Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fazeley, Staffordshire

Forgotten industries (1): Red brick, red tape

This imposing red-brick mill was constructed in 1886 and is in many ways a typical 19th-century factory building – its brick walls conceal a metal frame, its rows of windows and long, narrow shape ensure that there’s plenty of natural light inside. The canal-side site is typical too: from the 18th century onwards thousands of factories and mills were built beside canals, to ensure that raw materials could be delivered with ease and manufactured goods transported across the canal network.

So what were the goods produced here? This building was owned by the Tolson family who were manufacturers of narrow fabric strips – basically tapes and webbing. This is an industry that goes back in this part of Staffordshire at least to the 18th century. Tolson’s developed it, making red tape to tie up legal documents, among other products. Their machinery was originally steam driven, with the engine house at this end of the building and the boiler house integrated into the main structure below the tall chimney.

I believe that fabric tape is still made in the mill, although parts of the building are now let as separate units to other businesses. The whole building is awaiting refurbishment, but it looks solid and functional (factories like this are among the ancestors of 20th-century functionalist architecture) and should continue to find a use for years to come. Even if the canal no longer brings deliveries, the waterside setting ensures that the building finds its admirers amongst those who pass by in boats – although few of them know about the red tape that circles its history.


bazza said...

I think industrial archaeology is a fascinating study in it's own right. There is something wonderfully English and reassuring about this kind of building. Thanks for the piece of history too. I never thought about the origin of 'red tape' until now. Incidentally you may be interested in my latest architectural-ish post!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Thanks. Your stained-glass post is terrific!

Robin Farquhar-Thomson said...

My uncle was the managing director of that mill, as was my great uncle (Eric Tolson) before him and my great grandfather (William Tolson) before that. The Tolsons lived in a beautiful Georgian house nearby called Dosthill Hall which I remember visiting as a child when some of the Tolsons lived there. Tomorrow I am attending the funeral of the last Tolson in England who died recently and was a shareholder at the mill and lived for ment tears at Dosthill hall. I have inherited many old photos of the mill and the hall at a time when both were still in the family.

Unknown said...


As you're probably aware the Mill is being converted into apartments. Ive just reserved one and I'm really interested in the history and would love to see some of the old photos. Is there any chance you could upload some of Email them to me?