This impressive mill was constructed in 1785 for spinning silk. No silkworms ever lived around here – the climate is way too cold for them – but silk manufacturing was a well-established industry in this area. The town of Macclesfield, only six miles away, was the big regional centre and a few, even larger eighteenth century mills also survive there.
The raw material was imported from sunny Italy. Though there were no silkworm cocoons hanging from the trees, what this spot did have was all that free power in the tumbling waters of the Dane. The mill harnessed the river’s energy through a gigantic water wheel. This natural water source made the mill cheap to run, but in the end Gradbach was too remote to be commercially viable. It closed in 1885.
Used for a long time as a Youth Hostel, the building is now an education centre for Newcastle-under-Lyme College. It is they who have undertaken the recent restoration work – and what a great job they have made of it!
Before we move on, go and stand on the little footbridge to the side of the main building. From up there we can get a real sense of the power of the river.
Next, from the mill yard, continue along the public footpath through the mill complex. Follow the path close to the river, past some lush meadows. Go over a stone wall using a stepped stile, then cross a wooden footbridge over a stream. After a few metres, turn right to look back at the stream’s confluence with the river.
This trail was originally developed by Simon Corble for the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain.
Simon Corble is a theatre director, playwright and actor based in Derbyshire’s Peak District, is passionate about the countryside and discovering the hidden secrets of the natural world.