Sunny Bank Mills is where Yorkshire’s heritage and modern creativity meet. Stephanie Smith previews a vintage fair coming to its atmospheric halls of industry. Pictures by Tony Johnson.
The singing of the looms is long gone, but there are still many songs to be heard at Sunny Bank Mills. They come from the unmistakable sound of making – whirrs, clangs, buzzing, bleeps and chatter – and it keeps this Victorian monument to Yorkshire’s cloth-making industry alive to this day.
Although many of the county’s magnificent mills have gone, it’s heartening to see some rise again as vibrant workplaces and hubs of their communities. Sunny Bank Mills at Farsley is just such an example, now a major redevelopment project and home to a variety of thriving businesses, including furniture makers, photographers and artists, engineers and caterers.
Here you can find cafes, a gallery and an archive for the site, a portal into the past when Sunny Bank Mills made cloth for the nation.
Our obsession with our everyday heritage shows no signs of dampening. How we lived, how we dressed, how we worked, what our streets looked like – it’s an endless and increasing source of fascination as we hurtle through the 21st century.
Far from being a place where time stands still, Sunny Banks Mills is constantly growing and moving. As well as its permanent residents, it hosts pop-up workshops and events. Next weekend it will stage Vintage @ LS28, a vintage fair run in The Old Woollen, an industrial hall built in 1829, but out of use from the 1950s.
“This is the next generation of vintage fairs,” says Caroline Brown, of organiser Rose & Brown Vintage. “We’re catering for guys as well as gals, we’re using a really cool setting and we’re creating a laid-back vibe with a DJ playing soul, funk and indie on vinyl.”
There will be 25 stalls, bringing together vintage records, books and collectable toys alongside women’s and men’s fashion. “We’re looking to bring something extra to the mix, rather than rail upon rail of dresses and tables full of homewares,” says Caroline. “This event is for people who love to spend the weekend rummaging through books or records, or hunting out quality vintage fashion or jewellery from every era. The fashion traders have been selected to provide a proper cross section of the best fashion pieces, including serious bargains, from the 1980s all the way back to the 1920s.”
The story of Sunny Bank Mills began far further back than this, however, in the early 19th century when John Fairbank and partners bought The Croft in Farsley for £1,270, eight acres of land with cottages, a barn and streams flowing through it. They set up a dyehouse and a watermill but the partnership failed and the land was split three ways. In 1829, Fairbank sold his parcel for £260 to the Farsley Mill Club which, trading as Roberts Ross & Co, built a mill with boiler and engine house for scribbling wool and fulling woollen cloth for local clothiers. Around the mid-1850s, as technology developed, a weaving shed and power looms came, and the business transformed into a fully vertical woollen mill. In 1882, it was sold to Edwin Woodhouse, from Halifax, who bought adjacent land and expanded massively, introducing fine worsteds. In 1912 it was sold to Ives & Co, of Guiseley, and the mill produced cloth for the government during the First World War. It was bought by William C Gaunt in 1917 and the Gaunt family have now been involved with Sunny Bank Mills for six generations, with William Gaunt and John Gaunt now at the helm. The mill ceased woollen cloth production in 2008, but they continue to oversee its development as a thriving environment for a variety of tenants.
The heritage nature of the site with its cavernous spaces and village-style layout makes is the ideal backdrop for all events, especially ones associated with past times and sustainability. The Vintage @ LS28 event has a workshop, Using Vintage Clothing to Reflect 2019 Trends, on Saturday from 2-3pm, and on Sunday, from 2-3pm, it’s Vintage Garment Repairs and Cleaning. These are run by Frances Lawrence, who is one half of vintage traders Hannah and Frances Jane.
To preview the vintage fair with a fashion shoot at Sunny Bank Mills, The Yorkshire Post Magazine teamed up with Rose & Brown Vintage. Our model, Rose Muirhead, from Bradford, is an actor, writer and film-maker, currently working on her own film with award-winning Los Angeles director Dustin Murphy. “It’s billed as a #MeToo horror fairytale,” she says. Shooting takes place this summer in London and Rose will also star in the film, which is on schedule to be released in a year’s time. In developing her own screen project, Rose is taking a lead from the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of Fleabag and Killing Eve fame. “If I can be just a little bit like her, that would be amazing,” she says.
Our male model, Rupert Hughes, is a musician from Newcastle. He plays guitar and sings with his band, the Often Herd, who make bluegrass and folk music, and loves vintage clothes. Hair and make-up was provided by Lauren Rippin, from Leeds, who works on weddings, commercial, TV and editorial photo-shoots. With Anna Mewes, she also runs beauty and styling workshops at Bettys in Harrogate. There’s one coming up on July 14, so look out for that.
Meanwhile, the shoot gives a good idea of what to expect at the fair. Take a look at those old LPs. Maybe you’ve got one or two of them yourself, tucked away in the attic. It might be time to dig them out.
* Vintage @ LS28 is at Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, on Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2 from 10.30am-4pm. The bar will be open and visitors can enjoy the gallery, tea room, open studios and textile archive too. Free parking available, disabled access and dog friendly. £2 entry, under-16s free. See www.roseandbrownvintage.co.uk or phone 07985 181120.
Sunny Bank Mills is at www.sunnybankmills.co.uk. The archive is open the first Wednesday of every month, from 10am to noon.
Rose Muirhead is on Instagram @rosemuirhead
Rupert Hughes and his band the Often Herd can be heard on theoftenherd.bandcamp.com/
Lauren Rippin is at Laurenrippin.co.uk and Instagram @facesbylaurenrippin