Seventeen years earlier in 1860, a disease in Europe destroyed its’ silkworm industry. At the same time war in China had led to the destruction of many mulberry trees (the home of silkworms), which made raw silk expensive and difficult to find. In the same year, Britain signed the first Free-Trade agreement with France to create better economic stability. However, the French had access to cheaper silk and paid their workers less, and now imported French silk no longer had tariffs attached to it. All these factors effectively ended the silk industry in Britain. The cotton and woollen industries boomed, but silk mills, like at Whitchurch, struggled to survive.
The Mill continued to struggle throughout the next two decades and by 1880 Adelaide had re-mortgaged the mill, and converted the northern weaving shed into four cottages. She rented out the ground floor of the Mill to the new Salvation Army Corps, which upset many people in the town. She also rented out the fishing rights to the local fishing club. Her workforce continued to decrease, until by 1881 only 15 workers remained, a big drop from the 113 workers in 1850! It is thought that by this point the Mill stropped processing thrown silk commercially.
By 1886 Adelaide could not afford to repay the loans she took out to keep her business afloat. She was forced to give up and she put the Mill up for sale, where it was bought by a Mr. John Hide, whose sister had married Thomas Burberry, and it remained in the Hide family for the next 68 years.
However, Adelaide and her family left Whitchurch in 1891 to move to London and made a new start.
The Mill Today
Today Whitchurch Silk Mill is a 205-year-old Grade II* textile mill on the River Test in the small Hampshire town of Whitchurch. It is the only example in Britain of a working silk mill open to the public, where visitors can watch skilled workers operating the machinery. It operates the largest collection of operational historic silk looms and machinery in the United Kingdom.