Thoughts on the Bliss Tweed Mill by Alan at British Tours
Driving west out of Chipping Norton into the heart of the Cotswolds this former tweed mill provides an excellent photo opportunity – as far removed from Blake’s vision of dark satanic mills as it possible to imagine.
Chipping Norton had long been a centre for cloth manufacture when in the late 18th C young Thomas Bliss was in the area promoting his family’s cloth samples.
The Bliss’s were of Huguenot descent having settled in this country during the 16th C. He fell in love with the daughter of the landlord of the Swan Inn and it was his future father in law who set him up in business, initially making equestrian related material. This in time led to a contract to supply the Royal Stables at Buckingham Palace and soon the business was diversifying into other products.
The mill was enlarged in the 1840’s to meet demand, winning two Medals at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for its shawls and tweeds before production was halted by a devastating fire in 1872.
Leading Lancashire mill architect George Woodhouse was immediately engaged to design a new building – one that would resemble a great house set in a country park. Built of local limestone it is notable for the belvedere staircase towers at each corner linked by balustraded parapets surmounted by urn finials. But it is the 165 ft high Tuscan chimney that dominates – looking for all the world like a candle on a cake. The ribbed lead dome on which it is set was so planned that a stairway ran around the inside.
It was the first mill in Britain to be run on electricity. In this William Bliss, the then head of the family, was emulating fellow Utopian Socialists such as Titus Salt by not only providing a magnificent building in which to work but one supported by workers cottages, reading rooms and a chapel. Unfortunately when he died it was found that no provision had been made in his will for his generous legacies and the family were forced to sell the mill in 1911 in order to honour their obligations.
The mill remained in production until 1982 after which it was converted into luxury apartments complete with indoor swimming pool. The current price of a 3 bedroom apartment in this Grade II* listed building is £600,000.
Alan is one of the expert British Tours guides.