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Report - North Tawton wool/fulling mill, Devon. Jan 2011

Discussion in 'Industrial Sites' started by Collingwood, Jan 10, 2011.

  1. Collingwood

    Collingwood The quiet one..
    Regular User

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    I was told about this place by a good friend of mine, (and now member here), who lives in the village, and being another new site, I thought it worth sharing.
    Visited twice, first time with my kids(!) and BJ1, and again with Lectrician & incognito, to get some more shots with my now trusty 50mm prime lens.

    Some history taken from ‘The book of North Tawton’

    Wool has always been of very great importance in the South west, and the prosperity of North Tawton depended on this, and other branches of agriculture, until well into the twentieth century.
    Many words and phrases we use even today are connected with cloth making, such as ‘spinning a yarn’, ‘on tenterhooks’ and spinster. Surnames, such as webber (weaver) and Tucker (which is the Devonshire equivalent of fuller), are widely distributed in Devon.
    The first mechanisation of cloth making came in the thirteenth century, with the invention of the fulling mill powered by water-wheel. This process required running water, of which there was plenty in North Tawton. The water in the area is also soft and there is a warm and humid climate, making processing easy. North Tawton also had sheep, but wool had to be imported as well to make up the shortfall. Before the development of the fulling or tucking mill, which used water-powered hammers to make the cloth thicker and heavier, this was done by hand, foot or club. The first known fulling mill in North Tawton was at Cottles Barton in 1558.
    As the nineteenth and twentieth century’s progressed the Devonshire woollen mills failed, one by one, although North Tawton’s was one of the last to go. Unemployment was a constant worry, particularly for the weavers who were outworking. They were badly paid, and when superceeded by machinery they often ended in the workhouse. They were not eligible for relief until they sold their loom, so were in a no win situation.
    The processes carried out in the factory included sorting, washing, drying, combing, spinning and weaving. Washing the raw wool made the men’s hands very soft because of the oil it contained, and enabled one man to get a job kneading the dough at the local bakers. There were numerous sheds and workshops for all the different processes. The men were not allowed in the spinning shed where the girls were employed, but of course they disregarded this!
    A local man remembers taking the machinery from the closed mill to the station in the 1930’s when it was (allegedly) sold to German and UK manufacturers and used for war equipment. Another remembers the machines standing idle with the wool still in them. Subsequently, much valuable archival material was burnt during a clear out, so a very important part of North Tawton's history will never be known.

    A brief history since 1930

    The mill was brought by Hosken Trevithick & Polkinghorne, trading as Farm industries, for use as a store and wool grading centre.

    1939-1951. The new shed was requisitioned by the Ministry of Works, and was a major centre for storing Government wool.

    1948. The North Devon water Board abstracted water from the leat. Two pumps were built to extract water and the mains water was augmented by the factory supply.

    1950. Ambrosia of Lapford rented a building on the site, for the storage of milk and rice, where ten women were employed sorting the grain.

    1957. The North Devon Water Board leased the yard and a shed for storage at £25 per annum.

    1964. The British Wool Marketing Board took over the premises, and it became an important wool grading centre. Wool buyers came from all over the country to view the board’s samples. The Wool Board made their own electricity until 1991 and sold surplus to the Electricity Board.

    1992. Wool stores were closed at Buckfastleigh, Launceston and North Tawton and the business was concentrated in South Molton. Two of the remaining employees were transferred there. A sad end to what was once a great enterprise. In the Okehampton Times of 17 December 1992 it was reported that: West Devon Council issued a development brief for the wool factory, which, it is suggested, could be put to leisure use, e.g. a public sports hall, the mill leat could be developed for water sports, and buildings converted to a restaurant and/or museum connected with the former wool industry.

    In 1994 the premises were bought by a local land owner, and have remained empty ever since.

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