New Mill - valley of West Yorkshire that produce fine choirs

PUBLISHED: 00:16 15 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:16 20 February 2013

Homes built on the steep hillsides above New Mill

Homes built on the steep hillsides above New Mill

There must be something about hills and valleys that lend themselves to producing fine choirs like the one in this West Yorkshire village . Words and photographs by Bill Hearld

The village may be named New Mill but you have to look hard to find a mill these days. Gone is the giant Moorbrook Mill whose chimney once dominated the village; gone is the sprawling Wildspur Mill. They both produced textiles for more than 100 years and have now made way for upmarket apartments and homes.

But if you search carefully in this village set in the heart of Last of the Summer Wine country, you will find one mill that is still operating after more than a century and producing fine cloths that are sought after the world over.

In Glendale Mills is Bower Roebuck whose managing director Ronald Hall and his team of 72 skilled workers weave away producing woollen cloths which are supplied to designer labels like Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabanna, Hermes and Polo Ralph Lauren. American presidents have worn suits made from cloth which originated in Glendale Mills. So have Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson.

But Ronald Halls team are not wearing clogs and shoving shuttles through a loom. Multi-million pound, computerised machines take care of that and are so sensitive they can detect a break in one of thousands of threads and stop instantly.

The village of New Mill got its name originally from corn milling which began after Holmfirth, just up the road, could not cope with demand in the 1300s. But textile milling took over in the 16th century, thanks partly to the abundant supply of soft water. The river which runs through the village known as Rakes Dyke is often just a trickle but it can become a powerful torrent which has been known to flood the centre of New Mill.

Set deep in the Holme Valley, the village is only a few miles from Holmfirth where the long-running television series, Last of the Summer Wine, was filmed until its sad demise earlier this year. If, like me, you are used to the flatlands around York, the streets have slopes of Himalayan proportions and homes are built on the steep hillsides all around New Mill. These days, the centre of the village is around a busy crossroads where the Barnsley-Manchester and Huddersfield-Sheffield roads intersect. Its a hotchpotch of a crossroads and at peak periods, traffic can choke the place. It is around these crossroads that most of the shops are situated. Theres a Co-op, a couple of pubs and some takeaways.

Though New Mill has managed to hold onto its post office, it lost its little library last year, despite having 1,000 members and despite the New Millers bitter battle with Kirklees Council.

What the village does have, though, is a male voice choir, with more than 60 members whose home is the New Mill Club where they meet for rehearsals every Tuesday evening.

New Mill Male Voice Choir was formed in 1991 when 12 singers got together in a local pub. It is the youngest of the choirs in the Huddersfield area and many doubted it would ever get off the ground. But it has performed at many venues throughout Britain and has made successful tours to Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy. The choir has recently achieved first place in The 2010 Don Valley Male Voice Choir Competition.

Many members of the choir sang in the recent BBC television programme Songs of Praise, filmed in Christ Church, New Mill, celebrating the final episode of Last of The Summer Wine. And the choir is mightily proud of a photograph of Bill Owens Compo conducting the singers in the mid-1990s. In 1993, the choir sang as part of the World Choir at Cardiff Arms Park under the baton of Owain Arwel Hughes with Shirley Bassey as the main attraction.

Their favourite venue is Huddersfield Town Hall and their guest singers have included Aled Jones and Sir Willard White. In October, the choir hosted a concert in Huddersfield with guest star Julian Lloyd Webber accompanied by Di Xiao.

Choir chairman John Mallinson, who runs the family butchers shop in New Mill, said: Male voice choirs are a tradition in this area and in a little village like New Mill, many people thought we would struggle to get established. But we have grown a lot since 1991 and I like to think we are very well-respected. We are proud that we have managed to get some big names as our guest performers.

The voices at New Mills Christmas sing-a-long are a little less strong and not so co-ordinated, but many villagers turn out every year to sing carols around the Christmas tree on the green. But the village relies on nearby Holmfirth for the main event a big Christmas lights switch-on, usually by
a celebrity.

My Village

Donald Firths family have farmed the land above New Mill for over 100 years. He was born in the village and moved away for work, but he soon came back to the New Mill he loves. He is a former mayor of Kirklees and is still a member of Kirklees Council.

I love this village because it is set in lovely countryside and has wonderful people, he says. Incomers are soon accepted and you can walk down the street and know everyone and everybody says hello. As a local councillor I have been privileged to get to know a lot of people.

Though we are very rural, we have traffic problems at the crossroads night and day. But thats about the only problem we do have. The good thing about New Mill is where it is.

When you see a view every day you take it for granted but if you stop to look around, you appreciate the beauty of the countryside in every direction. Last of the Summer Wine viewers know what our scenery is like. I reckon our views are as beautiful as anywhere.

How to get there: New Mill is two miles east of Holmfirth on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Its at the junction of the A635 and A616 and there are buses from Barnsley and Holmfirth.

Where to park: There is plenty of on-street parking.

What to do: The village is set in beautiful Last of the Summer Wine countryside with lots of walking routes. New Mill Carnival is held in the second week of June, with a procession through the streets, a band, sports and games on the recreation ground.

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