Wallsuches Bleachworks

The Ridgways were one of the most influential and successful families in Horwich in the nineteenth century.  The bleachworks at Wallsuches, owned by the family provided employment for a large number of people.   Three generations of the Ridgways achieved political and social standing in the local community.

The brothers, John and Thomas Ridgway had started a bleachworks in Bolton at ‘Dog Brow’ in the 1860’s.  The area became known as ‘Ridgway Gates’ because gates were erected at the entrance to the fields where cloth was spread to bleach in the sun.   The land was sold to Bolton Corporation for £800, after a fire had destroyed most of their stock in trade.  The Market Hall was eventually built on the site.

In 1777 the Ridgways leased the property at Wallsuches.  They soon built up a thriving business.  Thomas was the dominant partner.  When John died in 1800 Thomas became the sole owner and took his son into partnership.  Much of their success stemmed from a willingness to try new methods and install machinery that would make the bleaching process more efficient and effective.

The Ridgways were the first to use chlorine in the bleaching process.  The method proved very successful and consequently a large five-storey building, known as Gingham House was built for the purpose.  Steam power was introduced to the factory before 1800.  Many other industrialists did not realise the value of steam until much later.  A callender which produced a ‘glaze’ or ‘finish’ to the cloth was erected in the factory.  Placing the cloth in a simple metal drum and inserting hot irons into the drum achieved the glaze.  Samuel Crompton’s spinning mules were also brought into the factory.  They improved the quality and the speed at which thread was produced.

Prosperity at Wallsuches brought benefits to the whole community.  In 1801 Thomas bought land from the ‘Stocks Estate’.  He set up a ‘building society’ or ‘club’ to enable his workers to lease the land on easy terms and buy their own homes.  The houses are standing today and are still referred to as ‘club houses’.  The family contributed large sums of money towards the cost of the new Parish Church.  Their influence can be seen in both the church and churchyard.  Later in the century ‘Young Joe’ Ridgway sent twelve scholars, at his own expense to be educated at the village school.

Thomas Ridgway retired to Southport and died there in 1816 aged 77 years.  His sons, Joseph and Thomas took over the bleaching works.  A nephew, T. R. Bridson was also brought into the business to help on the management side.  In 1818 he was made a partner.  Wallsuches continued to thrive and prosper.  It was a well-known and highly regarded business.  A Swiss inventor, Bulmer, a Mechanical Engineer interested in textile machinery is known to have visited Wallsuches as part of a nationwide tour of factories and institutions.  He was most impressed with the bleachworks.

In the 1820’s the factory was completely reorganised.  Larger steam engines were installed and the bleaching process was moved to Lever Works where a mill had been leased.  Wallsuches was then used only for finishing the cloth.

Bridson left the firm in 1834 to establish his own business Thomas Ridgway, eldest son of Thomas was killed in early manhood whilst hunting at Euxton, near Chorley.  Joseph continued to run the business with his own son ‘Young Joe’.

‘Young Joe’ inherited the bleachworks on the death of his father at Leamington, in 1842.  It was not to be.  In 1860 ‘Young Joe’ was advised by his physician to go abroad for the winter.  He took his wife and son, then aged seventeen with him.  At Thebes, in Egypt Joe was stricken by an illness.  His wife tended him, but as he recovered she and their son contracted the disease and both subsequently died.  Joe brought the remains of his wife and son back to the family vault at Horwich.  The bodies were later moved to the mausoleum at Goudhurst.  Joe himself died at Eaton Place in London in 1879 aged fifty-nine.

Wallsuches passed into the hands of two employees, Christopher and Charles Howarth.  One of their descendents, Joseph Howarth sold the mill to the Bleachers Association in 1900.  The Ridgways had been an influential family in Horwich for most the nineteenth century.  They had proved to be caring and generous benefactors, although some would say rather paternalistic.  They made a considerable contribution to the development of Horwich and helped to build a prosperous community.