Legends of the Three Shires

A collection of myths and legends 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

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

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

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

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 added 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?


Doug Pickford, Earth Mysteries of the Three Shires, Churnet Valley Books, Leek, 1996

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 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.


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