The antique balloon backed dining chair was widely used in Victorian times, its comfortable upholstered seat making it as popular in the drawing room as at the dining table – but where was the fabric produced?
The answer is, probably somewhere a lot like Queen Street Mill in Burnley. Today a museum, it is unique in housing the world’s only working steam powered cotton-weaving shed and a time capsule to Victorian industry. Its steam-driven looms were still producing cloth on a commercial scale until 1982. One Lancashire engine is still fired up six days a week for demonstrations and is also used for special commissions, such as providing cloth for authentic Victorian workwear.
Queen Street Mill was built at the village of Harle Syke, near Burnley, in 1894. It is one of 11 that sprung up in the area during the Industrial Revolution, thanks to a ready supply of running water as well as coal from the nearby mine. Mill owners became fabulously wealthy; suddenly the country houses of the Ribble Valley had Victorian mahogany pedestal desks and antique dining chairs owned not by the aristocracy, but by the nouveau riche of the cotton industry.
All this is explained at the Queen Street Mill textile museum, currently home to the In Touch with Textiles exhibition, which looks at the socio-economic effects of textile weaving from both a contemporary and traditional viewpoint. The ‘grey cloth’ produced at Queen Street was not just used for clothing; calico like this was also used to upholster furniture such as antique balloon backed dining chairs , which Preston residents can find at their local antiques dealer.
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