Since 1985 when the mill was demolished, the engine and boiler house have been maintained by the Ellenroad Trust. The enthusiastic and committed volunteers lovingly restoring and preserving the steam engine, furnace and the bright red pump streaming frothing water into what appears to be a bottomless bucket.
On the day I visited we were met by Zoe, an extremely charming, helpful guide and mine of information whose enthusiasm for the site was reflected in the many volunteers, more than a few wearing greasy overalls and happily tinkering, monitoring dials and polishing with genuine affection. For over thirty years Victoria and Alexander have been tended by the same two ladies; a pretty notable achievement by anyone’s standard.
As a living museum Ellenroad provides a fascinating and ever changing glimpse into the rich industrial heritage that forged the landscape of the area and adds another dimension to the work of local notables such as Lowry.
The tireless work of the Trust and its team of volunteers continues at Ellenroad, firing up the boiler once a month (which begins at 6am, an act of real dedication if ever I met one) awakening the beating heart of the steam engine and opening the site to visitors.
And the work of the dedicated steam enthusiasts does not end there.
Ongoing projects to restore the dwindling stock of grand industrial steam engines are piled up in dissected parts around the site like a collection of vast Meccano pieces.
Enough to keep many an overall clad steam enthusiast happy for many a year to come.
Tucked away under the unimaginable weight of the steam engine gasping steam out of the exit pipes into the rainy skies over the red brick walls of the engine house, is a working representation of the 1910 workshop. Well worth a visit, here the volunteers show how the elemental forces of fire and water are used on a more intimate scale forging red hot metal by hand, reviving the old trades with mesmerising skill.
The vacated boiler house is now a centre for visitors where they can sit and have a welcome cuppa and a piece of cake. It is also home to the completed Marsden project, the restored Eleanor Nightingale steam engine purring away in her bright blue livery like a small excitable cousin to the much more sober twins Victoria and Alexander. Knowing she was once just dislocated, rusted remains much like the oversized Meccano I saw outside waiting attention, its hard to imagine the endless hours of restoration work it took to make her as she is today and is a credit to the work of the volunteers. Encouraging her flywheel to start with a lever, considerable brute force, gentle persuasion and help form the audience, I hardly dared imagine how you encourage the 80 tons and 28 foot diameter version belonging to the sober cousin upstairs.
With the tour almost over, Zoe was eager to show off the Whitelees beam engine. A very elegant second cousin once removed to the twins in regal red and gold livery and a work in progress; the flywheel secured by chains and harnesses to allow restoration work.
The beam engine has an older provenance than triple expansion horizontal engine’s such as the twins, dating back to Thomas Newcomen in 1712 and later to other notables including James Watt. Maybe a less efficient version as the flywheel directly drives a rotating lineshaft to power mill machinery rather than using ropes of belts, it certainly has a charm all its own.
The Ellenroad Trust has a real commitment to the preservation of heritage and great deal to be proud of. The mill is well worth a visit. Their obvious affection for industrial steam on a grand scale is infectious and I’m sure,funding permitting, they will be there for many years to come.
My only regret is that I never got to see the Brittania Coconut Dancers, who have to be the scariest looking morris dancers I have ever come across – Ah well, next time.
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The Ellenroad Engine House is a scheduled National Historic Monument and open and in steam the first Sunday of the month except January.
Visit them at:
Elizabethan Way, Newhey, Rochdale, Lancashire, OL16 4LE.