A remarkable discovery at Leeds Industrial Museum has shed light on the sombre realities faced by workers at one of the world’s largest textile mills during the Edwardian era. The unearthing of an accident book, meticulously documenting injuries and fatalities suffered by employees, offers a poignant glimpse into the harsh working conditions prevalent at the turn of the 20th century.

The trove of historical records, stumbled upon by curators, unveils a narrative of hardship endured by textile workers in Leeds, once a bustling hub for wool and fabric production. Among the heart-wrenching incidents chronicled is the tragic demise of William Bell, aged 44, who lost his life in a fatal accident involving a milling machine in February 1905.

Reports from the period recount the unfortunate incident, describing how Bell and his colleague Albert Holdsworth were manoeuvring a two-tonne cloth milling device when it unexpectedly collapsed on them. Despite immediate assistance, Bell succumbed to his injuries on the spot, leaving behind a grieving wife and three children.

Regrettably, Bell’s fate was not an isolated occurrence. In 1909, another worker, W. Hinchcliffe, met a similarly tragic end while carrying out routine duties. The records also detail numerous other injuries suffered by employees, ranging from severed fingers to falls and machinery mishaps.

The documents, dating back to the tenure of Bentley and Tempest as owners of the mill, also contain a list of underage workers, underscoring the grim reality faced by many young labourers at the time.

John McGoldrick, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of industrial history, said: “We know that for hundreds of years, the museum was a bustling, hugely productive centre for the manufacture of textiles, which employed hundreds of people from the local area.

“But until now, we haven’t known a great deal about the individuals who worked here, so finding these documents is a real treasure trove of information from which we can start to build a much more complete picture of life at the mill.

“In particular, seeing such stark details of the injuries and deaths suffered by workers here more than a century ago paints a very vivid picture of how difficult and gruelling their working conditions must have been, and helps us to better understand the impact of the textile trade on the lives of people in Leeds.”

Armley Mills, dating back to the 1600s and once the world’s largest mill of its kind under Colonel Thomas Lloyd’s ownership, ceased production in 1969. However, its legacy lives on through Leeds Industrial Museum, which opened its doors in 1982, showcasing vintage machinery and preserving the city’s rich industrial heritage.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “The textile industry played a huge role in establishing Leeds as an economic powerhouse and is part of the fabric of the city and its heritage.

“But it’s also important that we consider how the industry impacted the city and the people who lived here, and it’s fantastic that the industrial museum continues to research and develop new aspects of that story.”

For those keen to explore further insights into Leeds’ industrial past, Leeds Industrial Museum offers a captivating journey into the heart of Yorkshire’s manufacturing history.