If I’d been born a generation earlier, I would more than likely have followed my family into the mills.

My grandmother and aunts all worked in carpet mills in the Calder Valley. It was one of the few options open to working-class girls in industrial towns in the pre and post-war years.

My grandma started working in a mill aged 12. She told me about the deafening noise, and how she used to beg her mother each morning not to send her there.

Her own daughters, all bright girls with artistic talent, also spent time working in textile mills before marriage and families came along. Each of them was creative and one is now an accomplished artist who has exhibited and won awards for her work.

Who knows what she might have achieved if she’d had the opportunity to study art after leaving school, instead of having to work to support the family income.

I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to go to university and pursue my career of choice – the nearest I came to being a millgirl was a couple of factory holiday jobs as a student.

I thought of my grandma and aunts toiling away in the mills when I visited the enormous spinning room at Salts Mill recently. An exhibition called Cloth And Memory, running there until November, explores the idea that our memories resonate with fabric, leaving a trace of ourselves behind.

Walking into the spinning room took my breath away. Once the world’s largest industrial room, it has remained largely unchanged over the past 150 years or so. The dust, the peeling paint and the oil stains remain, and the musty aroma of industrial spaces has lingered over the years.

Once this room would have been filled with girls and women, taking on various roles in the spinning process. The female workforce is now long gone, but remembered in a touching tribute by artist Caren Garfen who has created a row of little plaques made from old wooden reels.

Each reel bears a cotton patch with a woman’s name, age, date of birth, marital status and occupation stitched on. It’s a very moving dedication to the women who worked here, and brings a sense of humanity to an empty space once filled with overbearing heat and noise.

The women and girls working here in the 1800s would have stood for at least ten hours a day, in heavy clothing with little ventilation and no windows to look out of. No air conditioning, no watercooler, no mobiles, no coffee shop lunchbreaks.

History books are filled with the male leaders of the industrial revolution, but it was the forgotten millgirls who were its backbone.