Wool was an important product of the farms in the Haltwhistle area and the processing
of raw wool into finished cloth was an key industry from early times. Initially spinning
and weaving was carried out in farmhouses but the finishing processes of fulling,
bleaching and dying were carried out on a more industrial basis with records of a
fulling mill dating back to the 1200s. In these mills, water power is harnessed
to drive a set of enormous wooden hammers or stocks which pound the woven cloth in
a solution of natural detergent (possibly stale urine or ashes from burnt heather).
This causes the fibres to shorten and thicken with the result that the cloth loses
about a third of its length and develops a tighter, more windproof, weave. After
fulling, the fabric is attached to tenter hooks on a tentering frame which gently
stretches the fabric while it dries in the open air. The fabric can then be bleached
During the course of researching the woollen industry of Haltwhistle, some interesting
characters have emerged.
Meet The Saint family- dyers and bleachers from at least mid 1700s, probably resident
at Town Foot as tenants of the Lords of the Manor, running a fulling mill and dye
In 1788 members of the family appeared in court for riot and assault against another
dyer whom they did “beat, wound and ill treat so that his life was despaired of”.
Why? What was going on?
In 1837 Joseph Saint wrote to his new landlord complaining that someone was stealing
Was it William Madgen, wealthy owner of a rival firm who built the big house, Greencroft-
now Haltwhistle Hospital?
And why did Elizabeth Cuthbertson, Lady of the Manor and Joseph’s landlady, lock
herself away, wash insufficiently and refuse to see anyone or do any repairs to her
tenants’ buildings? Why did she throw out those tenants who paid their rent in full
whilst keeping on those who owed her money? Was it, as legend has it, a disappointment
in love that sent her mad? And where was the Manor House- on the site of the Manor
House Hotel ?
What happened to William Madgen? Why did he move his factory to Bardon Mill (in
the building now occupied by Errington Reay) and what happened after his factory
burnt down? (We know his grandson became an inventor- he invented a clever match
selling machine- and then emigrated to America.)
History – using primary sources to solve a History Mystery
Felting, using raw and dyed wool
Weaving using natural materials collected on a Burn Walk together with natural wool
strung from a natural wood frame to produce a woven sculpture
Dying – space or tie dying using cold water dyes or microwave techniques.
Science Testing wool- different wool yarn for strength
Fabric made from knitted yarn and woven yarn for stretch and durability
Changing wool by “fulling” and observing changes in fabric size and weather-proofness.
Creative Writing. Plays and imaginative recounts involving the historical characters
and events, persuasive letters to/ from Joseph Saint and Mad Miss Cuthbertson etc.etc.
Guided visit to woollen industry sites
Transcripts of letters, documents and census data etc
Investigating wool science pack with lesson plans, materials and worksheets/ recording
Contacts for felting and dying workshop leaders (local)