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Mill workers

(Jobs in’t mill)

The mills employed large numbers of men, women and children from the town. There was a wide range of tasks to be carried out and each would be given a name. Most would be specifically allocated to men or women or children depending upon the skill and seniority required. In the cotton mill there was a sequence of jobs that an individual would progress through as he/she became more skilled and older. Here is a list, in alphabetical order, extracted from the Bollington census of 1851, and other sources, which includes workers and their tasks from other mills, particularly the calico printing mill at Oak Bank, and from census records from other mill towns …

Apprentice ~

There were apprentices is several trades. They were very young, school age by today’s standards. There is thought to have been an Apprentice House at Ingersley Clough mill – a boarding house for the resident apprentices. One can be seen at Styal Mill. There are believed to have been just four apprentice houses in all of Cheshire, but there were apprentices in many mills. Apprentices were usually Indentured, that is employed under a legal agreement which bound the individual to the employer for a set number of years until the apprenticeship was complete.


Assembled bales of finished cloth.

Billier, Billyman

Billy Roller operator.


Responsible for bleaching the cotton thread or woven cotton cloth to make it white.

Blower tenter

[?]. See Tenter, and Stretcher, below.



Calico printer

Employed at Oak Bank mill where calico cloth was printed to be sold mainly to the clothing industry.

Card Nailer

Maintained the nails in the carding machine.


The cotton arrived at the mill in large bales of raw cotton. Before it could be spun, it had to be put through a carding machine which straightened the fibres to make them suitable for spinning. The operator of this machine was a carder. More on Wikipedia.


As in horse and cart(er), provided transport for raw materials and finished goods, coal, machinery, etc.


Responsible for keeping records of the business in hand written ledgers, and other administrative tasks.

Control room worker

The central office managing the flow of materials and their processing through the mill.

Cop or Cone Winders

Responsible for loading empty bobbins on the machines and removing them once full of thread. This was part of the spinning process.

Cotton beamer

[In the cotton weaving shed?] 

Cotton ruler

Not known.


Responsible for replacing the empty rovings bobbins where cotton was being fed into the spinning mule.

Doffer or Throstle doffer

The doffer would doff, or remove, full bobbins from the cotton spinning machine and replace them with empty bobbins.


Many processes in the mill produce an output of cotton requiring further processing, and which would benefit from being merged and twisted with similar outputs before that processing. The doubler operated the doubling machines that carried this out. More on Wikipedia.


Shopkeeper who sold cotton fabrics (among other textiles). Not sure why they would have one in a mill, unless in the mill shop selling off seconds.

Drawing frame tender

The operator of a draw frame, which was used after carding to bring a number of slivers of cotton together into one.


Woven cloth would be coloured. This was one of the dirtiest jobs in a bleaching and dying mill. See the picture on the Lowerhouse mill page.


One of the highest paid in the mill, the engineer was responsible for keeping all the machinery running smoothly, identifying problems and repairing breakdowns.

Errand boy

A child who would take messages around the mill.

Factory boy, girl, hand

Child or young person employed for general duties in the mill.

Fancy dyer





Employed not to put out fires but to keep the boiler furnaces going, ensuring a head of steam sufficient to keep the engine turning under the load from the mill machinery.

Flic maker



First level of management over the workforce, he was responsible for seeing that everyone else was hard at work on the mill floor.

Gas maker




Hand loom weaver

A loom operator in a weaving mill. Weavers also operated as home workers, working their own looms in the top floor garrets of their cottages – look at the cottages at the bottom of Beeston Brow. They would be on piece work (paid by the pieces produced) with the raw materials delivered to their door in exchange for finished cloth to be returned to the mill.

Jack Frame Tenter

See Tenter below.


Unskilled, employed to undertake the many menial tasks around the mill where a strong arm was often required.


In a weaving shed, the Loomer would thread the cotton ends through the healds and reeds on the beam. More on Wikipedia.

Maker up



Responsible for the running of the entire mill. You raised your cap and touched your fore-lock to this chap. In the days before employee protection the mill manager could dismiss on a whim, no warning letter or redundancy pay in those days. While hard nosed at running the business, they were not all inconsiderate of their employees.


Worked under the engineer, lubricating, maintaining and repairing mill machinery.

Mill wright

This job title is really a throw-back to the days of timber built corn mills, either water or wind powered. The mill wright was originally an engineer in timber which included making the water wheel or sails together with the wooden cogs (gears) that transferred the power from the rotating power source to the grinding stones. There was a lot of timber work in a cotton mill so no doubt he was kept busy in the modern mill, but doubtless also became proficient with metal work.

Minder, Self actor minder, Mule minder

Machine minder; Spinning mule minder.

Modder dyer



With so much machinery working in the mill there was a constant need for lubrication. The early machinery needed manual attention from the oil can, on later machines there was an element of automation but the oil pots still required topping up.


He who opens the cotton bales and feeds it into an opener machine which fluffs up the cotton and removes any seeds.

Overlooker, Underlooker

The shop floor supervisor kept his eye on the the whole process and the workers to ensure smooth operation and to see that there were no shirkers amongst the workers! There were degrees of seniority in this task – one might have begun as an underlooker and looked forward to promotion. There were also overlookers for specific activities, such as ‘Cotton reeling overlooker’.


Packed product ready for dispatch.


Two piecers were employed as assistants to a spinning mule operator. They had to crawl under the mule to join broken threads or join a new spindle of thread to that just completed. The two threads were joined by wetting the forefinger and thumb and rolling the two threads together. This job was usually given to children or small young persons. Considering the proximity to large amounts of moving machinery and the cramped access spaces, this was a dangerous task. The enormous noise of the mill machinery would have been enough to stifle the screams from an injured child.

Pirn Winder

Prepared bobbins of yarn for use in the weaving shed.

Plate drawer


Power loom weaver

As the weaving looms got bigger so they became power operated and the operator became more of a machine minder, replacing empty shuttles and watching for breaks in the threads, and the general quality of the woven cloth.

Print worker

Typically employed at Oak Bank cloth printing mill, he would be responsible for operating the printing machines.


A job for a small boy. The drawing-in frame was part of a weaving machine. The Reacher-in would pass the ends of the threads, one by one and in order, to the Loomer who would thread them over the healds and through the reeds on the beam. More on Wikipedia.



Roller coverer, Roll turner, Rover

Activities in the preparation between carding and spinning.


Sent out to sell the products coming out of the mill.




The scutcher operates a scutching machine which cleans impurities such as seeds from the raw cotton immediately after it is broken out of the bale and before it is carded. More on Wikipedia.

Setters on

Young lassies startin’ fresh int mill. Neaw they’re cawed assistants – it seaunds moor posh. (Dialect from a Bolton mill worker c.1950).

Silk weaver

Responsible for weaving the finest of silk threads, sometimes in the most intricate of designs employing large numbers of shuttles each of a stunning colour.

Singer (one who singed)

Not the tuneful kind, but a sin-ger who looked after the gas flames used to singe the whiskers off the thread. This resulted in the woven thread having a smoother and shiny finish, a better valued cloth.

Slubber; Slubber Doffer

Spinning machine operator; The Doffer changed the bobbins on the spinning machine.


Cotton spinner – minder of spinning machines.


One of the hardest and dirtiest jobs in any mill, he kept the furnaces burning at full power by shovelling the coal through the grate door. Very hot, dirty and sweaty work.


Stretcher or Tenter – freshly dyed or bleached cloth needed to be stretched on frames to dry so that it did not shrink. The cloth was secured on the frame by tenterhooks.



Tenter, Frame tenter, Throstle tenter, Hooker

A tenter placed the cloth on hooks to stretch it so preventing shrinkage during further processing.

Throstle doffer or Doffer

The doffer would doff, or remove, full bobbins from the cotton spinning machine and replace them with empty bobbins.


Junior supervisor, reporting to an Overlooker (above).


Large stocks of raw cotton and, hopefully, smaller stocks of finished products had to be stored carefully, and he had to know just where everything was so it could be extracted for use or transport on demand.

Warp beamer

Part of the weaving process – another name for a Loomer – who prepared the warp on a drawing-in frame.

Warp singer

See singer above.


When the mill was silent at night the watchman had to look out for intruders and for fire – there were no smoke detectors or automatic fire alarms in those days!


The weaver would turn thread into cloth on a loom.


In Bollington they were known as Cop or Cone winders. They were responsible for loading empty bobbins on the machines and removing them once full of thread. This was part of the spinning process.

[?] – I have yet to find a definitive definition of the jobs marked thus.

Further reading: Wikipedia article on Textile Manufacturing.

This list is not exhaustive of the jobs found in cotton spinning and weaving mills. The Wikipedia pages give more extensive descriptions of processes and the activities of employees. Generally the list above applies to those working in the cotton industry, but some of the titles also applied to other industries, particularly other textile industries.


Our thanks go to those who researched and discovered the history that is presented in these pages. Please read the full acknowledgement of their remarkable achievement. Unless otherwise noted, the historical pictures are from the Civic Society picture collection at the  Discovery Centre  and also available online.

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