(Ratcher Mill)

Holebottom Lane


Map Ref. SD939253


Known occupiers







WILSON Lawrence












Illustrated History


John Helliwell was born about 1731 and by the time he married he was a tradesman, possibly making woollen stuff pieces to sell at the markets in Halifax. By 1790 the family lived at Hill House below the church at Cross Stone, but John also owned Houghstone Farm above Holebottom in Stansfield Township, near Todmorden.

In 1795, he entered into an agreement with John Ramsbottom, yeoman of Todmorden, and Robert Barker, stuff maker of the Royd in Stansfield. He agreed to erect at his own expense a factory on Houghstone land, on the side of Houghstone Clough. The factory was to be used for the carding and roving of "cotton wool" . It was to be 12 yards long, 10 yards wide and 3 storeys high. The building had to incorporate 4 rooms on the ground floor with 2 fireplaces and vents, plus windows and other conveniences for 2 cottage houses; a large chamber on the 2nd floor containing 2 more fireplaces, and a further chamber above, this one to be at least 8 feet high. Each floor to have sufficient windows to allow light into the 2 cottage houses and both chambers.

Reconstruction drawing of the mill (right). The 8 cottages (left) were also erected. By kind permission of the widow of Lawrence Greenwood

John Helliwell also agreed to erect a wheel race attached to the east side of the building, large enough to completely enclose a water wheel of 11 feet in diameter, with all the necessary equipment for the wheel to work. This was attached to the right hand end of the mill.

John further agreed to build a dam, lodge or reservoir above the building, with all necessary dam stones and flood gates large enough to maintain the wheel during periods of drought.


the dam as it is now


Another part of the agreement was that John Helliwell would build a road sufficient for a cart from the barn at Houghstone Farm to the factory, and permit John Ramsbottom, Robert Barker, and their workmen and servants to pass freely on foot or with carts and carriages, not only on this new road, but also any other roads belonging to Houghstones.

The terms of the agreement included a rental agreement that John Ramsbottom and Robert Barker would pay an annual rent to John Helliwell of £22 for a term of 21 years. Should they be late paying the rent, or fail to keep the factory in good repair with moss, mortar and glass, and keep the water wheel, machinery, dams etc. in working order, John Helliwell could effect entry and eject them. The tenants were also to pay all the lays and taxes, and were entitled to keep all the profits from the factory for their own use.

In due course, the mill was erected, but there is no further evidence of the would-be tenants, John Ramsbottom and Robert Barker. When the building was finished, John moved from Hill House to Houghstone Farm with his sons, Thomas and Joseph and daughter Betty. The farm is beautifully located a little higher up the lane from the mill.


The farm


John died in 1811, leaving his son Thomas in full charge of things at the mill. In 1815, Thomas' daughter and her husband emigrated to Canada. Thomas Helliwell decided that as his daughter and her husband seemed to be enjoying the Canadian life, and finding it a growing country where every skill was required and work was plentiful, he should perhaps give it a try. First, he had to sell all his real estate. On Saturday, October 11th 1817 the following advertisement appeared in the Leeds Mercury:

... And also all that newly erected mill situate at Houghstone aforesaid, lately used by the said Thomas Helliwell for spinning cotton, with the water wheel, upright and tumbling shafts, goits, dams, and other appendages to the same belonging; and likewise all those eight cottages or dwelling houses with the appurtenances situate at Houghstone aforesaid, as the same are now in the several tenures or occupations of Alice Barker, widow, John Holt, Thomas Barker, Ann Barker, widow, Michael Bentley, John Sutcliffe, John Bentley, and John Stephenson, or their or some of their undertenants ...

John Fielden of Dawson Weir and WATERSIDE MILL purchased the property, and the HELLIWELLS LEFT FOR CANADA.


The name of the farm and the mill, Houghstone, is derived from the large outcrops of rock found in the vicinity, Hough being the local name for a rocky outcrop.


This is the one near to Houghstone mill and farm.


The next known user of the mill was Lawrence Wilson. His time there is best described in the Centenary Handbook of CORNHOLME BOBBIN WORKS.

Two small cottages and a waterwheel. Of such was the acorn planted a hundred years ago and destined to grow into a great oak covering many acres and giving the shelter of employment to thousands of workpeople. Mr. Lawrence Wilson, the grandfather of the present Chairman of the Company, lived in 1823 in a cottage at Houghstone-Ratcher, Todmorden, amidst the beautiful scenery of the Calder Valley. He acquired the adjoining cottage and commenced to make bobbins for textile purposes, obtaining power for the machines from an adjoining brook through the agency of a waterwheel. His wife, Mrs. Alice Wilson, gave her devoted and able assistance in the development of the business. She kept the accounts, dealt with the correspondence and entered keenly and wisely into various plans for extension. She also interested herself wholeheartedly into the welfare of the workers and families resident in the district, and her activity and good works have left behind a memory that is fragrant still.

A later occupier was John Stott, who began married life at Houghstone. His first two children were born there, in 1856 and 1859. His wife was MARY BARKER, and their story can be read by following the link. John left Houghstones in 1869 to continue his business at DER STREET MILL. He was the last man to use the mill, as from 1870 it lay empty.


This is how it looks today; nothing is left of the mill, just Ratcher cottages remaining.


Additional information


Notes from John Travis:

By another gully nearer to Cally Hall, there begins the Scrapers Clough, and below the 2 streams joined together and formerly turned a little cotton cottage mill, which was afterwards changed into a bobbin mill by the late Lawrence Wilson, and after him, the Hartley brothers of Meadow Bottom. Later still, the Ratcha works were used as a manufactory of cotton cloth.


A Short History of Todmorden by Joshua Holden – 1912.

A small mill built on the hillside above Hole Bottom marked the beginning of a firm destined to rival that of Fielden Bros. in its importance. Lawrence Wilson began the manufacture of bobbins in a building, the ruins of which may still be seen at Houghstones. He had been a journeyman bobbin turner in Halifax. With his savings and a sum of £50 lent by John Fielden of Dawson Weir, he started business in 1823 on his own account. Two years later he removed to Pudsey, but as the water supply was insufficient in summer, he built a new mill in the bottom of the valley, giving it the name Cornholme. In this way, the present works of Wilsons Ltd. arose, although the greatest expansion did not take place until many years later.

Stansfield Township valuation 1805

Houghstones factory marked.

No. on plan 549

Hough Stone; factory rooms; warehouse; workshop; waterfall; owned and occupied by John Helliwell; 25 perches; annual value £16.


Crompton’s 1811 spindle enquiry

Houghstone; 646 mule spindles, 3 x 18doz.


Stansfield Township map 1816

Small dam with buildings below shown on land owned by Thomas Helliwell of Houghstone.


Census 1851

Joseph Barker, Houghstone, aged 39, powerloom weaver


Stansfield Rates Book 1854

Occupied by Joseph Barker; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Houghstone; rateable value £10.


The Preston Guardian etc Saturday September 1st. 1855


T. Helliwell, of Greenhirst Hey, near Todmorden, cotton spinner, and Joseph Barker, of Houghstone Mill, near Todmorden, manufacturer, for preserving pickers and picker sticks, and for preventing cops being knocked off the spindle in the shuttle during weaving in the power loom.


Stansfield Rates Book 1860

Occupied by John Stott; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Higher Houghstone; rateable value 310.13s.6d.


Census 1861

John Stott, Houghstones, aged 35, calico manufacturer


Stansfield Rates Book 1867-68

Occupied by John Stott; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Houghstone; rateable value £15.13s.3d.


Stansfield Rates Book 1869

Empty; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Houghstone; rateable value £18.9s.3d.


Stansfield Rates Book 70-81

Empty; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Houghstone.


Stansfield Rates Book 1883

Dilapidated; owned by Samuel Fielden; mill and power; Houghstone