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History

The Burn Mills

 

In 1713, an agreement was made for the division of parts of Haltwhistle Common which included land on the east side of the Burn then known as Irdon Hill – the modern Herding Hill. One of those benefitting from the allotment of land was one Thomas Bell whom later maps show owning the parcel of land which includes Herding Hill Farm and the land on which two woollen mills stood. These mills, known as High and Low Mills or factories were worked as woollen mills throughout the early years of the 19th century and continued in use as dwellings until their demolition in the 1930s.

 

But, when were they built, who owned and ran them and what part did they play in Haltwhistle’s  Woollen industry ?

 

 

The Quaker’s Mill- Low Mill

According to John Wallis, antiquarian, natural historian and curate of Simonburn,

“There is in it (Haltwhistle) a manufactury of coarse bays (baize), belonging to two worthy Quakers; their fulling mill finished, and approved of buy trial, 17th September 1762; pleasure and cheerfulness appearing in every face on the occasion; giving the prospect of better bread to the industrious poor.”  

His words bear the mark of an eye witness: Wallis had close links with Haltwhistle where an old college friend was vicar.

This is  the first suggestion that processes other than fulling might be being carried out in a centralised way- a manufactory where workers worked together to produce woollen cloth, possibly including all the processes of carding, spinning and weaving under one roof- or at least under one management.

But where was the worthy Quakers’ fulling mill? In Haltwhistle there is only one source of water-power sufficient to drive heavy machinery and that is the water of the Haltwhistle Burn.

 

The Manor lands at Town Foot already included a corn mill and, a hundred years earlier, had accommodated a Fulling mill. How long would such a structure stand? Extant in 1653, would the same structure still be serviceable a hundred years later when the Quakers came to town?  We know that Saint was working as a Dyer on manor lands at the time but there is no specific mention of his being involved in fulling until his letter of 1837. Perhaps the old mill had fallen out of use and the Quakers’ project rebuilt a mill on manorial lands. Wallis’s account suggests there was great enthusiasm for the new mill as if it were a new venture for the town but his words could equally well suggest that it was supplying additional prospects to the “industrious poor” of the area- building a second mill. If this is the case then the most likely place for it would be further up the Burn from the Corn Mill on land not owned by the Lords of the Manor.

In his book of 1840, published posthumously, Hodgson quotes his predecessor Wallis’s mention of the Quakers’ baize manufactury and adds that it was “carried on for many years after by Messrs Bell”. He could, of course, be referring to the manufacturing business or the premises but if the latter then it seems most likely that the mill in question is either the High or Low Mills – both of which stand on Bell land. So could one of these be the original Quakers’ fulling Mill? If so It would seem most likely that the Low Mill was the original- why build further from the town if that site was available?

 

Bell’s Mills

 

The Bell family were numerous in Haltwhistle, many associated with the woollen industry and many in each generation bearing the name Thomas. Piggot’s directory of the town for 1822 lists two woollen weavers named Bell, Thomas and Robert and Thomas Bell &Co Flannel Manufacturers. One Isaac Bell is listed as a flannel manufacturer at Bardon Mill in 1834 and he appears to be succeeded by a Joseph Bell five years later. By 1834 Thomas Bell’s firm no longer had an entry in the trade directories and he is listed in the census of 1851 as a retired flannel manufacturer, aged 63 living with his wife, Helen at White Craig.

Did Thomas Bell run both the High and Low Mills?  

Bells in the woollen trade were resident in the Low Mill in from the first census records of 1841 up until 1861. By 1871 it was unoccupied.

 

High Mill

The High Mill was occupied by several families, Coulsons from 1841 to 1861, and Crow 1841 to 1851. Like Low Mill, it was unoccupied in 1871. Essentially there is no way of knowing for sure who the Mill proprietor was but no other woollen manufacturers are listed as such in the directories of the period so it seems most likely that Bell ran both factories.

So what processes were being carried out at the Low Mill? In 1841, a William Bell, resident in the mill is given as a woollen slubber- someone who feeds wool into a spinning frame. He is aged 45, clearly a well established artisan.  Ten years later he is described as a woollen weaver, a job he continued until he was in his mid sixties. These census entries would suggest that both spinning and weaving took place at the Low Mill.

High Mill had resident woollen spinners, weavers, a dyer, fuller and wool piecer at different times through this period.

This might suggest that a wider range of processes took place at High Hill but there is no certainty that the men worked where they lived. Certainly many woollen workers lived in the town at this time and would have walked to their respective places of employment.  One clue however comes from a comment about Mr. Bell’s successor, Mr. William Madgen.

 

Next

 

Find out about William Madgen

 

Missed something?   Return to:

 

 

Buildings of Town Foot Mill

 

The Saint family

 

Miss Elizabeth Cuthbertson

 

Haltwhistle’s Woollen Industry

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