Brindley's House, Leek, Staffordshire


A. W. Bednall    

The Bednall Archive 

Last updated 04/05/2004


The   water   powered corn mill, thought to have been built by the canal engineer James Brindley,  is one  of  Leek's  best  known  tourist attractions and a familiar sight to all who travel between Leek and Macclesfield via Mill  Street.  However, few people will have heard of 'Brindley's House', despite its connections with  the early silk  industry and  the development  of mohair and silk dyeing in Leek. Until recently its location and origins were a mystery.

'Brindley’s    House' had  no  direct  connection  with  James Brindley, and had already passed out of Brindley family hands when the man who was to achieve fame as an engineer is thought   to  have  arrived  in  Leek, sometime prior to 1742. James Brindley may have been related, of course, to the family of masons and blacksmiths which had been established in Leek since at least the 16th century, and who gave their name to the house.


"Into three dwellings divided".

Brindleys House-1.jpg (62881 bytes)In deeds of the 1730s the house was described as a "tenement (into three dwellings divided) standing near unto the Well (or pump) in Mill Street". It was thatched, probably made of stone, and had two barns, two stables and a garden. At the back was a croft of about half an acre.  Together with various fields in the vicinity, such as the "Leys" lying against the kiln; two meadows near Mill Street known as the Moorish Leys; and the "Big Nab " and the "Little Nab" crofts, it formed a small farm of about sixteen acres. Pew number 35 in the south aisle of St Edward's church belonged to Brindley's House. Documents  concerning the sale, in 1828, of property belonging to Richard   Badnall   of   Highfield, identify the site of Brindley's House as that now occupied by numbers 160 to 168 Mill Street.  It is now occupied by a group of shops which include Mill Street sub-post office, and this is where Mill Street well  (or pump) was - possibly forming the central feature of the group of buildings known as 'Mill  Square'.

The house presumably acquired its name from a man or family who either owned or lived in the house at  some  time,  but  who  were  these Brindleys,  and when and how did  the family connection with the house end ?


Lawrence  Brindley of  Mill Street, Blacksmith.

The  Brindleys  have lived in Leek for many centuries and were living there sometime before August 1587 when Lawrence Brindley, blacksmith, purchased the house he lived in on Mill Street, and an adjacent property called Brounte's House, from Joseph Brounte, a farmer.   In 1597  the same Lawrence Brindley bought  the  tithes of his property   from   Sir   Henry   Bagnall, "Marshall of Her Majesties army in Ireland", and sometime later obtained five acres of land "inclosed or taken out of Leekfield" for £45.


The genealogy of the Brindleys is unclear, but part of the line can be established. The parish registers of Leek, and other documents, indicate that in the 17th century there were  at  least  two  branches  of  the family,  one  of  which  descended  from Lawrence Brindley,  the blacksmith, who married   Mary   Heath   in   1619,   or thereabouts.   The other  sprang  from Thomas Brindley, a mason, who lived in Mill  Street  in  the  1630s.  Lawrence Brindley was the younger son of the man who bought Brounte's House and on his marriage to Mary Heath the cottage "formerly John Brounts" was the subject of a trust set up as part of a marriage settlement for his benefit.


By 1658 the Brindleys still owned Brounte's cottage with its outhouse, barns, buildings    and hemp butts; a field called Scarraway, the two  Whitefields  at  Abbey  Green,  the Rough Close,  the Meadows,  Broadbridge Meadow and John Sherrat's house on Foker Moor.  However, both Lawrence  Brindley (described   as   a   yeoman)   and  his blacksmith son, were  then living in a house   which   belonged   to   William Wedgwood.


The Hearth Tax list for 1666 shows Lawrence Brindley of Mill Street paid tax on a house of two hearths.  Two other entries refer to houses belonging to, or occupied by, "Lawrence  Brindley",  but  there  is  no indication  as  to  where  these  were located. In view of the popularity of the name Lawrence in the Brindley family it is unlikely that they all refer to the same man [ ]. If the number of hearths on which  a man  paid  tax  is  a  good indication of his wealth, then Lawrence Brindley of Mill  Street  was not  the wealthiest of the Brindleys for Thomas Brindley  of  Leek  paid  tax  on  three hearths. The tax returns also show that there were at least five, possibly as many as seven,  Brindley households in Leek and Leekfrith at this time.


In 1686, the Brindleys of Mill Street were living on the farm that was  "the  inheritance  of  John Wedgwood", and, as will be seen later, it is this reference to the Wedgwoods which provides the clue to the identity of the Brindleys of Brindley's House.  Sometime prior to 1687 Lawrence Brindley of Mill Street   and  'Lidia', his wife, had mortgaged their property to raise £120, and in 1687 Lawrence and other members of the Brindley family sold Brounte's cottage and property associated with it to William Mills of Leek for £462. What happened to this branch of the family subsequently is unclear. John, brother of Lidia's husband,  and a shoeing smith, died intestate in 1718 leaving goods and chattels valued at only £13. 10. 0. He was poor in comparison to Leek farmers and tradesman who died in this period, many of whom left inventories valued in hundreds of pounds. Indeed, he was no better off than Jane Low,  "a servant girl", who died in 1722 [  ][ ].

One of Thomas Brindley's descendents was also called Lawrence. He, however, was a freemason of Leek and died in 1664 leaving his house to his son Thomas, and his tools to his sons John and Joseph. To his son Lawrence he bequeathed only 12d,  possibly  because  he  had already been well provided for or was less in need of what his father could give.  This Lawrence 'Brinley',  a mason like his father and grandfather, died in 1705 leaving most of his property to his daughter Lydia, wife of Silas Coates,  glover of Leek. His will only mentions one son, James, a potter living in London who was in debt to his father  for what his father called "the maintenance of my Granddaughter Deborah Brindley or for any other children of my said son".  Lawrence was a poor man with goods and chattels estimated by John Brinley (who may have been his brother) and  John Goodwin at no more than £10. 10. 0.  Exactly where this branch of the family lived is uncertain, but there was a stonemason's business on Mill Street until well into the l9th century.  

At the beginning of 1723, the parish registers record the death of Lawrence Brindley of Mill Street,  and in 1728 William and Mary Brindley were evidently living on Mill Street.


"John Wedgwood's Inheritance."

The story of  Brindley's House can be picked up again when  it  came  into  the possession  of William Badnall, a mohair dyer of Mill Street, Leek. In 1734, Badnall married the daughter of John Bostock, alderman of Congleton, and sometime between 1736 and 1740, used her dowry to  buy  the  house  from  John Wedgwood in which the he and his wife then lived. This house was  the  Brindley's House which was later inherited by Richard Badnall  and was sold in 1828 when the Badnalls and their firm were declared bankrupt.


Mills_sq-Brind_pln.jpg (188503 bytes)These references  to a  house,  or  farm,  which  was  "the inheritance of William (and later John) Wedgwood",   identify the house as that which had been  the  home  of Lawrence Brindley "blacksmith"  of  Mill  Street, and   his   descendents.    Its   later conversion    into    three    dwellings indicates that it was (or had been ) a substantial yeoman's house probably of more than six rooms.  Prior to   1736 Brindley's House, although still owned by John  Wedgwood,  had  been  in  the possession of Edmund Brough who,  with Edward Sikes, a button merchant, had also been a tenant of the Leys and the Big and Little Nab Crofts. 

Brindley's     House, therefore, appears to have got its name from    its    association   with    the descendents   of   Lawrence   Brindley, blacksmith  of  Mill  Street  who  lived there as tenants, but not owners, until at  least  the  1690s.  The  Brindleys continued to live in Leek through the 18th and 19th centuries,  and in 1800, for example, a James Brindley was living in Mill Street.  Whether or not  their connection  with  Brindley's  House  was maintained into the l8th century, perhaps as sub-tenants of Edmund Brough and later the Badnalls,  is not known.


Dilapidation and Demolition.

Brindleys House-2.jpg (52261 bytes)Brindley's      House survived   as   part   of   the   Badnall inheritance until the early years of the 19th century, and for much of its life was tenanted. However, except for 1803, when it was occupied by William Lovatt, Isaac Pickford and Ralph Hunt ( and Joseph Bowcock, who lived in the small house at the rear) little is known of the many Leek people for whom it must have been home. By the time the firm of Badnall and Laugharn, silk handkerchief, sewing silk,  twist,  ribbon and button manufacturers   was established    in 1806/1809  the  croft  at  the  rear  had become an orchard and the buildings were dilapidated.   Badnall   and   Laugharn demolished Brindley's House and built a block of five houses with shades over them on the site, at a cost of £1,500.


Each   of   the   new houses had four rooms and there were three  silk  twisting  shades  for  four gates each on the top floor. At the rear was a  small,  two. roomed house and a singeing house  "for the use of the shades".   In  1828, the  tenants   were of the new "Brindley's House" were Hannah  Lowe;  Samuel  Broster;  George Spilsbury;   and  three  others  called Worthington, Preston and Hill. Widow Elizabeth Hammond  lived in the house at the rear.

In    1826/27    the Badnalls went bankrupt, and in 1828 the property of Richard Badnall the elder, of  Highfield,  was  put  up  for  sale. Brindley's House ( Lot 31 ) and the four storey silk mill near the corn mill ( Lot 23 ) were purchased by Samuel Bower Whittles, a grocer, and Benjamin Woolfe, an ironmonger,  of Leek at the bargain price of £1,202.

The  silk mill was sold again to Nathan Davenport for £650, and in April 1830 a trust   was formed with Samuel Bower Whittles and Benjamin Woolfe as trustees of the property for the benefit of their heirs and those of William  Challinor.  When  Samuel  died Benjamin Woolfe purchased the Challinor share   for   £360,   and   subsequently bequeathed  his  two  shares  to  his godchildren  John  Gibson  Whittles,  a grocer,    and   Thomas   Whittles, a traveller.  In 1858 the two Whittles acquired the remaining share when John Brunt conveyed the residue of the trust to them. The  property  Samuel Whittles and Benjamin Woolfe bought was used to provide a rent income and the twisting shades do not appear to have been used directly by them. In 1872, for example, William Goddard, sewing  silk manufacturer was operating from 166 Mill Street, and in 1919 these shades were being used by Messrs Davenport, Adams & Co., sewing  silk manufacturers.  The  Whittles family held the property until 1919 when  it  was  sold  to  Frederick Hassall,   a   shopkeeper  of   Portland Street,  and  his  wife,  Hannah,  for £1,100.


Brindley House site 1995-2.jpg (102661 bytes)Brindleyhse-dem.jpg (99881 bytes)Just over two hundred years after the dyer William Badnall bought Brindley's House, a master dyer of   Leek  became   its   last   private owner, when, in 1941, William Wardle Sale bought it from Hannah Hassall. Finally, in 1956, the Leek Urban District Council purchased the "five houses with twisting shades  over  together  with  a  house, formerly two houses, in No. 1 Court at the rear - a total of 0.424 acres" for £300, and a new and final chapter in the history of the Brindley House site began with the demolition of the property and the building of the houses that stand there today.



Staffs County Record Office (SRO): D/3359/Box 23/4 Abstract Title Brindley's House.

SRO: D/l702/1/5

SRO: D/3359/20/2/7-9   3/5

Lichfield Joint Record Office (LJRO): Probate  William Badnall 1761;  

LJRO: Lawrence Brindley 1705;

LJRO: James Brindley 1718.

Staffs Moorlands Legal Dept: Deeds to 160-68 Mill Street

SRO: DLeek Parish Registers

Collections for History of Staffordshire.

Leek Directories:.

Mohair and silk dyers.

William Badnall (1), although born in Uttoxeter,  was working  as a mohair dyer in Leek from sometime before 1720,  living (probably) where he was recorded in 1736,   in a house near a "little croft upon the River Churnet called the Water Croft ". His to his dyehouse, a workhouse, stables, outhouses and other buildings adjoined the house .  The site is described as "at the bottom of Mill Street between a place where the  ducking stool lately was and the mills called Leek Mills" [  ]This was Badnall's principal and only dyeworks until 1758, when William Badnall (1) purchased  the bankrupt Richard Ferne's  linen   thread   factory   and dyehouse. Although the old dyeworks continued to be  used by the Badnalls throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries It was   the site of  Ferne's "new  thread  factory  and dyehouse" which,  in the 19th century, became Hammersley's dyeworks. The site is  now (1984) occupied by the firm of Anthony Ward.


 A singeing house

A singeing house was a workshop where loose ends, or nap, of silk fibre were burned off, and the lustre of the thread restored by passing the  thrown  fibre  rapidly  through  a flame,  or  close  to  a  hot  surface. Originally a hot plate or singeing iron might  have  been  used,  but  with  the advent of gas a flame from a jet was used.

It is interesting to note that singeing is applied chiefly to yarn spun from waste silk,  a process which may have been in use in Leek prior to 1760.  In that year one of Leek's richest  tradesmen,  Richard  Lancelot, bequeathed  "all  the  silk called wast silk" and "working tools, utensils and machines" belonging to his business to his   daughter   Mary   Maddock,   with instructions that they be kept and used in  Leek. 

© awbednall, macclesfield 1984