They were the center of world trade, before gradually falling into disrepair with the decline of British industry. Today, many old factories in the north of England have found new glory, hosting cultural and business events.
Inspired by the great names of the Italian Renaissance, such as the Medicis family, textile mill owners in the 18th and 19th centuries built large buildings designed to be “eternal” witnesses to their power.
Using “York stone”, a local variety of golden tone, they invaded the urban landscape of the county of West Yorkshire, around Leeds.
But when the textile industry gradually declined after the Second World War, and with it the dynamic economy of the region, many of these symbols of Britain’s industrial heritage fell into ruins or were destroyed.
Some buildings can be saved and have become cultural places, housing world-famous artists such as the painter David Hockney or the singer Sting.
This section may include Salts Mill, near Bradford, the largest factory in Europe when it opened its doors in 1853, or Piece Hall, in the neighboring city of Halifax.
At its peak, 5,000 workers worked at Salts Mill, a huge building, but few buyers stepped in when it closed in 1986.
Bradford businessman Jonathan Silver decided to buy the building, with the idea of transforming the place into an art gallery, with the help of his friend, the world famous painter David Hockney, also born in the area .
“He was in Bradford at the time and thought the building was perfect for a Hockney gallery,” says Silver’s brother Robin, who is still director of the venue.
Jonathan Silver, who died in 1997, raised the idea with the artist during his stay at the artist’s house in the United States. Hockney agreed to lend some of his fabrics, although he found the idea “very strange”, while members of the businessman’s family took him as “crazy”, recalled his brother.
The gallery opened last November. “It looked like a sad factory, on a day of heavy rain, fog and cold wind. Nobody came,” said Robin.
But the project to transform the place into an “artistic and cultural enterprise, which did not exist at that time in the north of England”, ended up being realized.
The arrival of culture-loving visitors allows companies to realize the potential of the region and the beauty of having symbolic buildings that also house shops and restaurants.
The Piece Hall, an old and large textile factory in Halifax, where many arches run through this spacious square building dating from 1779, followed the same path, becoming a concert hall, where the former Oasis that singer went through , Noel Gallagher, Sting , New Order or Nile Rogers.
Converted into a market after the decline of the textile industry, and later a place to host some events, it was saved from demolition in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, by a vote difference in a decision in local government.
After investing in its renovation of 19 million pounds (23 million dollars) and the idea of its director Nicky Chance-Thompson to organize concerts since 2018, the building has regained its grandeur.
“Noel Gallagher said the building hosted his best concert of that tour, and Nile Rogers said there was something magical about the place,” the director recalled.
Like the Salts Mill, Place Hall’s success as a cultural venue quickly attracted entrepreneurs, generating profits six times the amount invested, according to an independent study.
Although hosting rock concerts seems far from the original vision of the founders of the factory, Nicky Chance-Thompson believes that “they will be happy” with the fact that “we managed to preserve this terrible building.”