Lake District bobbin mills

in Water

Although the low axle speeds were needed for the mines and iron working sites, the bobbin mills used narrow lightly built wheels, geared up to drive line shafting and high speed lathes. At Stott Park the mill was originally powered in the late 1830s by a 32ft (10m) diameter wheel which was later replaced by turbines, a steam engine and finally electric motors. The main reservoir of water for the mill is nearby at High Dam, a popular picnic area with its old charcoal coppices and larch trees. Few visitors realise that this attractive tarn is an industrial relic.

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The manufacture of gunpowder made heavy demands on water power with complex systems of millraces. As described earlier, the gunpowder works consisted of many water mills where the ingredients were ground together, then processed. Originally large, broad water¬wheels were used, but in the late nineteenth century locally manufac¬tured turbines were installed within the older masonry wheelpits. Gilkes of Kendal, famous turbine manufacturers for over a hundred years, is a legacy of the once thriving powered industries, which were concentrated in the River Kent catchment area. The remains of Gilkes turbines can be found at mines, quarries, bobbin mills, saw mills, gun¬powder works and other sites. In common with all rural areas, the Lake District had its scatter of corn mills, many with medieval origins. Although these mills were essential to the daily life, they were operated as smallscale rural trades rather than as 'industrial' sites. Nevertheless, within some villages,especially at the focal point for old trade routes, the old mill buildings may still survive as an attractive reminder of the former dependence on water power.

Extensive sheep farming in medieval times led to the establishment of an important woollen industry centred on Kendal, with the Kent, Sprint and Mint Rivers converging on this important market town. By the midfourteenth century the Lake District had almost 150 fulling mills where waterdriven wooden stocks pounded handwoven material with soft brown soaps to mat or felt the cloth. Before water power was used, men walked on the cloth in troughs, to felt it, hence the common name 'Walk Mill' for early woollen mills. Grasmere and Ambleside had a cluster of medieval fulling mills and names such as Stock Lane and Stock Bridge no doubt refer to this industry. At Hawkshead, Tenter Hill is a reference to the hillside where cloth was stretched on the tenterhooks, to dry in the sun.

The attractive view towards Coniston is essentially a landscape of industry. Almost hidden, there is evidence of copper mining, slate quarrying, mills for textiles and bobbins, an iron forge, a tannery, quays for water transport and a once busy railway terminus (Andrew Lowe) industrial revolution spread through northern England. In the Lake District it was a revolution in the scale of production rather than a power revolution steam engines were not introduced into the local woollen industry until the 1850s. The fulling mills, together with the domestic system, were superseded by the factory system for both spin¬ning and weaving woollens. Other textile mills for spinning cotton and flax were introduced after the 1770s, often on the sites of redundant fulling mills.

Such large mills required the dependable supply of water from the larger rivers to turn broad, powerful waterwheels connected to a network of line shafting for the spinning and weaving machinery. Characteristically, the wool ca rding or weaving mills were usually three storeys high, but the cotton spinning mills reached four or five storeys in typical Lancashire style with the regular rows of small paned windows. These were the tallest buildings in the Lake District, so dominant not just in physical terms, but also in relation to the local economic and social life.

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This article was published on 2010/10/08