The textile industry has an established history in the AONB being important as part of the domestic economy. In the 17th and 18th centuries production shifted from wool to linen. At the end of the 18th century the invention of more efficient spinning machines and the ability to harness water to power the textile mills led to growth and more concentrated industry.
Two of the most significant mills in the AONB are Glasshouses and New York. New York Mill at Summerbridge was opened in 1825 by William Hebden to spin flax. In 1834 Francis Thorpe bought the mill and expanded it. He looked after his employees by providing houses at cheap rent, cheap clothing, medical treatment and schooling.
Glasshouses Mill was a corn mill during the 18th century and then also used for flax spinning. Mills were also present in the Washburn Valley, with one, Westhouse Mill in Fewston, possibly dating from the 16th century.
The depression of the late 1830s and 1840s affected Washburn to a greater extent than Nidderdale. Mills closed with subsequent depopulation. For instance when Westhouse Mill closed Fewston's population decreased from 850 in 1841 to 395 in 1851. In Nidderdale mills ran to short time and had temporary closures. However, they did recover: in the later 1840s Glasshouses Mill grew and had a reservoir constructed in 1850 to provide more water power.
The 1860s was a good decade for milling. With the arrival of the railway in 1862 to Pateley Bridge and the decrease in cost of transport for raw materials and the American Civil War resulting in lower cotton output to compete aginst the Nidderdale linen, the period was buoyant.
However the 1870s and 1880s saw another economic depression with a contracting market for linen and sewing threads, and greater competition from cotton affecting the mills at Glasshouses, Smelthouses, New York, Dacre Banks and Folly Gill.
In 1883 New York Mill closed only to be reopened in 1889 by Thomas Gill and Sons. This move saw the end of spinning in the Washburn Valley as the company ceased trading at West End Low Mill.
After a period of making camouflage netting Glasshouses Mill closed in 1970 and the site is now used for businesses. New York Mill ceased operating in 1980 after being used for making synthetic yarns and has since been redeveloped for housing and offices.