The Cotton Mill at Newark

(Generally known as Parnham’s Mill)

The water mill (centre) as shown on W. Attenburrow's 1790 map of Newark

The water mill immediately prior to demolition in 1965.

The mill was built in the late 18th century and whilst, for most of its life, it was concerned with the production of flour, this was not its original purpose.

It was originally built for cotton spinning, taking advanage of the great trade in that commodity opened up by (Sir) Richard Arkwright’s invention of the water frame.

Research by Dr. Andrew Brown has revealed the

The water mill (centre) as shown on W. Attenburrow's 1790 map of Newark

The water mill (centre) as shown on W. Attenburrow’s 1790 map of Newark

following regarding the history of the mill:-

Building the Mill

Dr. Brown has traced the first suggestion that a cotton mill was to be built in Newark to a series of papers of the Dukes of Newcastle at Nottingham University.  The Duke owned the land on which the cotton mill was built, and during 1787 a number of bills for the establishment of a brickyard were sent to him by a so-called ‘Cotton Mill Company’.

The water mill (circled left) and Cotton Square (right) highlighted on an 1829 map of Newark

The water mill (circled left) and Cotton Square (right) highlighted on an 1829 map of Newark

In the following year some 50,000 bricks were brought to the site, all of which were paid for by the Duke.

Timber for the building, meanwhile, was supplied by Messrs. Handley and Sketchley of Newark (timber merchants) who were also partners in the cotton mill venture.

Samuel Sketchley had come to Newark from Burton-on-Trent, and in around 1766 established Newark’s first brewery on the Town Wharf.  He entered partnership with William Handley – a successful local banker – in the 1770s, and their brewery later evolved into what became the massive Warwick & Richardsons on Northgate in the town.

By 1790 construction of the mill would appear to have been largely complete: it is shown on William Attenburrow’s map of Newark published in that year, and a year later (1791) the Universal British Directory clearly records the business of Sketchley, Handley, Jessop & Marshall, cotton manufacturers, as operating on Millgate.

Of particular interest among the list of partners is William Jessop who, prior to this, had risen to become one of the country’s foremost civil engineers and canal builders.

Jessop was chief engineer on the Grand Union Canal and worked on the Cromford Canal for Sir Richard Arkwright in Derbyshire.

William Jessop lived in Newark from 1784 to 1805 in a house directly opposite the old police station on Appletongate. (A plaque now commemorates his time there).  He was Mayor of Newark in 1790 and 1803.

In view of Jessops extertese in canal construction it is tempting to speculate whether part of his involvement with the cotton mill concerned designing or supervising its water-management scheme.


The mill as originally built in the 1780s was five storeys high and 13 bays wide.  It is thought that, initially, there were two water wheels rated at 50hp each.  It was used exclusively for the spinning of cotton thread  which was then transported by water to the great weaving factories in Manchester.

Unfortunately we have no information as to how much cotton was produced at the mill, although at the height of its production it is said to have employed around 300 people – mainly women and children – who earned between one and five shillings a week.

In his History of Newark (1806, p.137), William Dickinson mentions that the mill provided emplyment for many of the town’s poorest families, and an official 1797 report on Newark’s workhouse (then located in Albert Street) notes that of the 20 child inmates, 10 went out daily to work at the cotton mill.

Close to the mill itself, meanwhile, Cotton Square – a yard of 17 houses on the east side of Millgate almost opposite Mill Lane – is sometimes said to have provided homes for workers at the mill.  There is certailny some evidence to suggest that the houses of Cotton Square were constructed around the same time as the mill, although the occupations of its original residents are not known.

Cotton Comes to an End

After a profitable existence of over 20 years, cotton manufacture at the Newark mill ceased in the early 19th century.

Advert from 1926

Advert from 1926

According to R.P. Shilton’s History of Newark (1820, p.540), only one of the original partners – Marshall – was still involved with the enterprise, and by 1822 Pigot’s Directory recrds it as having passed into the hands of James Thorpe & Son, corn merchants and flour millers.

From this time onwards the mill was used exclusively for the production of flour.

Thorpe extended the original building in 1835 (adding a third water wheel), and in 1850, adapted the mechanism for steam power.

The mill was taken over by the Parnham family in 1886 in whose hands it remained until a disastrous fire put it permanently out of action in 1965.