Dark Satanic Mills

Bruce Woollen Mills

Kids, don’t try this at home, this is one bit of urban exploration I can’t recommend.

Bruce Woollen Mills Bruce Woollen Mills

The old Bruce Woollen Mills factory building is a dilapidated landmark on the South end of Milton on Otago’s State Highway One. An industrial site with a rich history, I’ve been meaning to explore it for years, so last Sunday I decided to drive South and take a look.  A radio was playing in one of the outer sheds, now used as a mechanical workshop, so I wandered around the exterior, hollering in the hope of finding someone who would grant me access.

Alas, there was nobody to be found, unless you count the cat, and it didn’t seem to want me there.


So my exploration was pretty brief, and that’s probably for the best.  The original factory and boiler buildings really are dilapidated, with floors and roofs well under the influence of gravity and decay, which is a shame. Even if there were the will and funds to restore the place as an industrial heritage museum, it’s probably well beyond what a reasonable amount of money can do now.  The mill’s later production was in some still serviceable buildings just around the corner, and business of some kind managed to to keep going there until late 2015 when the last woollen mill in New Zealand’s South Island finally closed. Erin Weisbart, aka Seamstress Erin has an excellent entry on that building  on her blog.

Abandoned factory exterior Abandoned Factory exterior

Mark Wallbank of the Paranormal New Zealand website has wandered the inside to take some snaps, but I wasn’t really game enough, even if I’d had a hard hat.  A Nor’wester was rising, and the chances of wood or rusting roof iron tumbling from above were just a little higher than I liked, although as I walked around hollering for an owner or lease holder, I did take some exteriors and a few quick interior shots around the boiler building.




The old coal fired boilers were tempting to explore further, shoot some decay closeups and maybe macro, but that roof really isn’t conducive to sticking around.

Boiler house interior

Maybe that’s why there was some kind of manager’s hut inside the boiler house (I’m now informed that this was the boiler supervisor’s office. The boiler dials were all in sight from here).

Abandoned office

Not that it looked like anyone was managing much, other than reading some fishing and trucking magazines. (Note the boiler control buttons on the wall and yes, that’s a Playboy magazine on the armrest of that chair).

Abandoned office

I may well go back, to seek permission to nose around some of the outer buildings and the more modern parts of the factory and office buildings, they still look pretty interesting. And if there isn’t a breeze, I may just try to get some aerial shots of the old factory, although the many tall poplars surrounding it will make that interesting.

I get the feeling this building won’t last much longer. It would be a shame to see the old monster demolished, it once represented the hopes and endeavours of a settler nation, the child of pastoralism and industry. The wool grown on these plains and the mill that processed it were the commercial backbone of early Otago.  But it would be worse to see it collapse on someone. Especially some idiot with a camera!

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bruce Woollen Mills





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