1801 and has a fine memorial in Bolton Parish Church, and the Manor went to his son Thomas. Thomas was Vice-President of the Manchester Fever Hospital

Robert Owen accepted a partnership with Drinkwater's sons but then renounced it in order that Drinkwater's son-in-law, the manufacturer Samuel Oldknow (High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1824), would have greater control of the firm.

The House was let out for a period with a sucession of residents:

In 1835, William, the only surving son of the late Thomas Yates of Irwell house, died in Rome aged 38.

In 1845, John Dugdale of Irwell House, was listed as a committee member of the Clitheroe Junction Railway, alognside Thomas Coke, and Samuel Ashton of Woodhill.

The census of 1841 shows 4 servants at Irwell house, including a John Ward.

The census of 1851 shows Thomas Drinkwater (73) a landed Proprietor resident with his wife Sarah (60), daughter Julia (18) and butler James Ward (see 1841), and 6 other servants. Suggesting Thomas had been resident in 1841 too.

In 1852, the youngest daughter, Sarah Hannah, of Rev R Ray of Irwell House - former chaplian of the Collegiate Institution of Taunton, married Henry Wansborough in Manchester Cathedral.

[Note the poultry in the above image of Irwell House, and that in 1855 the gardener of Irwell House came second in the Bury and Radcliffe Horticultural Society Exhibition]


In 1858, the daughter of James Carlton, of Irwell House, Emily, married John Kynaston Cross M.P., cotton spinner manufacturer and Under-secretary for India.

In 1854, Thomas Drinkwater's daughter Julia married the Rector of St Mary's Canon Henry Birch, at St George's, Hanover Square, West Minster. Thomas left all his estate to his daughters upon his death in 1861, aged 85. His wife Sarah died in 1877, and both are comemorated on brass plaques in St Mary's.

In 1862 Mr Benjamin Whitworth M.P. moved to Irwell House, he is credited with being the first person to import Cotton to Fleetwood, in 1857, and establishing the Whitworth Institute in that town. Benjamin moved to London in 1866, and in 1867 Henry Lee was listed as living at Irwell House.

[was this the Henry Lee of Sedgley New Hall?]

The 1871 census of Irwell House shows merchant William Collie (widowed) living with his mother, sister and brother, with 4 servants, and in 1881 just a gardner and his family were resident.

In 1885 Samuel Chatwood Esq. of Irwell House, was awarded a gold award for Safes, in lieu of a bronze award for a hydraulic bankers lift, by the Jury Commission. Samuel Chatwood, an industrialist greatly influenced by the ideas of Robert Owen and the co-operative movement strong in the mid 1800’s, began making safes in the late 1850’s at a factory in Bolton and subsequently moved to Shrewsbury. Chatwood claimed he was not merely another lock and safe maker, but a bankers’ engineer. However, Arthur Brunel Chat wood of Irwell House, displayed "Chatwood’s Electro-pneumatic Action for Organs" at the Royal Jubilee Exibition in Mabchester 1887, with Samuel exhibiting "Working Model of Chatwood’s Patent Hydraulic Balance applied to (1) Banker’s Strong Room, (2) Passenger Elevator, (3) Jeweller’s Window. Model of Banker’s Strong Room. Model of Elevator. Model of Rising and Falling Window. Various Working Models of Hydraulic Balance" and "Banker’s Steel Strong Room. Banker’s Strong Room Door and Frame. Intersected Steel Safe. An assortment of Fire, Fall, and Burglar Proof Safes. An assortment of Invincible Locks, Ac. Carriage Door Locks for Raihvays".

In 1891 the House was advertised to let

Irwell House To Let (1893)

Thomas Drinkwater's daughter Harriet Julia Birch, who had married the Rector of Prestwich (also appointed as an executor to his will), was the last Lord of the Manor of Prestwich and feudal titles were abolished in 1912.

Irwell House To Let (1893)

The requirement for an isolation hospital was discussed for some years, with an epidemic expected, and Irwell House caught the eye....

Isolation Hospital (1900)

Isolation Hospital (1902)

After some struggles, Irwell House and the land known as Drinkwater Park were sold to Salford and Prestwich councils in 1902 and it opened as a Smallpox Isolation Hospital in 1903.

Irwell House Ruins

Last admissions were in 1943 and the house was blown up in a Civil Defence exercise in 1946. The ruins were transfered to the NHS in 1948 and the house was finally burnt down in another exercise in 1958.

The foundations and the first course of stones were rennovated and are still visible today.

Drinkwater park & Waterdale are one of Bury's largest green spaces, right on our doorstep. Now owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, major work has been carried out to stop heavy metals from leaching out of contaminated ground at Waterdale and Drinkwater Park. Thousands of tons of soil have been imported to create a stunning wildflower meadow, while a mixture of deciduous trees were planted. Many of these are managed traditionally by local coppice workers to produce sustainable products.

Prestwich Forest Park

Drinkies and Agecroft 1970s - from The Dark River (Darwell2016)

Watch an exploration of the fleams (sorry it's fuzzy).

Fleams Photo Album: