History

Textile Heritage

The roots of our textile heritage lie under the ground.

The limestone hilltops provide a perfect pasture for sheep and an ideal building material; the clay layers beneath create the springs – fresh water for the cottages and a plentiful supply for the fast running streams that can turn waterwheels. And there’s the clay, fullers earth.

Explore the landscape – there are hundreds of footpaths, many link settlements to the mills so that, for the workers, it was always uphill at the end of a long working day.

Before the Industrial Revolution spinners and weavers would work in the cottages, supplied with wool or yarn by the clothier to whom the woven cloth would be returned for dyeing and finishing. The cloth was traditionally a plain broadcloth woven on a wide loom with two men sitting side by side throwing the shuttle back and forth.

The dyeing and finishing processes would take place at the clothier’s mill where fulling stocks, driven by a waterwheel, would shrink the cloth by up to a third. Teazles would be used to raise the nap and huge shears would trim off the excess.

The Stroudwater area became famous for its dyeing; especially the scarlet that was used for military uniforms. Cochineal (dried insects) from South America was expensive but gave the brightest red dye. Indigo would be used for blues, so that naval officers chose Stroudwater broadcloth. If they could afford it. The cloth would be hung out to dry on the hillsides on the tenterhooks. Exports went all round the world.

Innovations in machinery expanded the mills. Spinners and weavers became mill workers, along with their children. Steam engines now supplemented water power with the coal being transported along the canal.

At the height of its prosperity the Stroud area had over a hundred mills but it could not sustain them all and mergers and bankruptcies became all too common. Many impoverished ex-mill workers emigrated to Australia, America and Canada sprinkling these new lands with Gloucestershire names.

Today Stroud cloth still goes round the world, but you will see it on tennis balls and snooker tables and less visibly in industrial felts. The crafts of spinning, dyeing and weaving survive as contemporary artists pass on their skills and keep that thread going, from the past into the future.

Background to the local wool industry

by Professor Jennifer Tann

Much of the Gloucestershire landscape would appear very different were it not for the wool trade and the woollen industry. The ‘wool’ churches of Northleach, Winchcombe, Cirencester might be less grand; the gracious houses on the valley sides might not exist, for many were built by clothiers with money from the trade. And in the valley bottoms, while there are still many mills, there were even more in the period 1750-1820.
The “five valleys” of Stroudwater, together with the Little Avon/Doverte Brook and the Ewelme/Cam contained almost 200 Mills in the industry’s heyday during the early Industrial Revolution.

But it all started long before then. A domestic industry had grown up in the countryside, wool being spun and woven in cottages for local use. To make it warmer and also more weatherproof, some of the woven cloth was thickened by being walked on in tubs or troughs, with fullers earth and water. This was the fulling process. By the early middle ages, the woollen industry had developed significantly in major towns, including Gloucester and Bristol, both of which had craft guilds. The mechanisation of fulling in the 11th century led to the woollen industry migrating to the countryside – to faster flowing streams and rivers which could generate the waterpower required for fulling mills – and away from the controlling craft guilds. A pair of 19th century fulling stocks can be seen at STT’s display in Dunkirk Mill.

Early fulling mills were owned by monasteries – the Abbot of Winchcombe had three fulling mills on Abbey estates; a development from the extensive wool trade conducted by the Abbot. Lay landowners were quick to follow suit, early medieval fulling mills being widely distributed along river valleys in Gloucestershire.

Tudor times

By Tudor times Stroudwater and the two major river systems south of the Frome, had many mills clustered along them. Much of Gloucestershire’s broadcloth was exported in its undressed, white, state from London and was recognised as a significant source of income for the Crown – and a subject of state regulation. Gloucestershire clothiers were ambivalent on state intervention: petitioning for controls during recession and ignoring them when times were good (usually getting away with it). One of the pieces of state legislation consistently ignored in Gloucestershire, was the adoption of the powered gig mill to raise the nap or surface of the cloth with teazles. A gig mill can be seen at Dunkirk Mill.

Stuart times

A detailed and unique picture of the scale and distribution of the early Stuart woollen industry in Gloucestershire is given in a muster roll of 1608 which lists names and occupations. By this time the Gloucestershire woollen industry was firmly concentrated on the Cotswold scarp and the total recorded population of many of these industrial villages and hamlets was higher than elsewhere.
A new, lighter, woollen fabric called Spanish Cloth, consisting of two or more colours, was being made by some Gloucestershire clothiers by 1620, mainly in the southern area.

By the mid-17th-century the prime water power sites for mill construction in the main river valleys were all occupied, capacity growing through the addition of further pairs of fulling stocks. Many were double mills. The concentration of mills along the Frome was greatest upstream of Stroud, where the gradient of the valley was steeper. A typical mid 17th-century mill estate might include a gabled mill building – almost indistinguishable from the clothier’s house nearby. A fine painting of Wallbridge (in the Museum in the Park) shows a 17th-century gabled mill, together with dyehouse and dwelling house complex (although painted at the end of the 18th-century).

King and State

The 17th century was a turbulent period for the woollen industry. It suffered at the hands of the state in the period leading up to the Civil War, London merchants only being permitted to buy white, undyed cloth as a result of the ill-fated Cockayne Experiment. At the outbreak of the Civil War clothiers were suspected of favouring the Parliamentary side. In 1642, the King authorised Prince Rupert to commandeer all cloth in the chief areas of Gloucestershire and have it sent to Cirencester. Whether most clothiers were paid seems doubtful, since they had to go to Oxford to collect it. Trade conditions were difficult for the rest of the 17th-century.

In 1691, Gloucestershire JPs wrote to the Privy Council, pointing out that the unemployed workmen were starving. Two acts were passed in 1726 and 1727 to regulate the woollen industry, including requiring magistrates to approve wages. Gloucestershire clothiers were said to have treated the orders with contempt. A new act was passed in 1756 and weavers threatened to throw any of their fellows who said they were satisfied with their wages into the masters’ mill ponds. Then they struck work for six weeks. Major General James Wolfe, better known for his campaign in Canada, was sent in command of six companies of infantry to restore order. A massive riot took place in and around Wotton in 1766, which resulted in the execution of three men, many others being transported. While clothiers complained loudly about the conditions of trade, the Clutterbuck, Peach, Wathen, Paul, Halliday and other families were not put out of business. The people who suffered most were, inevitably, the smaller clothiers and textile workmen who had little or no capital to fall back on.

Organisation

Daniel Defoe described the organisation of the industry in early 18th-century in which the clothier ‘put out’ wool to be spun in the surrounding villages, had the yarn returned and distributed to weavers in nearby cottages. He continued. “It was no extraordinary thing to have clothiers in that county worth from £10,000-£40,000 a man, and many of the great families, who now passed the gentry in these counties have been originally raised from and built-up by this truly noble manufacture.” Some of the great clothing family names were already significant players in the industry by the mid 17th century and continued in the trade through the early industrial revolution. The Webbs, Capels, Arundels. Sewells, Clutterbucks were mill owners of considerable wealth. Clothier families intermarried: Jasper Clutterbuck of Kings Stanley (d.1782) married the daughter of a Clothier as had his father. The most upwardly mobile marriage was between Nathanial Clutterbuck and Mary Clifford, co-heiress of Frampton Court.

Smaller clothiers neither owned nor rented a mill but owned tools of the trade and carried out some of the processes themselves. They, too, owned the materials at all stages of manufacture, but sent their cloth to be fulled and dyed on commission at local mills. The weaver often had few possessions; living in his own or in a rented cottage. He worked long hours and walked to the clothier’s mill or workshop to collect a heavy chain of yarn. One Painswick Clothier had to mortgage his loom, three beds and other goods to repay a debt to £20.

Clothier’s Houses

Many 17th and early 18th century clothiers lived in houses near their mills, their gabled dwellings looking much like some of the adjacent mills, as wealth was accumulated. Houses were remodelled and some clothiers moved away from the valleys to live in grander, more spacious houses on the hillsides. When Wortley house, formerly the home of the Osborne family of Monks mill, Alderley, was advertised for sale in 1776, it was said to be “fit for a gentleman or a Clothier”. One of the most intriguing clothier’s house was New Mills, Stroud. It was unusual in that house and mill were a continuous range and deliberately designed so that the boundaries between the two were not obvious, giving appearance of an elegant country seat.

Industrial Revolution

The years 1790 to 1835, were characterised by innovation and risk-taking; optimism and expansion – and business failure. In these years, the Gloucestershire woollen industry was transformed from one when reasonably prosperous broad weavers could join the ranks of the smaller clothiers to one in which the capital required for setting up in business was too great for this to happen. Business success demanded organisational skills, knowledge of new processes and machinery, besides a knowledge of markets. In all, nearly 200 mills, from small single-function premises to larger more complex ones, were in operation for some years of the early Industrial Revolution.

The typical Gloucestershire woollen mill at the end of the 18th century comprised fulling stocks, a gig mill and, perhaps, a dye house and shear shop; the Hooper family rebuilt parts of their mills in Eastington between 1798 and 1808 and there was a major rebuild in the Stonehouse mills between 1790 and 1800. Stanley Mill, built from 1813 at an ancient fulling mill site, was partly iron-framed with an elegant cascaded interior structure, unique in the world. Cam Mill was rebuilt in 1818, while the greatest investor of all was Edward Shepherd of Uley, who is reputed to have to have spent £50,000 on his Great Factory and associated buildings by 1833. In periods of business optimism corn mills were adapted or new small water powered mills built in the remote upper reaches of valleys. On the whole, such mills never became fully fledged factories and, when hard times came, they were amongst the first to fail. By the early 19th century Yorkshire competition was being felt but there is little evidence that Gloucestershire clothiers were slow to adopt new machinery at this stage.

The key processes in the manufacture of a piece of broadcloth were:

  • Wool  Preparation:
  • Scouring with urine (known as seg) at the clothier’s premises
  • Picking by the willy, or devil to open the fibres
  • Dyeing (for some cloths)when dr

Power Systems

The high dependence on water power meant that, while the mills further downstream had a greater volume of water when it arrived, it sometimes didn’t arrive till lunchtime. Mills higher upstream had access to the water earlier in the day; but there was less of it. Waterpower engineering had become an art by the Industrial Revolution: waterwheel design and millwrighting – power transmission- besides engineering works to optimise the fall and volume of water at each site. Millwrighting wasn’t an occupation created by the Industrial Revolution, but a survival from an earlier age.

There are no descriptions of the kinds of waterwheels in Gloucestershire mills until well into the Industrial Revolution, but it is likely that the majority were simple wooden breast-shot wheels. Iron wheels became more common from the mid-19th century, some being made by Ferrabee at Thrupp.

Because of Gloucestershire’s relatively good endowment of waterpower, there were not very many animal-driven mills, although horses turned the machinery for a clothier at Berkeley and a 26 foot diameter two-horse wheel was itemised in the sale of a Uley clothier’s effects in 1807. There was also horse-powered workshop in Vicarage Street in Painswick.

The first steam engine to be erected in a Gloucestershire woollen mill was ordered in 1802 and between then and 1837, 35 new and one second-hand Boulton & Watt engines were ordered by Gloucestershire woollen manufacturers. It is clear that most clothiers initially used steam to supplement waterpower rather than to supplant it.

Woollen industry workers

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution cloth finishing processes were largely undertaken by men who worked in mills or workshops, the gig mill needing the assistance of a boy. Preparatory processes were women’s work, also assisted by a child. As the spinning jenny increased in size some women’s work was lost and yarn preparation was undertaken by a man with two children, while the prior machine scribbling and carding was done by a child. Weaving was cottage-based undertaken by a man with the assistance of a child. Unlike the early cotton and silk mills in the north, many of which were dependent on the labour of pauper child apprentices from workhouses, there is no evidence of the use of this kind of labour in the Gloucestershire woollen industry. Child labour was part of the family economy and children probably came into the mills as part of a family unit.

State of Trade 1790 to 1835

There was little to challenge to woollen cloth’s supremacy over worsted for men’s clothing: “The country squire still wore usually blue on Sunday and Stroud water Scarlet on Monday.” But this market was not growing and, with mechanisation, fewer mills could meet the demand. It became clear that, to survive, a business capability was essential, and even this could not guarantee success. 140 woollen manufacturers are listed in Gell and Bradshaw’s 1820 Directory, but this excluded a number of smaller businesses. In 1825 the weavers struck for better pay. Edward Shepherd of Uley gave in to most of the demands and encouraged his fellow manufacturers to do the same but the strike dragged on into the autumn in Stroudwater. In December a number of country banks failed, and the industry was plunged into deep depression. The panic of 1825 sealed the fate of many of the smaller businesses. 16 firms went bankrupt in 1826, nine, from Uley and Wotton-under-Edge. By 1828 the West of England woollen industry was said to be on the decline. Some cloth manufacturers, such as William Marling of Ham Mill, showed optimism and continued to generate profits but when the factory inspectors visited the southern Gloucestershire cloth making area they found many empty mills and much destitution.

Labour unrest

The Gloucestershire textile worker was more vulnerable to the adoption of machinery than his/her Yorkshire counterpart because of the greater specialisation in different crafts. There were different reactions to machinery in the three main south-western textile counties; the gig mill and shearing machine prompted the “Wiltshire Outrages” whereas there was little disturbance in Gloucestershire. Gloucestershire Shearman, unlike their Wiltshire and Yorkshire counterparts who resorted to violence, took the legal route and sought to prohibit the use of shearing machines for fine cloth. But the petition was presented to late and the machines were introduced relatively peacefully.

The flying the shuttle was designed for the narrow loom. This explains its earlier adoption in Yorkshire than the West of England. It was adopted by a Stonehouse clothier in 1793, and prompted a deputation of weavers to him, resulting in the clothiers agreeing to sell the shuttle to weavers. But, to control entrants to the trade in the early 19th century, handloom weavers sought Parliamentary action to endorse the old regulatory statutes requiring apprenticeship. The Peace of 1802 (from the French wars), and the reduction in demand for military cloth, led to many weavers depending on parish relief. In 1806 it was said: ‘ many before… (the peace)… could have good beer in their houses and a sack of flour, who cannot have anything of the kind now”. The threat of weavers’ riots was sufficiently serious for the clothiers to seek action in 1802 which led, in 1809, to the repeal of the old statutes. While Luddites were burning some Yorkshire mills, the only sign of tension in Gloucestershire was the sending of a letter by one ‘E. Lud’ to John Lewis of Brimcombe, threatening to burn down his mills if his workers were not better paid.

In 1825, despite trade being good, the weavers struck for a pay rise to compensate for the harder and longer hours required in weaving fine-spun yarn. It was a well organised strike and membership of the Stroud Valley Weavers Union increased in a few days from 400 to 5000. In 1826, with the onset of depression, out of a total population of around 6000 in Bisley, only 658 were in full work. One way in which some manufacturers sought to continue in business was through the payment of truck – payment in kind or in vouchers. This was particularly prevalent in Chalford. The minor depression of 1834 prompted strikes against individual factory owners:Edward Shepherd of Uley, William Playne at Longford Mill and Playne and Smith at Dunkirk Mill who apparently paid lower rates than those at Stanley Mill. The factory inspector summed up the situation; manufacturers were diminishing in the West and increasing in the North.

The adoption of power looms led to great distress for the handloom weavers. The labour market was overstocked with weavers and, in a recession, the unemployed in any village could run to hundreds. The governor of Horsley prison noted in 1840 that weavers were grateful for their daily food and left prison with regret, not knowing where the next meal would come from. The most strongly favoured remedy was migration or emigration. Only one money-paying master was left in Chalford. Population decline in the Ewelme valley was severe whilst in Stroudwater it was most marked in Bisley and Painswick

Concentration and decline

In the early part of the 19th-century the larger Gloucestershire clothiers were up-to-date, perhaps even ahead, in the adoption of machinery. New developments in machines for wool preparation and cloth finishing continued in Gloucestershire, a stream of patents coming from the Ferrabees’ Ironworks in Thrupp. But there were few developments in either spinning or weaving technologies. Until the spinning mule became self acting for wool (as distinct from cotton) the carriage had to be returned and the yarn wound onto cops by the operative. So it is highly likely that mules in Gloucestershire in the 1830s and 40s were not self acting, but hand-operated. However, they had many more spindles than the largest spinning jenny and were therefore more productive. The self-acting mule was adopted by some of the more advanced firms in Yorkshire in the 1850s, but was adopted more slowly in Gloucestershire; there was one at Cam Mill by 1867.

While power looms were adopted by leading Yorkshire woollen manufacturers by the late 1820s and early 1830s, only four were recorded in Gloucestershire by 1835. By 1840, while there were power looms in major Stroud mills, none are recorded in the mills on the Ewelme or Little Avon rivers. This is not necessarily an indication of decline, for the power loom was much slower in woollen than worsted weaving; broadcloth, as its name suggests, being wider. What did disadvantage West of England manufacturers was that there was no local manufacturer of power looms and mill owners had to buy from Yorkshire. By 1840 there were some 1054 factory-based looms in Gloucestershire, but the majority were handlooms. By 1850 there were 224 power looms in Gloucestershire and from the 1860s power loom adoption increased markedly.

Fulling mills were gradually replaced by the rotary milling machine, which had been developed in Wiltshire in 1834. By the 1850s, John Ferrabee was manufacturing milling machines at Thrupp, but fulling by stocks continued in use into the early 20th century, sometimes being used in conjunction with with milling machines.

Milling and raising made the greatest demands on available power and, by the mid 19th century water, alone, could not alone provide this for the larger factories. Peter Playne calculated the water horse power of his four mills in 1848 and in the same year the power requirements of all the machinery. There was a shortfall. He estimated that Dunkirk Mill waterwheels generated 28 hp, but the machinery required 51hp. By 1850 Gloucestershire woollen mills had 806 hp in steam and 1485 hp in water; 11 years later, steam horse had increased to 1079 hp.

While, as in earlier periods, there were seasonal and cyclical trade fluctuations, they were accompanied by industrial concentration and eventual decline. Meanwhile the woollen industries in Yorkshire and Scotland expanded. Various estimates of total factory numbers are probably all too low; 133 Gloucestershire woollen mills were recorded at work in 1831; and the number had fallen to 77 by 18 41. Some 15 manufacturers failed between 1835 and 1841, the most well-known bankrupts being Hicks of Eastington in 1835, and Edward Shepherd of Uley in 1837. Many clothiers who failed had smaller businesses. Others, such as the Playnes and Marlings built up their firms by employing good business practices and living within their means. People were puzzled: “It appears to be a strange fact that the masters are breaking and the men are in rags, yet there is as much cloth made as ever.” By 1850, 80 mills were employing just over 6000 people.

Gloucestershire cloth manufacturers produced exhibits for the 1851 Great Exhibition which were said to be representative of the usual goods produced, rather than a display “got up expressly for the occasion”. The jury believed that they had misunderstood the object of the Exhibition. By 1862 manufacturers seem to have understood the role of international exhibitions rather better and eight woollen manufacturers were awarded medals. In that year, Henry Mayhew published a detailed account of manufacturing processes at Lodgemore and Fromehall mills, with detailed descriptions of the processes, the operatives and their appearance. The visitors remarked on the great manufacturing artists “who think it worth their while to devote some five months continued labour to the production of a single piece of perfect broadcloth”. By 1870 the number of woollen factories had fallen to 28, employing just over 3800 people.

It seems clear that Gloucestershire firms were unwilling to learn of changes in demand. The great increase was for woollens at the cheaper end of the market, while the middle classes had come to expect more frequent changes in fashion. In Leeds the ready-made clothing industry brought fashionable suiting within the pockets of the less well-off yet, while Stroud developed a ready-made clothing industry, it was not supplied with locally made fabrics. Meanwhile, the Scottish tweed industry flourished and, while some Gloucestershire firms began to make tweeds, they were introduced too late. Some Gloucestershire firms attempted to attract one or more textile designers from Scotland, but this was an inadequate response to the need for a change in manufacturing culture .

Those businesses which survived were leaner, more professional and highly mechanised and were beginning to diversify their product ranges and introduce new fibres such as vicuna and alpaca. There were still profits to be made but by far fewer firms. A directory of 1900 records 17 cloth mills, of which only Cam Mill was identified in the lower region; part of the factory was lit by electricity and a private railway system had been erected through the premises. Four mills survived in the Nailsworth Valley, while along the Frome, the surviving mills were all in the lower and middle area with no cloth mills above Brimscombe. Hooper’s mills in Eastington suddenly closed in 1906. Manufacturers that survived the post -World War 1 depression innovated in process, product, technology and work organisation, including diversification into non-apparel textiles at Longford and Lodgemore mills. In 1920 a merger took place bringing Longford, Cam, Lodgemore and Fromehall mills together under a holding company, the individual mills continuing to operate separately. Competition was keen and getting keener; there were colourful characters at each of these mills but superlative skills such as Ralph Bassett’s at Bowbridge were insufficient to stem the tide. To succeed, a 20th-century woollen mill required effective management and leadership. The manager needing “all the energy, foresight, and tact he can command”.

Firms were undercapitalised for the 20th century unless there were mergers and limited liability status. The close proximity of machinery manufacturers to Yorkshire cloth manufacturers clearly gave impetus to technological innovation. The Gloucestershire woollen industry was slow to respond to changes in demand for lighter fabrics and, when it did, it was a case of too little too late. Manufacturers was slow to diversify; the so-called “palmy days” for traditional broadcloth may have lulled firms producing these fabrics into a continued dependency on products which they had made for many years. The proximity of Leeds-based merchants with their intimate knowledge of markets, was an asset to Yorkshire textile firms. And Yorkshire manufacturers travelled to potential customers to learn of their needs at first hand, something most Gloucestershire manufacturers seem to have been reluctant to do. They were late, compared with Yorkshire, in recognising the importance of technical education for operatives. High tariffs in selected European countries and the USA made it well-nigh impossible for high cost West of England cloth to compete. By sticking to the top of the range in quality and price, and showing an apparent reluctance to adopt new yarns and fibres, woollen manufacturers in Gloucestershire seemed reluctant to change and, perhaps, did not have the heart for the new business environment of the 20th century.

The future of cloth manufacture in Gloucestershire for much of the 20th century was held by two firms: Winterbottom, Strachan & Playne and Marling & Evans. While there was some tentative moves towards rationalisation in both companies it wasn’t until after World War 2 that economies and horizontal integration were seriously addressed. Dyeing was transferred to Lodgemore and Cam and Bowbridge Dyeworks was closed. A first serious attempt to rationalise production in Winterbottom, Strachan & Playne mills was defeated in 1951 after an acrimonious general meeting. However, it became clear that demand for traditional high-quality cloth was not sufficient for the capacity of the mills and a work-study engineer was appointed in 1953. In the event the group decided to do what it believed it did best, at a level other companies found it difficult to compete with. It took until 1990 for a thoroughly radical solution to emerge to save the group. In that year Winterbotham Strachan & Playne was acquired by Milliken’s an innovative, USA-based company, and manufacture ceased at Longford Mill. On Mr Millican’s death, there was a management buyout creating W. S. P. Textiles Ltd in 2011 working to ensure the continuance of wool textiles in Gloucestershire.

In 1946 Marling & Evans rationalised production moving all the weaving to Stanley, with wool preparation and spinning being undertaken at Ebley. In the 1950s and 60s, Marling & Evans began to produce non-apparel cloth at Stanley Mill, including a fireproof cloth called Nomex, made under exclusive licence from the US patentees, but there was a lack of investment in this branch. In the early 1980s, the company decided to close Ebley Mill and move all operations to Stanley and in December 1989, the apparel side of the business closed, while Marling Industrial Felts continues.

Stroudwater is now the home and workplace for numerous artists and designers and craftspeople in contemporary textiles, including two trustees of the Stroudwater Textile Trust. And, while a number of mills have been demolished, particularly in the lower valleys, many have been conserved and new uses found for them. The Stroud Valley is now a heritage conservation area. And Longford Old Mill of 1712 is to become a textile centre for the Stroudwater Textile Trust. The textile landscape is a hugely valuable part of the heritage for everyone.

History of Dunkirk Mill

Dunkirk Mill – Now home to the Dunkirk Mill Museum (opening times) and a modern residential development

Richard Middlemore’s Mill

1601 The earliest reference is in the deeds, but to what is not explained.

25th November 1741 Earliest Reference: An advertisement for cloth stolen from the racks of the New Mills near Dunkirck, 17 yards of Raw Cloth, with a blue Stop List. Value about 4s. per yard when drest, white, belonging to Daniell Deverell, near the New Mills, clothier. He offered a reward of three guineas, and freedom from prosecution for anyone cooperating.

1740s Rates Payments:

Samuel YeatesNew Mills1/3d
Thomas DeverellDyehouse Mill1/2d
John PinfoldLongfords Mill1/11d
Samuel PeachSt Mary’s Mill2/1d

A general view of the site in c1740, the mill pond is much the same as it is now with wheel and sluices in the same place as the 1855 wheel.

A reconstruction of how the mill buildings may have looked in the mid C18th, at this stage the mill was used for fulling and raising.

To be LET or SOLD, a commodious FULLING MILL, called the New Mills, parish of Minchinhampton, lately occupied by Mr Samuel Yeats, very convenient for either a Clothing Mill, or to be converted into a Grist Mill, never wanting water, and nearly situate to Dunkirk, which is now advertised to be let.

From the Gloster Journal 6/9/1785

Richard Middlemore bought from Edward Sheppard esq. of Gatcomb for £420 the dwelling house and fulling mill adjoining, called New Mills, with the stocks, gig mill and other the millwork therein contained and the outbuildings, all late the possession of Samuel Yeats and all that shear shop with the buildings etc late in the possession of James Hoddinot with the tenements and rooms over the same and all those dwelling houses, nearby now or late in the possessions of William Robbins, John Webb and George Stibbs as his tenants.

  • the close of pasture adjoining called Rack Close
  • the laggett of pasture or road or way from the highway near Dunkirk House down to the said mill
  • allowing right of way down the lagger way to a meadow of Edward Sheppard adjoining the mill called Longmead.
  • Middlemore and his partner Richard Flight were clothiers and co-partners, dealers and chapmen.

The Map Evidence:

1780 New Mills is shown on the map of the new turnpike road from Dudbridge to Nailsworth. The mill appears to be the wrong way round and the mill race and outflow are not shown.
N.B. 1885 The Parish Boundary between Minchinhampton and Avening follows the line of the mill race demonstrating that New Mills was erected on the historic line of the river. Some meanders in the line demonstrate that the river was straightened at some point. (True of earlier maps)

1798 Bankruptcy

Middlemore had loans from a Bristol merchant and creditors included a linen draper, a woollen draper, and three drysalters from that city. Other names point to more local business; a family of woolstaplers from Tetbury; a Nailsworth woolstapler; a major dyer from Wallbridge.

The sale to John Cooper of Woodchester, clothier, for £1,780, covered the cost of the mortgages. Other creditors received 5/- in the £.

John Cooper’s new spinning mill of 1798 was the first step in transforming New Mills into the great clothing manufactory to be known as Dunkirk Mills

Detail of the existing New Mills on the left and the new five spinning block on the right

1798 Benefiting from the demand for uniform cloth during the French Wars Cooper invested in new machinery, such as spinning jennies, and built his new block to house them. They were powered by two waterwheels.

To secure a firm foundation for the mill on the blue clay of the former flood plain the walls were built on stone slabs resting on elm piles sunk into the clay. Perhaps the mansard roof was designed to reduce the load on the piles.

1804 John Cooper was rated £80, higher than any neighbouring mill, for:
The New Mills 5 storeys high containing 4 stocks, 1 gig mill, machinery, millman’s house, Dye House, Scouring House, Shear shops, press house, picking house and wool stove.

And £12 for Dunkirk House:
The House, offices, workshops, stables, gardens & pleasure ground.
The re-christening of New Mills as Dunkirk Mills is explained by Cooper buying Dunkirk House as well. The link between lasted no longer than his business.

Peter Playne the Builder

1815 John & Joseph Cooper bankrupt.

1816 William Playne bought the mill for £4,500, covering the mortgages and 10/- in the £ for other creditors. He shared the mills with his brother Peter. They had the same arrangement at Longfords Mill.

1818 Peter Playne built his first block and installed two water wheels. Total water power varied between 40 & 10 h.p. A new reservoir was created.

1820 He installed a Boulton & Watt 14 h.p. steam engine and added a boiler house on the front of his new mill block.

1822 Peter Playne took over the whole estate including:

  • the dwelling house & fulling mills adjoining, lately called the New Mills but now Dunkirk Mill
  • the outbuildings, cottages, shear shop etc occupied by William Playne
  • close of meadow the Rack Leaze
  • lagger of pasture or way from Dunkirk House to the mills occupied by Peter Playne
  • the alterations & additional buildings & improvements made by John Cooper & Peter Playne
  • close of pasture Spout Meadow.

In the later 1820s Peter, and the firm Playne & Smith, enormously expanded Dunkirk, becoming one of the principal manufacturers of the district producing broad and narrow cloths.

1827 He added a block for hand loom weavers next to his mill. By 1839 it housed 2 power looms and 67 handlooms.

1829 He built a large wool warehouse beside the road.


A source of profits

1820 The East India Company gave William & Peter Playne an order for 5,000 pieces of Spanish Striped List cloths, half in December 1820 and half in February 1821 …only 10 were rejected and they were put in condition and accepted in February. At 36 yards each the order was 102 miles long. The firm was paid £52,600. Such enterprise helped to rob the Chalford mills of their specialised market in Company cloths.

1833 Strike by his hand-loom weavers of 6 weeks.

1834 Yearly wages total £680.

  • Accidents: only 1 fatal one; no one disabled
  • The only night-work is fulling & no children are employed at this
  • There are 4 children under 9; they are seldom employed under 8
  • Discipline: mainly by small fines which are put to the fund for charitable purposes for the work-people
  • Corporal punishment is very seldom used except by the parents
  • They are discharged if they do not answer our purpose
  • Ventilation: by opening windows, air passages in the walls, manual fans
  • Heating is by steam pipes and manual fans
  • Clothes can by dried in the stove; it sometimes reaches 90° (F);

1839 Playne & Smith employed at the mill 2 power looms & 67 hand looms; 4 hand looms were unemployed. The Playne view:

as long as his men can afford to work as cheap as cloth can be made by power, he should retain human labour

Witness about 10 years ago kept only 2 looms; he was obliged to give up, from Mr Playne putting up shop-looms, and he went into the factory.

Playne Brothers


1848 The three sons of Peter were running the mill.

1851 Entry in the catalogue of the Great Exhibition:

220 Playne P.P. & Co., Nailsworth. Woaded*, wool dyed cloths, illustrations of the process of manufacturing cloth. These are specimens of the wool in each step of manufacture, from the raw material to the finished cloth, and are very tastefully arranged in a neat polished glass case.

*woaded = black though dyed using indigo not the outdated woad.

1855 The brothers demolished the buildings on the New Mills site and built two large blocks allowing the concentration of production at Dunkirk. The water wheel was installed, unusually driving machinery in each block.

The mill was now as up to date as it could be: spinning was by mules; weaving by power looms; fulling by the new milling machines.

1861 Employed at Dunkirk: 60 men, 31 boys, 94 women, 6 girls.

1862 London International Exhibition

Honourable Mention: Playne & Co. for cloth well made & finished in various qualities.

Railways

1863 Charles Playne was a member of two committees; one promoting the Stonehouse to Nailsworth railway and the other Nailsworth to Chippenham.

The 2.30 p.m. goods train stopped at Dunkirk siding.

Reconstruction drawings of Dunkirk Mills c1872 at the height of its development as a woollen manufactory.

1878 Hard Times: Dear Sir.

The West of England suffers beyond other places when wool is dear, as it has been of late because buyers confronted by the continual outcry for cheap goods are apt to go to Yorkshire. The old staple trade, e.g. black broadcloth and does has disappeared owing to change of fashion….

1889 I have had the pleasure of seeing the manufacturers at the zenith of their glory and the mortification of seeing the woollen trade as it exists today … the cause?…the introduction of worsted…..plain black woollen cloth is gone out of fashion…

Reply … The closing of a number of small mills and two or three large ones only proves that the law of the survival of the fittest, and the centralisation of production, have penetrated our district. There is no doubt that more cloth is being made in our district than ever before….

Closure of the Mill, 1889

Warning Bell

25/1/1889
To capitalists & woollen manufacturers Mr Alexander Playne would be glad to meet with an engagement in, or to start, a manufactory of Woollen Cloth. Specific experience in judging fine wools & cloths. Can undertake the complete organisation & financial control of all processes, of a large business. 18 years experience. Morningside, Nailsworth.

Difficult Times

Ebley Mill closed and in successive weeks sales were held:

  • Of the machinery at Woodchester Mills. Disappointing prices.
  • Of the mill, lands and machinery of Vatch Mills. Disappointing.

Of the VALUABLE WOOLLEN CLOTH MACHINERY at Dunkirk:

5 Capital Scribbling & Condensing machines with Apperley’s & Lister’s feeds; 44 Broad Looms; 5 Self acting Mules; Belgian & Perpetual Cutters by Lewis etc.; Brushing Machines; 6 Fullers by Ferrabee; 3 Washers; Double Belgian Gig; Hydraulic & Screw Presses; Press Oven; Press Papers & Boards; Iron Screw Steam Press; 2 Steaming Vats; 3 Copper Dye Furnaces; Tucking Machines; Tearing Machines; Picking Machine with Self acting Feed; Dying Machine; Warping Drying & Sizing Machine; Wringing & Wetting Machines; Spooling Machines; 2 Cloth Measuring Machines; Grinding Frames & Grinders; Iron Bed Lathe; Drilling Machines; Iron Circular Saws & Bench; Indigo Mill; Iron Steam Boiler; Forge Back & Bellows; Anvils; Blacksmiths’ Tools; Iron Vices; 2 Iron Lifting Cranes; Pulley Wheels; Weighing Machines; Harness; Sleys; a Stock of Teazles etc

7/6/1889 The whole of the machinery at Dunkirk Mills was sold and realised good prices.

15/9/1889
To be LET or SOLD,DUNKIRK MILLS, Nailsworth, large and valuable Manufacturing Premises, containing about 6,000 square yards of floor space, 4 water wheels, 2 steam engines, 2 boilers, large dyehouses and outbuildings, with a siding on the M.R. Rent £250, for sale £3,000, also EGYPT MILL, Nailsworth, containing about 700 square yards floor space, 2 water wheels, about 20 h.p. Rent £65, for sale at £800. ~ Apply P.P. & C. PLAYNE, Nailsworth.

1890 Alexander Playne left for Montevideo on a wool buying expedition.

History of Gigg Mill

The Dobcross Powerloom at Gigg (Opening times for Gigg Mill).

Gigg Mill is built on the Horsley brook at a spot where the stream plunges down in to the Nailsworth Valley. In the early 1900s power was still provided by a 17 foot diameter waterwheel.

The small mill is unpretentious, however this is a historic mill-site. Its origins are uncertain but it was part of the estate of a clothier which he bought in 1559. When the Castleman family inherited the estate in 1751 Gigg was mentioned.

However there is little to say about what happened here until John Remmington bought the estate in the 1790s. He probably rebuilt the mill to house the new carding and spinning machinery, just as he did further up the valley at Horsley Mill. Gigg, nowadays so small and tucked away, was part of the Industrial Revolution.

Remmington prospered, adding a sumptuous front to his house up the hill. His cloth was bought by the East India Company for sale to China. An entry in the Company books briefly records the final settlement after his retirement:

December 1811 Broadcloth J. Rimmington £180

So for a time Gigg was in touch with the wider world. But the site was too restricted to compete with large mills in the valley. Also its isolation meant transport costs were high. So its demise as a cloth mill seems inevitable. Then in the 1860s a fire destroyed part of the mill. Only a tiny drawing survives to suggest the mill stood three storeys high with a row of six windows on each floor.

Visit the Weaving Shed at Gigg Mill

History of Longfords Mill

by Ian Mackintosh

The local textile industry dates back to the Middle Ages and evidence for a mill at Longfords survives in the Minchinhampton Custumal of 1304. It was described there as a water mill which is interpreted as meaning it was a corn mill. However by the 1600s it was a combined fulling and corn mill, typical of many in the valleys.

In 1759 Thomas Playne leased the estate, house, farm and mill. An estate map of 1766 shows the extent of the property and location of the buildings. Thomas Playne was one of many local and generally small suppliers to the East India Company. Thomas’s sons William and Peter Playne expanded the mill considerably. They built two other water powered mills, creating a twelve acre lake to power them and buying their first Boulton & Watt steam engine in 1815. The brothers divided Longfords and Dunkirk between them with William occupying the whole Longfords site. However they continued to supply the East India Company as a partnership and in 1820 were apparently the largest supplier of cloth to it, £20,000 – worth. It was estimated that the cloth if laid end to end would have reached from the mill to their London office.

The dynamic leadership of William and his son William junior ensured that the firm William Playne & Co. adapted to the innovations in production introduced in the 19th century and it enormously increased with the development of new markets. Unlike the Stanley and Ebley Mills sites where major new buildings replaced the historic fulling mills Playnes added new buildings when necessary. So there was a confusing maze of structures by the end of the century but this “illustrated as well as any site in the region the evolution of the integrated woollen mill from its beginnings in the early 18th century” (RCHM 1990)

The 20th century saw equally dramatic changes as the firm, now a subsidiary of Winterbotham Strachan & Playne Ltd, struggled to survive in often difficult times. This meant extensive new brick buildings which have since been removed, new machinery and the introduction of electricity. Products also adjusted with demand and in the 1930s the mill provided cloth for the Prince of Wales’s, the future Edward VIII, Rolls Royce. During the last phase of the mill’s life, from 1970 to 90, it was the largest manufacturer of tennis ball outside of the USA. The name William Playne & Co. continues as the trade name for the tennis ball cloth.

The Old Mill

The 1766 estate map shows the site of the mill as almost identical with the Old Mill. The Avening brook approaches from the east and the waste water passes the mill to the south. Later maps show the mill being increasingly surrounded by other buildings. A plan dated 1813 shows the new arrangement of a mill pond replacing the leat and buildings attached to the north end of the mill.

The mill has a date stone 1703 which is the date when William Playne assumed it was built but the style of lettering is early 19th century. The RCHM report describes it as dating from the early or mid 18th century and vernacular in style. This was “the fulling mill and water grist mill” bought by Thomas Playne in 1790. It was a substantial building for the time.

There is another date stone 1828 which records the year William Playne did fundamental work on it. In a memorandum he wrote for his son about the evolution of the buildings on site he writes “The original mill which was built in 1705 was rebuilt in 1828 on the Old Foundation some of the old oak beams and some of the … beams in … New the Roof members Timber and ash”. Old beams can be seen in the north end of the ceiling of the basement. Photographs demonstrate that the east side of the roof had a range of dormers and the gap in the joists survive inside to show where they were. The destructive effects of the hammering of the heavy fulling stocks meant mills had to be regularly refurbished but the building obviously underwent considerable restoration in 1828. However the small mullion windows suggest that the main fabric of the building was retained as they contrast with the larger and more modern windows of the Lake Mill built 20 years earlier.

At some point he inserted arches for a pair of overshot water wheels. Elsewhere on site he refers to the remains of old water wheels being used for flooring in 1840. Perhaps this is when the work was done on the Old Mill. The arches are very similar to those at Dunkirk Mill built in 1818 by his brother Peter.

Prior to its recent restoration the building also had openings for ventilation, identical to arrangements at Dunkirk. One sliding panel partly survives on the interior.

Evidence of shafting and bearings can be seen on beams and in the walls on the upper floors so clearly the mill was used for powered machinery in the 19th century. There is no record of what was installed but the logic is that preparatory machinery, perhaps carding was here as the adjoining steam powered mill, erected in 1856, had spinning mules on the top floor and power looms beneath.

A plan dated 1884 shows that one water wheel survived in the basement but that most of the rest of the floor was taken up with indigo mills and main gearing to the south and a fulling mill and washer to the north. Outside, next to the base of the chimney was the high pressure steam engine with the two boilers adjacent.

Such arrangements were swept away in the early 1900s. William Playne’s grandson now owned the mill and he records that in 1910 “the old 4 storey Mill Buildings were no longer safe for the modern heavy and quick–running machinery. The workshops … were very low, scarcely more than 10 feet high, and the floors, moreover, were so saturated with oil and caked with grease that, had a fire occurred during working hours, those who were in the upper storeys of the old Mill might have had some difficulty in escaping. The outside walls, also, which had had stood for more than a century, began to show signs of the heavy strain to which they had been subjected by the new machinery and in all probability before long the Factory Inspector might have condemned them”. Playne was writing of both the Old Mill and the 1809 Lake Mill.

As a result the Old Mill underwent another extensive renovation and became the site of a “central power station” generating electricity from the dynamo to electric motors. The whole mill except the fullers and washers was converted. So the Old Mill contains a possibly unique arrangement of a 125kvw Gordon water turbine with a dynamo, a Bellis & Morcomb steam engine with a dynamo and a later Allen diesel motor as used in 2nd World War submarines. JC Robinson, administrator of the PRISM Fund in 1990, commented that the turbine was “of particular interest, it was more unusual and its retention is important in demonstrating the continuing significance, well into the 20th century, of water power to Longfords Mill”.

The remainder of the mill was partitioned into workshops and stores and performed no further productive role. However people used the whitewashed walls to scribble notes, calculations or simple graffiti. One particularly poignant record of the death of a youngster during the 2nd World War was lost when the partitions were removed to restore the historic spaciousness of the old production floors.

In conclusion the Old Mill bears the marks of centuries of use. Positioned near the centre of the historic mill it retains the atmosphere of what Keith A Falconer the Head of Industrial Archaeology at RCHM called “a classic example of a woollen mill that has grown piecemeal over three centuries”.

References

RCHM: Draft report on Longfords Mill 1990

RCHM & AIA: Textile Mills In Industrial Archaeology Review Autumn 1993

AT Playne: Minchinhampton & Avening 1915

Ray Wilson: Electricity Generation at Longfords Mill

Glos. Archives: 1766 Map, 1813 plan D1347

The Cross Cutter

Invented by John Lewis of Brimscombe Mills in 1815/18 this model has no date or maker’s name.

The Cross Cutter at Dunkirk Mill Museum

A revolutionary invention

The cutter quickly replaced shearmen and Lewis claimed by 1829 that he had already sold thousands of them. They spread across the woollen industry internationally.

You could take 5 or 6 cuts one way, return it to the raising gig for 3 hours, take another 5 or 6 cuts the other way. Previous cloth was considered shaggy by comparison.

The process was much quicker than by hand. It took about 2 hours to do one cut to a piece of cloth 21 yards long.

Two boys supervised by a man could work two machines.

How it worked

Imagine a rotary lawn mower. The nap is trapped briefly between the turning blades and a straight sharp blade called the ledger blade. The cloth is tensioned cross-wise with hooks in the edge / selvage / list of the cloth attaching it to a pair of leather and wood frames which could be precisely tensioned using the small rollers at the ends of the machine. The cloth is wound onto the large rollers underneath with various controls to allow this to happen mechanically, and is tensioned. Power was provided by belting on the small fast and loose rollers, and this was transmitted to the heavy carriage to draw it steadily across the cloth rapidly rotating the spiral cutting blades as it went. The cloth is then unhooked, wound on, re-hooked and correctly tensioned in both directions in order to prepare the next “board” for shearing.
Impact

In 1830 a machine was invented by Lewis where the cloth could be fed in continually, the “Perpetual”. It was not so good at close cutting but Edwin Budding, the foreman at the Phoenix Ironworks, Thrupp, was inspired by the first of these to be built to invent the lawn mower. It was only in the late C19th that better machines began to be made but the basic concept of the rotary cutter remains to this day.

St.Mary’s Mill

One of the most picturesque mills in the Stroud Valleys is St Mary’s in Chalford.

Built like a diminutive Ebley Mill it retains an imposing but static waterwheel. A Tangye steam engine which was working until the 1960s is now powered by electricity. Reportedly it is the largest of its type in its original position. The massive remains of the last working fulling stocks in Gloucestershire from Cam Mill are explained. There is also a milling machine that replaced the stocks. Like the waterwheel, it was built nearby by Ferrabee at Phoenix Ironworks, Thrupp.

With a long history dating back to the Middle Ages St Mary’s is an excellent example of how the countryside was once busy with industry.

Visitors must book beforehand; phone 01453 766273.

Cost £3 but STT members free.

There is only disabled parking at the mill so park at the Chalford Roundhouse and walk one kilometre along the towpath towards Stroud, following the signs.

Stroudwater Mills

Stroud

Apologies, the images below are yet to be included

Stroud – ‘Golden Valley’

Fromehall Mill, Stroud, Early to Mid c.18th & Mid c.19th. An ancient site.

Spring (Bliss) Mill, Chalford approx c.1830s
Spring Mill, part of Bliss Mills Estate (or current Chalford Industrial Estate), approx. c.1830s.
Port Mill, Brimscome, early c.1870s
Port Mill, Brimscombe. Current mill dates from early c.1870s, but re-built following a serious fire. Handsomely restored.
Hallidays Mill, approx c.1820
Haliday’s Mill – Chalford c.19th century mill on an earlier site. Stone stories probably c.1820, brick upper floors later.
St Mary's 1
St.Mary’s Mill, Chalford, c.1820
A stone-built mill with an 1844 breast-shot waterwheel

Ebley to the Stanleys

Snow Mill 1
Oil (Snow) Mill, Ebley. Built in the c.1720s to grind rapeseed oil as a local alternative to imported Gallipolli oil (used for dressing wool in the carding process). Became a fulling mill. Later a corn mill. Now artificial snow (one of the great success stories in new uses for old mills). Current building probably early c.19th century.
Stanley Mill, Kings Stanley, c.1813
Stanley Mill. (Kings Stanley) c.1813. Grade 1 listed, unique in the world

Nailsworth

Dunkirk Mill B

Dunkirk Mill, Nailsworth A line of mill buildings up to 5 storeys high built between c.1798 and c.1855 as a woollen mill. Now mostly converted to flats, but the Stroudwater Textile Trust Visitor Centre at the north end includes an c.1855 wheel driving working textile machinery. There are two other large overshot wheels and a small museum. Earlier waterwheels and restored millpond viewable by appointment.
 

Archive Images, Film and Sound

The Trust holds a broad collection of images, film and sound archives telling the story of the local textile industry, its people and its places.

These are available for research and publishing purposes. Enquiries are welcomed. Contact Tony Burton anthonyggburton@btinternet.com

Woodlands (previously Peghouse) Mill

Woodlands (previously Peghouse) Mill (probably

Bought in 1902 By David Humphreys From North coat and cart right And extended during the period 1902 to 1920 By Messrs Poulton and Son, Slad Road. Part of this Mill is 200 years old. David Humphreys sold it in 1925 and the old building collapsed in 1930 but was, fortunately, empty at the time. Trevelyan Humphreys joined his father in 1914 and remained in the business until 1925. The main cloths manufactured were all wool tweeds and saxonies that were sold in London, Europe, and the USA. [Information By T Humphreys (1969).] See also the article below from British history online, with more detail at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol11/pp70-79#highlight-first

Peghouse Mill, later called Woodlands Mill, was 400 yds. downstream of Wade’s Mill. It was owned in 1608 by Samuel Hopson who conveyed it in 1630 to Giles Davis, mercer of Stroud (d. 1639). Giles’s infant son, Thomas, inherited the mill, decribed as a fulling- and grain-mill. In 1678 John Gardner was recorded at the mill but it was still owned by Thomas Davis in 1713 when he conveyed it to his son Thomas. The younger Thomas conveyed it in 1721 to William Aldridge of Stroud, clothier, from whose heirs it was acquired in 1730 by John Cripps. In 1739 Cripps sold out to his mortgagee Daniel Fowler of Minchinhampton, mercer (d. 1740), who left it in trust for his son Joseph (d. 1764) who devised it to his brother Richard and sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Benjamin Pitt was making cloth at Peghouse Mill in 1767 and for a time had a dyeing business there in partnership with John Parish. Mary Fowler (d. 1793 or 1794) survived her brother and sister and devised the mill to her nephew Thomas Whitehead. Thomas contracted to sell the mill to Thomas Hodges, clothier, and the sale was completed in 1798 by Richard Whitehead, Thomas’s brother and devisee. Hodges apparently leased the mill, or part of it, to Robert Gordon, who was declared bankrupt in 1804. In 1814 Hodges sold the mill to Nathan Driver the younger, who was declared bankrupt in 1827, the mill passing in the following year to his chief creditors, some London bankers, who leased it to N. S. Marling for 10 years from 1831. Marling worked the mill, which had been partially rebuilt in 1823 and was powered by steam and water, in conjunction with Vatch and Upper Vatch Mills in Stroud, using Peghouse solely for fulling. In 1846 the mill was sold to Eli James, a rope-maker, who sold it to Richard Barton, silkthrowster, in 1857. Barton mortgaged the mill to James who later regained possession and sold it in 1864 to George Rowland and William Davis; they sold the following year to John Libby of New Mill, Stroud. In 1885 the mill was being worked by Northcott, Cartwright, & Co., woollen manufacturers, who were succeeded there in 1902 by Humphreys & Co., who continued to produce cloth at the mill until c. 1925. Part of the mill was used as a ropeyard in the mid 19th century, worked by the firm of James and Brookes. The mill buildings were mostly demolished soon after the mill closed but some early-20th-century brick buildings remained in 1972. The site was occupied from 1958 by Danarm Ltd., manufacturers of chain saws and components, who employed c. 65 people in 1972.

Ebley Mill

For the History of Ebley Mill read more…

1859 Bodley’s Spectacular Mill


The young architect GF Bodley was building Selsley Church for Marling when the disastrous fire destroyed part of Ebley Mill.
As the visitor approaches the eyes move naturally to the echoing silhouette of Bodley’s spire at Selsley Church. They are a reminder of the union of faith and efficiency in Victorian capitalism and are essential elements in the landscape.

Viewed from the meadows Ebley Mill provides one of the most spectacular elevations of an early industrial building that can be seen anywhere in the country.
The regular simplicity of the Clissold block is beautifully balanced by the refined elegance of Bodley’s building and the outrageous flourish of the clock tower. Both units were old-fashioned for their times.

It is simply built but has more refined detail than the earlier mill. The window bays are slightly recessed with an ashlar semi-circular head at the top and the elevations are topped by a projecting stone cornice with a hipped roof

The clock tower and staircase are subtly different in design. Their vertical proportions are accentuated by the steeply pitched roof topped by ornamental ironwork and a weathervane.

The interior:


•The roof has double queen post trusses with a central valley gutter supported by columns
•Each floor is a simple open space with five massive beams supported by a single column.
•The high ceilings accommodated the ever larger machinery powered by overhead shafting.
•The large windows ensured plentiful light and the semi-circular lights could be opened.


Adapted from the Ebley Mill Historical Study and Description by Niall Phillips’ firm.

Glossary of Terms

Fulling was sometimes called ‘walking’ – and, in Yorkshire, ‘tucking’. A fulling mill was a simple mechanism: a tappet wheel, turned by the waterwheel, which raised two large and heavy hammers alternately, letting them drop by their own weight onto the cloth – replacing the action of human feet. Sometimes fulling stocks were installed in an existing corn mill building, at other times the fulling mill was newly built. Where a watermill was utilised for both corn grinding and cloth fulling, the owner had two sources of income, though they were likely to be in different tenancies.

Gig mill This consisted of a drum on the circumference of which teasels were slotted in rows. The gig mill replaced hand raising and, despite its prohibition, the number of gig mills increased in Gloucestershire. By the end of the 18th century Wiltshire clothiers were sending their cloth to Gloucestershire to be raised by gig mills on account of the opposition to these machines in Wiltshire.

Spanish cloth By 1630 12,000 pieces of Spanish cloth were being exported from London a year.

Double mills All the fulling mills along the Ewelme were double mills for part of the 17th century, some having adjoining dyehouses. 13 of 21 sites along the Little Avon were double mills, while, along the R. Frome, Stanley, Dudbridge, Fromehall and Brimscombe mills were double mills at some stage in the 17th or early to mid-18th centuries. Stanley Mill had three fulling mills, one gig mill one Gristmill with a warping room in an adjacent building, together with shear shops and a dyehouse.

King and State In the 17th and early to mid-18th centuries the woollen industry was regulated by King and Parliament; looking back to mediaeval and Tudor times, rather than recognising the needs of entrepreneurial clothiers. In 1614 the English broadcloth industry was brought to its knees by Alderman Cockayne, a leading member of a new London-based company called the Kings Merchant Adventurers. The export of unfinished cloth was prohibited, and it was required to be dyed and dressed in London. The project met with great hostility in Gloucestershire as well as in overseas markets. The Kings Merchant Adventurers were ordered by the Council of State to buy up the Gloucestershire cloth and, in 1616, the King remonstrated with Cockayne on his failure to ensure that the cloth produced was purchased. He and his fellow merchants were ordered to buy up all  ‘such as shall weekly be brought in’ but, by September 1616, there was still large quantities of cloth remaining in Gloucestershire. The entire Cockayne project collapsed in 1617, when the old Merchant Adventurers had their former privileges reinstated. But the cloth trade had been badly knocked and, in the following year, the 30 Years War broke out and the German market was badly affected. While the wealthier clothiers could survive for a while, the small clothiers were particularly badly hit and many textile craftspeople lacked work. There were reports of assemblies and riots and each parish overseer was requested to ensure that the poor had some form of work or parish relief. In 1622 the Gloucestershire JPs called clothiers together and ordered them to employ their workpeople one month longer to prevent mutinies. As if this was not enough, in 1625, London was considered unsafe on account of the plague and Gloucestershire clothiers asked the Merchant Adventurers to move the main market either to Reading or Southampton, while the plague raged. A Commission of Inquiry into the entire woollen industry of England was set up in 1638 and reported in 1640, but with the Civil War imminent, King and Parliament were concerned with other matters.

There was much military activity in the county during the Civil War, the King’s headquarters being at Oxford, and Gloucester and Bristol (until 1643) being held for Parliament. Samuel Webb of Ham Mill received letters of protection from both Prince Maurice and Prince Rupert. The King told clothiers that arrangements would be made for them to send their cloth out through Bristol and other Western ports in his hands and that they could collect their money from London. In the event it was only possible to do the latter, since Parliamentary forces captured the West. Cloth manufacture continued to be interrupted until the end of the Civil War.

Clothiers’ houses The gabled Salmons Mill house was rebuilt in 1593 by George Fletcher, who added a porch in 1607 with his initials and cloth mark. Egypt Mill house at Nailsworth, with its two gables on each of the four faces of the building together with the date 1698, are examples of houses near to mills. Clothiers became collectors of works of art, good furniture and silver. The sale of the effects of Thomas Tippetts of Dursley in 1789, took 13 days. Sir Onesiphorous Paul , of Southfield Mill, Woodchester entertained the Prince of Wales, became high Sheriff of the County and after presenting a loyal address to George III on his accession to the throne was rewarded with a baronetcy. He built Hillhouse, Rodborough described as “a superb residence”. Stanley House, the “Mansion house,” which belonged to Jasper Clutterbuck in the mid-17th century, passed successively into the hands of the Holbrow, Peach, Cooper, Davis and Harris families, all clothiers.

Waterpower Earlier mill builders had the pick of the best sites for waterpower – where two streams joined, or where there was a sudden steepness in the gradient. Later mill builders had to take their pick of what was left. An overshot wheel needed the least volume of water and, on the whole, generated more power, but it required a greater fall and it didn’t work well in a crowded valley where tail water could rise in the wheel pits. It was the skill of local mill rights who applied their practical know-how in devising solutions of wheel design and watercourse design appropriate to different sites.

When the new Ebley Mill was built in 1818, the large part of an adjoining meadow was flooded to provide a reservoir. Longford’s new lake covered approximately 15 acres and the dam, cost £945.  But in the crowded middle sections of valleys few mill owners had enough land for a reservoir. Water rights were a tender subject and mill owners quite frequently ended up in the courts over disputes.

Millwrighting The Hayden brothers, of Trowbridge, were waterwheel builders as well as steam engine erectors and, in 1820, they installed a 16 foot diameter wheel for Hicks of Eastington. The west wheel at Egypt Mill is 14 ft.6 in. diameter and has 40 wooden floats set at right angles into cast-iron rims, the East waterwheel has the same dimensions. Three waterwheels survive at Dunkirk Mill, two forming a pair. They are 10 ft. diameter and may have been made by Daniels of Stroud. The third overshot waterwheel, 13 ft. diameter, is of the type made by John Ferrabee. These relatively late waterwheels illustrate Gloucestershire mill owners’ continuing dependence on waterpower. When Stanley mill was rebuilt in 1813, it was, despite its innovative structural design, designed for waterpower and was driven by five wheels. Ebley Mill, too, depended on water power from its new reservoir.

Relatively little is known of Gloucestershire millwrights. Richard Remington of Woodchester installed a napping mill in Stanley mill in 1735 and “the famous Mr Chinn” of Tewkesbury installed a wheel at Stanley. More sophisticated millwright engineers emerged in the 1790s and the Hayden brothers of Trowbridge moved into machinery repair, besides other lines of business, and introduced iron cloth racks into the region.

Steam power Samuel Clutterbuck of St Mary’s mill told factory inspectors in 1834, that steam was used in very dry seasons to supply the deficiency of waterpower. Barnard of Nailsworth used waterpower for about half the year and steam for the other half. William Lewis, of Brimscombe estimated his waterpower as equal to 60 to 80hp. and his steam power as 18hp.  of which he only used about 40. Mills in the main Frome Valley could be supplied by with coal by canal from the late 18th century, prices of coal rising the further a mill was located away from it. While coal prices remained higher than in Yorkshire and Lancashire throughout the 19th century it has been suggested that this was only a very marginal additional expense for manufacturers.

Strike Things were fairly calm, despite the 1825 strike, until a weaver who had taken a chain from Ham Mill agreed to weave it under the agreed price and violence ensued. There was worse violence at Vatch Mill on a tributary of the Slad stream, when 3000 men gathered. To restore order, a squadron of military arrived in Stroud in June and was stationed between Bliss and Tayloe’s mills in Chalford. A number of strikers were committed to Gloucester jail. There were riots in Stroud and Chalford, but violence waned with the onset of depression in 1826.