The industry developed later than in Manchester, and although 19 cotton mills are recorded in 1818, most large mills date from the mid-19th century or later. As the textile industry grew so did Bolton, from a population of 24,195 in 1801 to 168,215 in 1901. In 1920 around 160 spinning mills were operating in Bolton with 9.5 million mule spindles and 2 million ring spindles; over 40 mills remain today, though only one at present is still spinning, Swan Lane No.1 Mill.
Weaving was not successfully mechanised until the 1820s, and hand-loom weaving continued until the mid century. It is estimated there were around 4,200 handloom weavers in Bolton in 1838 and some survived until the 1890's. A number of three storey stone weavers cottages survive in the district. Power looms were generally housed in a single story weaving shed with a saw-tooth roof and glazed north-facing slopes for even lighting. A few integrated units were built with a multi-storey spinning mill and adjoining weaving sheds but Gilnow Mill is the only survivor. In 1920 about 70 firms were weaving cloth in Bolton with around 40,000 looms, the highest number of any town in southern Lancashire.
Woven fabric was originally bleached by exposing it to sunlight in open fields or crofts. The process was speeded up by washing the cloth in an alkaline lye made from the burnt ashes of certain plants ("bowking") and neutralising the cloth with dilute acid, originally sour buttermilk, later sulphuric acid made in lead chamber works. This method was slow, labour intensive and needed a plentiful supply of water, and so most bleach crofts lay north or north-west of the town centre. Chemical bleaching using chlorine was introduced to Bolton in the 1790's by the Ainsworths at Halliwell Bleachworks and the Ridgeways at Wallsuches Bleachworks in Horwich. Over 30 bleachworks have operated in Bolton and its surroundings; two still continue today, Belmont Bleachworks and the Ainsworth Finishing Company at Breightmet.
source: R. Mc Neil and M. Nevell (2000) AIA Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Manchester)
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Frederick Engels Description of Bolton in 1845|