Friday, October 14, 2011

The old mill at North Tawton

From the Middle Ages and until late in the 18th century woollen manufacture was Devon's most valuable industry. 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. The processes carried out in the factory included sorting, washing, drying, combing, spinning and weaving.

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.

I visited the site on what turned out to be a day of continual rain, which is fairly typical for Devon and not a problem. The site is very large and takes a good while to walk around even quickly as there are numerous sheds and buildings there. Many of the roofs have given way and the rain is getting into a lot of the buildings making them unstable. Some of the roofs contain glass, some of which has fallen and a lot of which still swings in the wind, so these sheds would be best avoided on very windy days. The large and beautiful mill building also seems to be leaking, as when I was inside there was a constant running and dripping of water on the large wooden stairs, so these stairs and possibly the floors above are not to be trusted. All in all an interesting site which was nearly bulldozed earlier on in the year until the plan for rebuilding fell through again and so the mill remains derelict, and is slowly being reclaimed by nature. Visiting the site is trespassing I believe and caution should also be taken due to the dangerous condition of the place.


reem said...

It seems an old ,deserted place John ,but the green plants around ,give it so beautifull view ,i like the second photo it's nice i think the stairs look as a gate into the history ,i feel my selfe in one of thus classic british movies ,also i think it was so hard work here for woollen manufacture ,whene we see these places we know how much easy life that we have now .

Whene i was child i was sitting near my grandfather and listening to her story about the hard work that she have done in her life ,it wasn't easy ,and my sister was saying : oh my god thank you ,i live in this time not her time .

Life always changes ,i hope we will get good days and do what we want and meet some gentle people ..........and for me ...i hope a long trip to the most beautifull places in our planet's just dream ....

Thanks John for these photos ..all the best for you .

john said...

Choukran Reem and thanks for your comment. I would think that the working conditions would have been hard in this mill and I am also glad that we do not live in those times.

Talking of old movies and things, I have been watching the bbc version of Charles Dickens' Bleak House from 2005 and it is very good. I am only about half way through at the moment but have very much enjoyed this version.

Much of it is fairly grim but it is interesting to me how the court case and the proceedings of the law become a large character in the story, frustrating people and ruining lives. It is a good reminder that not much progress has been made in this country in many ways and many of the intrigues seem familiar.

I very much hope your dream of having a long trip comes to fruition for you. Many thanks Reem and all the best to you.

nobody said...

Hullo John,

I love places like that. I would like to live there. I think I should be able to. No one else is using it, so why not? And whatever the answer to that question is, it should have the word 'bloodymindedness' in it.

I bought a van. It's actually a 14 seat bus. I have to rip out the seats first and then I can get going on fitting it out. I paid too much and it has too many kms on it but I can't help but love it regardless. It's a treat to drive, very easy. Since I bought it in Adelaide I've already driven 1500km just getting it back here. And I liked it. If only I had a fridge and a bed. But you know... soon enough.

As for the trespass, mum's the word. There's no evidence of you having been there is there? No? Nothing to worry about then.

john said...

Hi Nobody.

You can move in any time you like, I'm sure the owners won't mind a bit. And you got the van? fantastic! and that's a good long trip to get the feel of it. Fitting it out is definitely part of the fun. Are you going to cover the whole interior in lush purple fake fur or somesuch? and don't forget the stealth curtains.

I often cruise the van porn on Auto Trader and the like, it's a bit like my fantasy house buying. If anyone has about £350,000 they don't need I've found a great farm with loads of acres, it's a bargain. Actually I am really very pleased for you, it is so good that this is all coming together for you at last.

Of all the many things I worry about, trespassing isn't one of them luckily.

nobody said...

Purple fur! With hot orange trim! That's so me in the seventies. And black light posters. Remember them? I had one of a tiger.

No mate, actually I'm going a bit Japanesey. I think I said something to this effect at the haiku blog. I like sitting on the floor and a raised tatami dais-thing is the go. Tons of storage underneath and at nighttime you whip out the mattress and sleep on it.

Unhappily tatami are expensive and heavy (25kg and $200 each x3) so I'll do a poor man's version with 1" gym-floor foam, felt underlay, and grass matting over the top. And then a cedar kotatsu table in the middle that will fold up and double as a bedhead. Should be cool.

On the trip I realised that you need very little. Something softer than the floor to sleep on and something better than a esky (cooler, whatever you call them) for food and that's about it. Sure a stove, but I can live on cold dishes if I have to. And 240v power. I need that. No power, no laptop.

Otherwise it was brilliant. Wherever I find solitude, I can stop there. What a treat.