real time web analytics
Report - - Lowwood Gunpowder Works (Cumbria, Dec 2019 & Jun 2020) | Industrial Sites |

Report - Lowwood Gunpowder Works (Cumbria, Dec 2019 & Jun 2020)

Hide this ad by donating or subscribing !


28DL Regular User
Regular User
Another gunpowder ramble looking at ruins, without the dog on the most recent occasion as it doesn’t really do heavy undergrowth.
This was the second works to be established (1798) in Cumbria after Old Sedgwick (and its Basingill extension), partly on the site of a disused blast furnace on the banks of the River Leven.

The reason for gunpowder factories in this part of the UK is mostly geographical; proximity to the quarrying areas which needed blasting powder, plenty of fast flowing streams for water power, and local woods for producing charcoal.
As for the other Cumbrian gunpowder sites, English Heritage (EH) has produced a comprehensive (250+ page) archeological survey of this one, although they never seem to venture underground.

The map below is from 1913 and some of the buildings shown have now been demolished.
The rest are mostly shells since all buildings where gunpowder was processed were burned deliberately when the site closed in 1935.
The site is on private land some of which is let out as caravan sites, some as a yard cum dumping ground for local builders and the southernmost buildings have been renovated and are occupied by various businesses.

We start at the top right and follow the course of the water to the bottom left as branches come off the main leat (or mill race) to power the various sorts of mill.


A The weir and sluice which direct water down the main leat.
This was built up with concrete in the 1950s when a hydroelectric plant was constructed at the southern end, blocking some of the entrances to the branching leats.




B This was originally a corning mill then a glazing mill.
Corning is where compressed slabs of gunpowder were ground into grains; glazing is where the grains were tumbled with graphite in barrels to make them more free-flowing and damp-proof.
It’s hard to see from the first photo, which was taken from the edge of the river, but the building consists of two square cells (mills), either side of a pair of walls between which a waterwheel was mounted - many gunpowder mills had this layout.
The wheel was replaced with a turbine in the early 1900s and the wheel pit today has iron supports for the turbine (gone), an extra little wall with an inlet hole, and a control wheel.




This iron ring about 80 cm wide looks like it could be a bit of a turbine, but it’s not mentioned in the EH survey so maybe it’s just rubbish.


C Corning house. Three walls are all that remains of a corning house at this location.
The machines inside were apparently driven by belts through the holes in the rear wall.



The belt drives were water powered. The wheel pit is mostly filled-in but the culverts bringing water in and away survive.
Nothing inside except broken bottles, and bits of old electrical wiring with ceramic insulators.





D Boiler house. One of the stages in making gunpowder is drying in a ‘stove house’ warmed by pipes carrying hot air or steam.
A boiler house that provided steam has been restored and contains a water tank and a recycled boiler from an old loco (Robey,1899).
This is the only building which is on public land on the other side of the main leat, and is getting vandalised - the interior pictures were taken through broken windows.





28DL Regular User
Regular User

E Sawmill. This was used to cut wood for barrels and was originally powered by a water wheel, which also ran pumps for hydraulic presses elsewhere.
The wheel was later replaced with a turbine, which is more or less the only thing left to see here.



Draft tube emptying into the former wheel pit - water would have run out underground from behind where this photo was taken but the culvert entrance is now blocked by rubble.


The water tank/reservoir and inlet hole for the turbine and some phone pics of details (Gilkes no. 2065).



F Incorporation Mills. Gunpowder needed to be ground thoroughly to mix the ingredients and this was carried out in seven pairs of mills.
All are now ruins and some have gone completely.
What’s left are overgrown walls with fixings…


…and a few of the grinding stones lying around.



The reconstruction below from EH shows how one of the mills worked.
In this example the runner stones were driven from below with the gearing mounted on a plinth in the basement.


Empty basement.


One of mills was subsequently modified to generate electricity, and the water turbine (an Armfield) is still there.






Exit culvert - it looked like it branches left and right at the end, maybe to link up with other culverts but I didn’t check at the time.



The main leat finally turns a corner and heads off left to the hydroelectric plant.


Situated just on the corner is a sluice with a promising name on the wheel, but I couldn’t find another turbine in this area, just another little curved culvert which goes in the direction of nearby (renovated) buildings.



A final view of the modern (2011) hydroelectric plant which has two big Archimedes screws, although it wasn’t working at the time.
The little curving culvert pictured above may end in one of the holes in the bank on the right.


According to EH, Lowwood is the ‘best northern example surviving’ of a gunpowder factory with an ‘exceptional range of components and intact layout with good surviving building groups’.
Regardless, it’s quite a picturesque spot for a walk even if you don’t want to ogle water turbines or crawl down culverts.

Calamity Jane

i see beauty in the unloved, places & things
Regular User
Enjoyed this. Really like the stone/slate/rock formations in the culverts. The wildness is beautiful. Boiler room & old turbine to boot are so cool. Looks like a lovely mooch around, and interesting. :thumb