Farsley's Sunny Bank Mills archive goes online with help from National Lottery and Leeds's West Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre

The history of Sunny Bank Mills in Leeds goes back almost 200 years and now “a most fantastic fusion of the old and the new” will ensure it continues to play an important role in the community in future.

Its archive, described as an an “integral part” of the award-winning complex in Farsley, has been transformed using a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The grant has been used by the Mills to embark on a partnership with the post-16 department at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC), the Powerhouse, whose students have a range of learning needs. The joint project, Weaving the Web, has created an online collection featuring 50 objects from its archive. These can now be viewed from every angle, thanks to 360-degree photography.

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Heritage director Rachel Moaby says: “One of our unique objects is an old rusty cauldron, which has definitely seen better days. It’s likely to disintegrate completely soon. But we have now preserved it for posterity, a wonderful reminder of an object which, once upon a time, was indispensable at the mill.

William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with items from the Sunny Bank Mills Archive.William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with items from the Sunny Bank Mills Archive.
William Gaunt and Rachel Moaby with items from the Sunny Bank Mills Archive.

“Other archive objects, now online, include typewriters, old telephones, suit jackets and an old-fashioned calculator. Overall, this is a most fantastic fusion of the old and the new, the past and the present, bringing our wonderful archive to vibrant life in the 21st century. Overall, this generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund has proved to be absolutely transformational for us. One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible – and this grant has enabled us to do exactly that. It’s been a game-changer.”

The "nationally important” archive features: fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; 60,000 lengths of fabric; 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.

The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William. This year it is celebrating 10 years as an arts arts and culture venue.

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The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company, in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile archive.

The Sunny Bank Mills archive.The Sunny Bank Mills archive.
The Sunny Bank Mills archive.

On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip. The Gaunt family, however, made sure all the mill records were carefully set aside when the it closed in 2008.

William Gaunt says: “It is important to John and I that the archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant has meant a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the archive here is absolutely crucial.”