The historic Sunny Bank Mills Archive, one of the most significant and substantial woven textile archives in the UK, is now available on-line.
The Archive, an integral part of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, near Leeds, has been transformed by a £40,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This grant has been used to work in partnership with the Post 16 department at West Leeds Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre (SILC) Powerhouse based in Farsley.

Heritage Director Rachel Moaby explained: “We have used this collaboration, called Weaving the Web, to help to create lasting connections and exciting new projects at the Archive. Specifically, we have been able to create a special Online Collection, which currently features 50 unique objects from our Archive, that can now be viewed from every angle, thanks to 360 degrees photography.

“Let me give you an example. One of our unique objects is an old rusty cauldron, which has definitely seen better days. It’s likely to disintegrate completely soon. But we have now preserved it for posterity, a wonderful reminder of an object which, once upon a time, was indispensable at the mill.

“Other Archive objects, now on-line, include typewriters, old telephones, suit jackets and an old-fashioned calculator. Overall, this is a most fantastic fusion of the old and the new, the past and the present, bringing our wonderful Archive to vibrant life in the 21st century,” added Rachel.
“Overall, this generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund has proved to be absolutely transformational for us. One of the key lessons we learned from being locked down during the global pandemic was that we needed to be much more accessible – and this grant has enabled us to do exactly that. It’s been a game-changer.”

“This has proved tremendously exciting and productive. It has not only benefitted the students but has also increased the knowledge of our staff and volunteers at Sunny Bank Mills. Working in tandem with West Leeds SILC’s work-related learning programme, we have built much more inclusive web design and content, helping to promote inclusivity and accessibility at the Archive.

“We feel this work is so important, both for us and for West Leeds SILC, whose students have a range of learning needs including Asperger’s, Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Downs Syndrome. They have really benefited from this project – as have we,” said Rachel.

Please visit the on-line Archive website on
Digital Archive Curator Alison McMaster commented: “Weaving The Web Project has been a year-long digital exploration. The obvious largescale outcome of the project has been the launch of the Online Collection, currently 50 objects, allowing visibility and accessibility to a far wider audience.

“The legacy of this will clearly be to provide firm foundations for continuing to improve and expand the offering. However, for me, the legacy of the project has come from the smaller details: engaging with young people in the Archive space, putting aside preconceptions and seeing what really interests them (and what doesn’t!) and learning from them.

“I’ve also loved seeing the juxtaposition of the oldest objects in the Mills with some of the newest technology and how different groups within the community have engaged with that – not always as we might have expected. I’ve always considered myself to be a life-long learner and my involvement with this project and the Archive have reignited that passion for learning.”

The Mills, which were originally built in 1829, have been in the Gaunt family for six generations and are currently owned and managed by cousins John and William. This year the Mills are celebrating 10 years of arts and culture.

The Gaunts set up Sunny Bank Mills Ltd, a not-for-profit company in 2017 to safeguard the historic textile Archive at Sunny Bank Mills and the Archive has gone from strength to strength since then.

William Gaunt commented: “The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant has proved transformational for the Sunny Bank Mills Archive. The grant has allowed the Archive to invest in equipment and skills to make it accessible online to not just the community from which it was borne, but to all corners of the wider community that want to see it.”

The nationally important Sunny Bank Mills Archive consists of: fabric records including over 300 guard books containing thousands of textile cuttings; 60,000 lengths of fabric; 8,000 fabric designs; 5,000 wool dyeing recipe cards; 100 leather bound ledgers and cash books; weaving looms; photographs and memorabilia and a library of mill-related books.

On the closure of a mill, the textile records are generally thrown in the skip. Therefore, sadly, 99% of West Yorkshire’s textile archives have been lost. The Gaunt family, however, were adamant that Sunny Bank Mills’ heritage should be preserved for future generations, so when the mill closed in 2008, all the mill records were carefully set aside.

William Gaunt explained: “It is important to John and I that the Archive has a secure future beyond our lifetimes for generations to come, so The National Lottery Heritage grant has meant a great deal to us. The management, restoration, conservation, preservation, use and promotion of the Archive here is absolutely crucial.

“Thanks to The National Lottery players, this important and exciting project has helped to create lasting connections with all our community and their heritage.”