Myths and Curiosities

from Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire

Folly Mill

Folly Mill, Allgreave

The remains of Folly Mill (click on the image to view full size). Gibbons Cliff lies beyond and above the wall to the right. The photograph of Gibbons Cliff at the foot of the page is taken at almost a reverse angle, and helps give a better idea of the layout of the siting of the mill.

Summary

Down in the valley of the Clough Brook, just before its confluence with the River Dane, lie the ruins of an 18th century building called Folly Mill. It is said to have got its name because it was washed away after it was first built, then washed away again when it was rebuilt. Its owner, Abraham Day, was determined not to be defeated, and despite his wife’s telling him she would go to bed and never rise again if he didn’t abandon his folly, made one last attempt. This time he was successful, and his wife, adhering to her vow, remained in her bed until she died at the age of 76.

Sources

It is more than a hundred years ago since Samuel Day toiled up the steep hill to Cluelow Cross, undecided whether to turn right and seek his fortune in Congleton or turn left and seek it in Buxton. He balanced his stick on a stone wall, declaring he would go in the direction in which it fell. It fell to the right so he started downhill, but he never got to Congleton, for when he reached the junction of the Dane and Clough Brook he decided to build a paper mill there. Folly Mill brought him prosperity, despite a bursting of the dam which flooded the site. It is recorded that he was late for his wedding, and that after waiting for a time the bride’s father had to go in search of him. What a sight bride and bridegroom must have made riding pillion on an old black mare back to Allgreave with Day’s faithful servant riding on a donkey behind them!

Folly Mill has been in ruins many years now, but it probably figured in another man’s life-story, for there is reason to believe that it was the first commission executed by young James Brindley.


J. H. Ingram, Companion into Cheshire, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1947, p 200

Folly Mill, 1831 Bry, Folly Grove Mill 1842 OS, v. folie. Gibbons Cliff (Wood), Gibbins-Clyffe 1611 LRMB 200, v. clif ‘a cliff’. The first el. may be from gibbe ‘a hump’, for the place lies on a detached hill in a crook of the R. Dane, but it could be the surname Gibben, Gibbin, Gibbon (Reaney 134).


folie OFr, ME, ‘folly; a foolish enterprise; an extravagant or foolish building etc.’


Professor John McNeal Dodgson, The Place-Names of Cheshire, Part 1, Cambridge University Press, 1970, p 169

Abraham Day built a watermill at Allgreave and it was destroyed by flood. The same thing happened to the next one he built. When he started to build a third, his wife threatened to go to bed and stay there. Undeterred (or possibly welcoming the peace), Abraham started the mill once again. His wife promptly retired to bed and never got up again, finally dying there at the age of 76.

The mill is now ruined.


Frederick Woods, Legends and Traditions of Cheshire, Shiva Publishing Ltd, 1982, pp 8–9

As with so many other mills in this area, hard information on the origins of Folly Mill is lacking. Walter Smith, in an article written in 1935, quoted from a letter he had received from another amateur antiquarian, Mr. James B. Thornley.


“Folly Mill is now in ruins…” wrote Thornley. “It was built by Mr. Abraham Day who resided at Allmeadows Farm, Wincle, possibly about 1780 or 1790. I have been in it when it was working. It was used to manufacture coarse paper (brown or blue) such as is used by grocers or ironmongers. It was built down a hole almost inaccessible, to and from which horse and lorries had to drag the raw materials and the finished article – an almost impossible task.


On account of its difficulty of access, it was given the name of ‘Abraham Day’s Folly’.” An alternative tradition holds that Day’s folly was to twice rebuild the mill after floods had washed it away.


And yet, it seems, the mill remained viable until sometime in the late nineteenth century. By 1825, it had passed into the hands of Thomas Hope, who also ran the paper mill at Whitelee. In 1849, the mill was advertised under the name ‘Folly Grove Mill’. To advertise the mill as a folly would have discouraged potential tenants, of course; but it is possible that the mill did originally take its name from the wood that surrounded it, rather than from any lack of sense on Abraham Day’s part. If the wood around the mill was once known as Folly Wood, Smith speculated, the name might have been derived from the old French ‘folie’, meaning a wood in which hunters of game concealed themselves.


1849 advertisement and 1871 map of Folly Mill

George Longden, The Industrial Revolution in East Cheshire, Macclesfield and Vale Royal Groundwork Trust, Bollington, 1988, pp 44–45

Those unexplained apparitions abound in the Mystical Middle of the Three Shires, and here we simply must look at Old Abraham, the man who built (and rebuilt and rebuilt) Folly Mill. Its ruins, as depicted by Langley’s Mr Cyril Dawson, stand in a hauntingly beautiful valley covered with aged oaks and other mature trees. Little sunlight penetrates the leaves during summertime and it is no wonder that some travellers feel ill at ease when they walk by this spot. Over the years a number of people have seen a man hard at work rebuilding these ruins. They all report they have seen a similar sort of figure – a very old man with a white stubbly beard and wearing leather trousers and a greyish vest. Is this Abraham Day, whose folly the mill was?

There are numerous follies up and down the country – the ‘castle’ atop Mow Cop is a fine example – and most are houses, mills, monuments and the like situated in out-of-the-way inaccessible or foolish positions; or there is something grotesque in the buildings themselves.

There is a farm in Bosley, on the Mins, that used to be called Young’s Folly but now is Upton Fold Farm and as the farm is situated in a high and remote position, with – at one time – bad access it may be taken for granted that it was called a folly on that account.

Longdale is the road that runs from Cleulow (or Clulow) Cross to Allgreave Bridge. On the Cross side of the bridge, a road turns off Longdale in the direction of Wincle. Up this road, in a very short distance, Longdale Farm is passed, then almost immediately there is a turning to the left to Allmeadows Farm, only a few yards away. Pass through the farmyard, cross a stile, and go down a cart track which soon becomes a smooth grassy track, bear left and keep by a wall (avoiding a turn to the right which leads to Bartomley Farm, Hogs Clough and Wincle) and then through a wall and make straight for Folly Mill – an old paper mill in ruins – by a sinuous downpath, supreme in beauty, overlooking the gorge of a stream.

The late Mr Walter Smith described what comes next as follows: “When once the path is gained the visitor is simply astonished at the beauty, and presently, at the uniqueness of the scene.”

He continued that deep down in the wooded gorge at the foot of a cliff called Gibbons Cliff are the ruins of the old mill on the verge of the Tor Brook. The gorge is deeply shaded by the trees of Gibbons Cliff Wood on the mill side of the stream, and of Allgreave Wood on the opposite bank, while a little lower down stream, the gorge abruptly terminating, comes the confluence of the Tor Brook and the Dane.

The old mill, having been partially thrown down, was then left neglected and where men once toiled it is now hardly possible to pick one’s way on account of the usual growth about waterside ruins – coltsfoot, the nettle, the butterbur of prodigious size, and wild shrubs of various kinds. The last descent to the mill is by a number of slippery steps and great care should be taken in moving about the tottering ruin.

A mural tablet to the memory of Abraham Day in Wincle Church points unmistakably to the Elder of Folly Mill, says Walter. On the tablet it is stated that Abraham died in 1835 at the age of 95 years. From this we may deduce that if he built the mill in middle life it would be about 1790 when he was 50 years of age.

Abraham Day married a member of the Allgreave family of Mason and seems to have died childless, but there is a tradition in the Day family (descendants of Abraham’s brother) that the mill was the third to be built there. According to the tradition the first mill Abraham built was washed away by a flood, and also the second.

He declared his intention to build a third but his wife said it would be folly to do so and that if he did she would go to bed, and stay there she did until she died in 1826 aged 76. Whether this behaviour was due to mere perversity or on account of depression and illness we are not told. It is evident that Abraham was an extraordinary man of strong physique, indomitable will and tenacity of purpose.

Not much seems to be known about the subsequent history of the mill. Presumably, Day worked it himself as a paper mill but at one time it was worked by Thomas Hope of White Lee, Wincle, whose name appears in an 1825 directory as a paper maker. Day’s name occurs in the same directory: “Abraham Day, Allmeadows, farmer and land owner.”

In 1849 the mill was to be let and was described as the


Folly Grove Paper Mill, Wincle, near Macclesfield, with Waler Power and machinery for Manufacturing and Finishing Paper. Apply to Mr Matthew Longden (wheelwright) on the premises of Mr Thomas Slack (farmer) Sutton, near Macclesfield.

The mill used to manufacture coarse paper, brown or blue, as used by grocers or ironmongers. Because it was built ‘down a hole almost inaccessible’, to and from which horses and carts had to drag the raw materials and the finished article - an almost impossible task – surely this was why it was named as a folly.

The mill has always been known as a Folly Mill but in 1849 we see an attempt to eliminate the unfavourable implication in the name by calling it Folly Grove Mill as though indicative of a mill in a leafy grove, and with no suggestion of foolishness about the mill itself. The mural tablet in Wincle Church records the death of Abraham Day’s wife and also Abraham himself, and the following verse appears under Abraham’s name:


Our life hangs by a single thread
Which is cut off when we are dead,
lime was I stood as thou does now
And viewed the dead as thou does me.
But time will come when thou shalt be
And others stand and look on thee.

Doug Pickford, Earth Mysteries of the Three Shires, Churnet Valley Books, Leek, 1996, pp 90–93

Notes

Place names

The abbreviations in The Place-Names of Cheshire mean that it was called Folly Mill on Bryant’s 1831 map of Cheshire, but was named Folly Grove Mill on the 1842 Ordnance Survey map. However by 1871 it had reverted to Folly Mill, as can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map included in George Longden’s book (reproduced above).

I’ve included the reference to Gibbons Cliff because Folly Mill is at the foot of it, and it lies within Gibbons Cliff Wood. This was recorded under the spelling Gibbins-Clyffe in 1611, which allows us to rule out Walter Smith’s suggestion that Folly Mill may have got its name due to its being in a wood called Folly Wood at the time of its construction.

It can, however, be noted that in 1871 Gibbons Cliff had mysteriously been renamed Gideon Cliff before reverting to its older name once more, much as Folly Mill had only a temporary existence under the name Folly Grove Mill. I don’t know how this came about, but it may be that it was also done to make the place seem more appealing. There were occasionally such name-changes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to make places sound more polished or less vulgar; for example the change of Bugsworth in Derbyshire to Buxworth.

As an aside, the river on which the mill stands is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Tor Brook instead of Clough Brook: presumably this is due to confusion with the Tor Brook which is a tributary of Clough Brook at its upper end, being named from Shining Tor, which is where it rises.


The legend

The earliest account I’ve been able to find of the mill being washed away, in Ingram’s Companion into Cheshire (1947), makes no mention either of it happening three times, or of the wife’s vow to remain in bed for the rest of her life. Presumably this aspect of the tale sprang up in the late 20th century. I am unable to explain why Ingram should have called him Samuel Day rather than Abraham Day, as he is named in the other accounts.

The story of the mill being washed away twice before being successfully completed the third time sounds a bit too good to be true, what with the rather trite ‘third time lucky’, and the wife’s vow thrown in for good measure. Besides, it doesn’t quite fit: if it had failed the third time it would have been a folly, but since it went on to operate successfully it hardly counts as a foolish mistake.

Though the simpler and less romantic version of it being so named because of the awkward location doesn’t have the same appeal, it seems more probable, though, as is always the way, we can never know for sure.

I hadn’t heard of it being haunted until I read Doug Pickford’s book. By that time I’d visited it several times at night, something I may have been more reluctant to do with that foreknowledge.


Folly Mill at night

Folly Mill at night


Gibbons Cliff

Another myth that has arisen in recent years is that Gibbons Cliff is so named because you can see the outline of a gibbon’s head in the rock face. Since the name was first recorded in 1611 (as Gibbins-Clyffe), while the name of the animal didn’t appear in the language until 1770, this possibility can safely be ruled out. Also, like with any cliff face with lots of outcroppings, you can see just about whatever you want if you stare at it for long enough.


Gibbons Cliff above Folly Mill

Gibbons Cliff standing above the track that leads down to Folly Mill, which lies out of sight below and to the right.