Wool has been processed into yarn and cloth in the Haltwhistle area as long as sheep
have been kept on the hills.
Prior to the industrial revolution, the main part of the production was carried out
in homes, often involving all members of the family. Children carded, women spun
and the finished yarn was woven by men, either on the farms where it was produced,
or by artisan weavers in the nearby cottages. Creating the cloth was a small scale
activity carried on as part of the farming economy but the process of finishing cloth,
called fulling or walking, was mechanised from as early as the 12 century using the
same technology as used in a water-driven corn mill.
Woollen cloth, when first woven, has a very open texture so its usefulness can be
greatly enhanced by a process of controlled shrinking and felting known as fulling.
The cloth is immersed in a natural detergent solution, sometimes stale urine, sometimes
a solution made form burned bracken, animal fat and lime and is pounded by hammers
or stocks powered by a water wheel. As the wheel turns, a camshaft lifts the stocks
and releases them to fall into a specially shaped wooden butt containing the cloth.
The shape of the butt and stock are designed to cause the cloth to turn over in the
detergent liquid and the agitation and pounding result in shrinkage of up to one
third of the width and length of the cloth. After rinsing, the cloth is stretched
out on hooks attached to a tenter frame, a rectangular wooden frame which gently
tensions the fabric while it dries. This is the origin of the term being “on tenterhooks”.
The area used for tentering was known as a tenter close or field.
Tenter frames at Otterburn Mill. The cloth is attached to metal hooks at the top
and bottom of the frame then the bottom bar is dropped to put the cloth under tension
while it dries.
1600s Haltwhistle’s First Fulling Mill
By the early sixteen hundreds, cloth was being brought into the town of Haltwhistle
for finishing. Records from the household book of Lord William Howard, Lord of the
Manor at the time, show that a fulling mill operated on his manorial lands in 1620:
“ 1620 June 2nd. Received of John Ridley Miller for one half years rent of the Walk
Mill at Hautwysley due at Whitsunday 1621”
This would seem to imply that the Miller also ran not only the corn mill but also
the Walk or Fulling Mill, a not uncommon system; in fact some watermills ran a stone
for corn and stocks for fulling from the same wheel. A later entry in the book suggests
that these were two separate buildings with their own distinct water systems:
“1632- to Hugh Ridley “the water corn mill with all Mulsturs Tolls Sute Soken Custome
&c to the same belonging
The Walk Mill with pool water &c thereto belonging
The Dye house with all Advantages thereto belonging”
This is also the first mention of a dye house in the town.
Sir Charles Howard, William’s son, allied himself with the Royalists during the civil
war and his lands at Haltwhistle were forfeited to the commonwealth. The documentation
for the subsequent sale of the land in 1653 mentions,
“..... all that Water Corn Milne and a Fulling Milne or Walke Milne with the Appurtenances
unto them belonging in Haltwhistle aforesaid and also all that Dying House together
with the Coalery Coal Mynes or Seames of Coales lying and being in Haltwhistle aforesaid....”
Exactly where this mill was situated is difficult know for certain but as it was
supplied with its own water supply it must have taken water from below the outflow
of the corn mill tail race and have been sited sufficiently further downstream for
a good head of water to be built up - at least 300 metres. So the most likely site
for the early fulling mill is that traditionally associated with woollen manufacture
where the Old Dye-house and Mill (Hadrian’s Flats) still stand.
Early fulling mills were one storey structures able to withstand the considerable
vibration of the fulling stocks. Since spinning and weaving were undertaken elsewhere,
the only processes carried out at the mill would have been the fulling and finishing.
This involved raising the nap with teasels and shearing it to a consistent length
using enormous shears. Dying and bleaching, if required, were carried out in separate
By the mid 18th century, spinning and weaving was becoming more centralised in Haltwhistle
with workers gathered together in one building although still operating hand driven
The Saint Family occupied and worked the Dyehouse and Fulling Mill at Town Foot from
this period until 1902.
Hadrian’s Flats. The old Town Foot Mill run by the Saint Family.