The Woolmill's mule is an 1870 Platt Brothers mule, made in Oldham. It is an early model of a ‘self-acting’ mule, which features 120 spindles.
Prior to this, mule spinning in its infancy was powered on the outward run but manually wound in, the building of the cop of yarn being regulated by a skilled operative. The self-acting mule was fully powered and only required the work of an unskilled overlooker. The whole process would thus have been faster and much more efficient.
The Woolmill’s mule is an early model and is the only one left of its kind that is still being used in a working woollen mill today. It is known as a ‘crash change’ mule due to the rather violent change from its outward to inward motion. It was superseded in the 1880’s by larger and more smooth running models.
Pictured above is the Mule in the 1970's.
Before restoration, Hugh and other experts thought the mule was complete and specially built for the Woolmill. This would make it the oldest surviving mule still in its original setting. Unfortunately, the Platt Brothers’ own records for 1870 have been lost so its provenance or history could not be verified. During restoration, however, it was realised that the mule bore marks of previous incarnations. The bobbin arms which stand upright at the back, have been widened to hold fifteen bobbin ends. One side (the carriage) is complete, but possibly shortened to ft. The other has been broken, repaired, cut down or lengthened! It’s probably made up from more than one machine, quite likely by a mule engineer.
Before refurbishment, the Woolmill mule was in a sorry state. The wooden floor beneath part of it had collapsed, causing stress on moving parts.
A sprung floor is necessary for a spinning mule, whereas the carding set has to be absolutely level on a concrete floor.