Gnat Hole - a Woollen Mill in a Cotton Town.

Although Glossop became known as a cotton town (the industry to which it owes its rapid growth in the 19th century) the original clothiers spun and wove wool. Gnat Hole was, however, the only woollen mill to continue in business alongside the cotton boom.

Gnat Hole Farm & Mill Hamnett tells us that John Robinson, who built Gnat Hole Mill in 1790, was a clothier who had moved from Saddleworth, initially to Jumble Farm where he had a smaller woollen mill. This, though, appears to be inaccurate as the Robinsons were already at Jumble when John's sister, Betty (daughter of George Robinson), was baptised in 1738. John was born about 1733 and was probably the baby baptised in 1733, the son of George Robinson of Deepclough.

What seems to have happened is that John was sent away to relatives in Saddleworth, where the Robinsons were established woollen millers, to learn the trade of Clothier. He was certainly there when he married Zipporah Bowden of Glossop in 1754 and when their first four children were baptised. He appears to have returned to Jumble Farm in the late 1760s to establish the mill there.
The enterprise must have been successful because John Robinson retained Jumble even after he bought Gnat Hole Farm and built Gnat Hole Mill. Following his death, in 1800, the ownership of the two farms was split between his sons, Gnat Hole eventually becoming the property of Joseph Robinson who had been born about 1769. The main "product" of Gnat Hole Farm appears to have been sheep, reared to provide some of the wool needed by the mill. Cattle were also kept though as Joseph's will, dated 30th May 1835 includes the provision "I give and bequeath unto my said wife Mally such one of my Cows as she shall within one calendar month next after my decease select or make choice of."

Joseph's estate (apart from a provision for his widow) was split between the two children of his eldest daughter Zipporah (who had died in 1826 after marrying Joseph Ridgway of Swallow Houses Mill, Hayfield) and his surviving four sons and two daughters. The two elder sons, George and Joseph, had already made their way in the world, at one time being in partnership at Primrose Mill, using it as a woollen mill. By the time of the 1841 census George had moved to Manchester and opened a business as a Glass Paper Manufacturer and Joseph junior had become a linnen draper at Bridge End. He later built the shops at numbers 12 to 16 Norfolk Street, Glossop, where he carried on his business as a Woollen Draper (succeeded, after his death in 1873, by his son Walter). He also built houses at Robinson's Court, between Norfolk Street and Ellison Street.
The Bridge at Gnat Hole
Gnat Hole Wood Gnat Hole Mill became the property of the four younger children: Robert, Mary, Lettice and John. Robert died, unmarried, at Edale on the 2nd of January 1854 and left his share of Gnat Hole to Mary & Lettice. Hamnett wrote that the roads at that time were impassable to ordinary vehicles owing to the snow, so the coffin was tied to a ladder and sledged by that means to Glossop for the funeral. The connection to Saddleworth was still strong as one of Robert's executors was Thomas Robinson of Woodbrook, Saddleworth. Apparently, the woollen cloth from Gnat Hole was highly prized at that time and was sold for capes for the uniform for the soldiers going to the Crimean War (1853-56).

Lettice died in 1874 and Mary, who was her heir, died in 1881, leaving her estate to be divided between her nephews Frederick and Henry, sons of John.
According to Hamnett:
"Owing to dissensions among the brothers, the business gradually declined and some of their sons emigrated, Henry dying in Tasmania in October 1887. His brother Fred was living there the last time I heard of him."
The decision to leave Gnat Hole certainly caused a family rift with the descendants of Joseph Junior (possibly because a source of cloth for Walter's shop was cut off?), the story being:
"The brothers were sent to market with 1000 to buy new sheep but, instead, they ran off to Australia and it was as a consequence that the mill shut down. A variation is that whilst one reached Australia and did quite well for himself, the other ended up on the streets of London selling bootlaces."

The truth has been gleaned from correspondence sent by Fred from Tasmania and by contact with his descendants. Neither Fred nor Henry wanted to run a woollen mill so they decided to emigrate to Australia for the Gold Rush, taking their families with them. Hamnett was correct in saying that Henry died in 1887. Fred found little gold and lost all his money. Fortunately for him, he knew a lot about running a woollen mill and ended up working at Waverley Woollen Mill, Australia's oldest woollen mill, after having tried to avoid managing his own!
Gnat Hole Wood

Many of the Robinsons had large families and about 830 descendants of John Robinson & Zipporah Bowden are known. Amongst them are the founder of the famous piano building business Lister & Sons and a former CEO of Racal South Africa (one of the pioneers of the technology behind mobile phones).

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Last updated: 22 September 2020