How Cheshire's 'ghost village' conned the world with its 'Cuban' cigars

An illustration of Havannah Mill commissioned by Andiamio & Co.
-Credit: (Image: Congleton Museum)

The village of Havannah, near Congleton, grew up around a silk mill built on the River Dane in 1761.

Catastrophic flooding destroyed the village in 1872, before the village's unusual name offered a temporary reprieve.

The village was named 'Havannah' by the mill’s founder, Charles Roe, to celebrate the British capture of the Cuban capital, Havana, during the Seven Years’ War. Roe, who built Macclesfield's first silk mill in 1744, is often referred to as one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution.

The village grew to have three mills and two streets of terraced houses occupied by workers. Havannah's burgeoning silk industry collapsed after catastrophic flooding in 1872, but the village was saved by its unusual name.

For a brief period around the turn of the last century, it was legal to produce cigars in the village and export them around the world as 'Havanna Cigars' with the words 'made in Havanna' emblazoned across the boxes, thus disguising the products as authentic and sought-after Cuban cigars.

An original box of Marsuma cigars, a successor to the Havanna Cigars made in the village.
An original box of Marsuma cigars, a successor to the Havanna Cigars made in the village, anonymously donated to Congleton Museum in 2015. -Credit:Congleton Museum

The village’s oldest mill, Havannah Mill, was converted into a cigar rolling factory by Andiamio & Co., from where tobacco imported from India and Indonesia was exported, mainly to the United States, in its 'made in Havanna' disguise.

Ian Doughty is Chairman of Trustees at the Congleton Museum, a project he has been involved with since the late 1980s. He spoke to CheshireLive about Havannah's history.

Ian said: "My understanding is that they were trying to use water power, but the power from the water wasn’t reliable enough for the rolling process, but they still kept the presence there because they wanted to use the name.

"There was a court case about it somewhere, about misrepresentation. In 1903 they were still using the ‘Havanna Cigars’ name, that's in an article called ‘A visit to the famous factory'. By 1907 they are being referred to as 'Marsuma'"

The name change occurred after a U.S. court ruling in 1902 that declared that all imports must bear the name of the country in which they originated in order to curb misrepresentation of the kind undertaken at Havannah.

With no reason to continue operations in the unreliable mill, Andiamio & Co. closed the mill in 1906 and relocated to the centre of Congleton. The village went into a steep, dramatic decline. By the end of the decade, Havannah became known as 'the deserted village'.

Ian explained: "There was a flood of the Dane in 1872 which affected production from the textile mills, certainly. There were still a couple of families living there throughout. Andiamio were there for three or four years only. It was certainly being listed as a deserted village in the 1900s."

Illustrations of Andiamio & Co.'s sites, including Havannah Mill.
The row of workers' cottages at Havannah, the last remnants of the village's industrial past.

It is a story remembered by local residents, including Jim Cook.

Jim recalls: "When the cigar thing took off, I don’t know, but after a year or two they were forced to stop, so they moved to another mill in Congleton and called it something else - Marsuma."

With the mill closed, the village's only industry became agriculture, and the workers moved away. Havannah became infamous in Congleton as 'The Deserted Village'.

"They say that, ‘the deserted village’," said Jim, 66, "but I’ve looked at the census returns and there was always someone down here."

Ray Clack, 65, was born in the nearby village of Buglawton, and remembers playing in the 'deserted village' as a child.

“They must have reopened this when I was little," Ray said. "When I was about ten years old we used to come down here and play in the river, and this was here then.”

The village has seen dramatic changes in recent years, with a new housing estate being built on the site of the last remaining mill in 2014. Prior to that, the village consisted of just one row of terrace houses.

"There were moves between 1922 and 1923 to redevelop the village," said Ian.

During this time, Havannah Mill's weir was repurposed to provide electricity to the final row of houses left standing. The houses were abandoned once more however, before being restored in 1976.

"This used to just be a tiny little lane going through to the farm, and now you’ve got the Havannah School here and everything," Ray said.

Havannah Mill burnt down during a fire in the 1960s, but was only demolished in 1988.