Report - - New Sedgwick Gunpowder Works (Cumbria, Nov 2019 & Jun 2020) | Industrial Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - New Sedgwick Gunpowder Works (Cumbria, Nov 2019 & Jun 2020)


28DL Regular User
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This is more of an industrial archeological wander than a conventional explore - the place is a freely accessible National Trust site called Low Wood near Kendal.

Cumbria has several of these old gunpowder works strung out along wooded valleys, and I looked at a few of them last year, including this one at the recommendation of @tigger.

There isn’t actually much to see since by law all the individual mills had to be burnt when the site was closed to destroy traces of gunpowder, leaving only a few walls standing. Almost all the machinery was also destroyed or removed.

However the water supply system remains, and this is worth a look in itself as a good example of how to power a whole series of mills/factories off one leat (or mill race - the early industrial revolution was basically water-powered).

The second visit last week with the dog was prompted because the weather was good and I’d spent most of the time underground during the first visit and hadn’t seen all of the place.

There were a few people around, mainly other dog-walkers and the odd jogger, but this sort of excursion doesn’t really register on the covid19 risk scale.

Background. There’s a huge amount of information available online, including a detailed archeological report by English Heritage (EH, now historicengland).

Much of the information below comes from this report and I’ve also included a couple of their illustrations, without permission.

I won’t say anything here about how gunpowder is made - look it up if you’re interested - but some of the stages are mentioned below in connection with particular buildings.

History. Very briefly, the works operated from ca 1860 mainly producing black powder for the mining industry.

As demand fell off after WW1, the then owners ICI, who owned most of the Cumbrian gunpowder works, closed them all and shifted the remaining production to Ardeer in Scotland.

The map below shows the layout of the works in its final years, although there is now little trace of some of the buildings.

Many of the individual mills were rebuilt in different places anyway over the years, leaving the EH historians with a complicated industrial puzzle.

Pictures were taken with different borrowed cameras and are ordered north to south, concentrating on water-powered structures near the main leat.

Starting at A, remains of the concrete weir are visible on the far side of the river - this is what directed water down the leat.

Entrance to the leat with bits of the sluice on the ground.

A point where the little tramway which ferried materials the site around crossed over the leat.

Blast walls near B, with the remains of a small turbine house at the far end, which powered the corning machine.

Corning involved grinding slabs of compressed powder into grains and was one of the more dangerous operations.

Looking down into the turbine house - the turbine was in the pit with the grill over it on the left and water came in on the right down a branch off the main leat.

Just south is the remains of the cartridge press pump house, fed by two more branches off the main leat.

Three turbines were located where the grills are, and drove pumps for hydraulic presses in the cartridge press houses elsewhere (we’re talking about blasting cartridges for mining here).

The pumps were probably mounted on the plinths to the right.

Heading underground to look for turbines there’s nothing under the grills - this picture is looking up from the bottom of the pit in the corning turbine house.

Carrying on down the exit leat (tail race) there’s a blocked off tunnel which presumably served another water-powered mill, possibly one of the powder press houses - this is looking back north.

A bit further on another tunnel leads into the bottom of the pit where one of the water wheels which powered a group of incorporating mills lived.

There were two blocks of mills, C, each powered by a wheel - both wheels have now gone.

Incorporation was where the crude gunpowder was damped with water and ground to mix the ingredients thoroughly.

It was another dangerous step and these mills frequently blew up, which is why the superstructures of these and all the other ‘danger’ buildings were made of lightweight materials (wood, roofing felt etc.).

It’s difficult to show all the remains in one photo so here’s a nice reconstruction from EH - at this point we’re down between mills 7 and 8.

Mills 7 - 9 from the outside.

Looking down into the wheel pit, and across at about the level of the axle.

Going back down the tunnel, another offshoot leads into the wheel pit in the next group of mills, between 3 and 4 in the illustration above.

A view down into the wheel pit and another showing two openings more clearly.

The opening on the left is where the axle sat, and the one on the right was a power take-off - the gear which engaged with a ring gear on the wheel has been chopped off.

I was initially puzzled by the circular grates in the floors of the mills, which are connected underneath by little tunnels.

According to EH these were where the edge-runner mills sat, driven from below through the tunnels which are collinear with the axle of the water wheel.

The edge runners were cast iron, with a pair of iron wheels running round on a large saucer.

The machines themselves were apparently blown up when the site was shut and the only thing that remains is a chunk of iron about a yard across, lying next to a nearby path.

Heading back into the tunnel we travel down to where it comes out near the river, passing another offshoot - the view below is looking back north.

This is blocked by rubble about 20 yards in, but probably lead to the ‘preparing house’ where the ingredients were given a first mix.

There is a turbine pit but it’s partly filled with rubble with no obvious sign of a turbine.

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28DL Regular User
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Emerging from the tunnels, the cooperage complex D was the last place to inspect.

This used to contain two sawmills, and currently consists of three buildings, two of which are in use.

One of these is part of a builder’s yard and the other mostly contains junk, but also has an elderly electric motor at one end.

This apparently used to power the sawmill during WW2 - the site was requisitioned for munitions so there are a few WW2 relics dotted around.

The unused building by the roadside was both a sawmill and a watch house and is empty except for a small section of line shafting upstairs.

The main leat ends at the northern end of this building, feeding a turbine which powered one or both of the sawmills.

Views of the turbine inlet, which is the large iron pipe sticking up under the arch.

The central rod is the drive from the turbine, which is out of sight below the grid covered with rubble.

Phone pics of the top of the drive rod - one of the sawmills was at the right-hand end of the horizontal shaft.

The left-hand end also drove a pump on the ground next to the road which has a pipe taking water from the leat.

The other rod adjusts the vanes inside the turbine, controlled by a wheel outside.

The turbine was made by Gilkes, a local Kendal manufacturer who still make water turbines.

The business end of the turbine showing inlet tube and both rods - the water exited underneath.

Tunnel back to the river.

A final view upriver from a nearby pedestrian bridge - the entrances to the tunnels are somewhere under the trees in the distance.

While this type of site won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, there was more to find than I was expecting.

It seems heritage people don’t go down tunnels so there are no photos of these online or of the one remaining water turbine.

If anyone is thinking of visiting, go in winter when the vegetation has died back - I barely recognised some areas on my second visit.

This applies even more to the other gunpowder sites nearby, which are jungles at this time of year.

Calamity Jane

i see beauty in the unloved, places & things
Regular User
Beautiful, just stunning. Nice natural relaxed explore. Really interesting report, and the explanations on each part are A1. Loved it :D


Regular User
Though there are limited remains of the gunpowder works in the area (especially compared to the later South Coast remains) each of them has a few nice features for those who put the effort into looking.

Excellently documented as usual... an example in how to do it properly!

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