Ponden Mill – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 3

What is Ponden Mill?

In the heart of Bronte Country is Ponden Mill. A successful chain of linen, textiles and soft furnishing shops.

The Beginning

In Stanbury, Haworth where two streams meet is a mill at Ponden which has been there for many centuries. It’s thought that the original building was a corn mill.

The Lancastrian Heaton family who lived near Ponden Hall built a cotton mill in 1791. Barry Brookfield, another Lancastrian, left art school with an interest in shops and window design.

Over time, he had many different occupations. His first job was a shop junior for the Co-op, however management didn’t let him serve customers. His second job was in a shoe shop, where he learned his sales skills, often selling socks and polish to accompany the shoes.

After he realised that his job was low pay, he got a job in a mill where he learned about textiles. Brookfield continued to change his career. He became an RAF dog handler, shop fittings salesman and sold toiletries.

While selling toiletries, he noticed the quantity of goods market traders could sell and decided this would be his career. Brookfield kept his job in a chemist and started selling towel seconds at Leigh market on Saturdays.

He was unsuccessful. Brookfield tried to trade on various markets before heavy rain destroyed all of his stock.

From this, he had an idea. He sold his stock cheap and advertised it as being flood damaged. This resulted in his best trading day.

Brookfield had now found the secret to great sales and settled for a stall on Skipton market. He then moved into a farmhouse in Grassington, storing his goods in the barn.

Disaster struck again. Mites infested his stock which meant it had to be burnt. 

His misfortune led him to look for a permanent trading place. Brookfield moved to the Bronte country in 1973, selling quilts at Ashworth Mill in Haworth.

A year later, he had to leave after failing to secure the lease. Brookfield then purchased Ponden Mill for £15,000 which was half of the asking price.

Becoming what it is today

Over the next decade, Brookfield transformed the mill into a popular tourist attraction. It had a licensed restaurant, craft demonstrations in weaving, potting and clog-making, along with a shop selling duvets and other soft furnishings.

By 1985, he had purchased Darley Mill in Nidderdale. Brookfield built a chain of 132 high street shops over the next twenty years.

In 2005, Brookfield, now an entrepreneur, sold his £50 million chain to the Marston Mills Group. They also owned Blackpool Tower Boss, Trevor Hemmings.

That company later went into administration in 2007. Luckily, Edinburgh Woollen Mill (Group) Ltd bought The Ponden Home Group. Over 120 shops still traded under the Ponden name.

The original Mill shop at Stanbury closed down in 2008 and was derelict until 2014. Plans were made to convert it into an activity centre, campsite and cafe.

This opened in Spring 2015. Further development of the site is still ongoing to preserve a part of Yorkshire’s retail history.