Paradise Mill in Macclesfield is home to Europe’s largest collection of Jacquard silk handlooms in their original setting and is designated by Historic England. Work is now underway to restore two of these nineteenth century machines thanks to £16,000 funding granted by the Association for Industrial Archaeology.
The mill remains largely unchanged since the last day it operated in 1981 by Cartwright and Sheldon and became a museum in 1984. It now provides a look into what it was like for silk workers in Macclesfield. Macclesfield Museums, who look after Paradise Mill, has received the funding to restore two of the original Jacquard handlooms. The tour guides use these looms to demonstrate the process of weaving, which is the highlight of the museum’s regular tours.
The restoration is a huge job, but also a very important one. The Jacquard looms were a precursor to our digital age today. The Jacquard mechanism, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard, uses cards punched with holes to automate the process of weaving patterns. They are programmable machines and were thought to have inspired both Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in early methods of computing. The Jacquard cards each contain a pattern and they can then weave a bespoke design.