Author Archives: 38th9gruiflj

Farfield photos

These photos were all taken by Mike Davies-Shiel. The notes below them are copied from his slides. More of his originals, and copies of other material on the subject – newspaper articles, old photographs etc. – can be found on the Cumbria Archive Service’s website.

Click here for a detailed drawing of the mill and an explanation of how it worked.

Keswick Mills

Mike Davies-Shiel spent years researching the history of Keswick’s many mills, investigating their remains, and looking at anything and everything relating to them – original documents, parish registers, local newspapers, old photos and paintings, census records and even gravestones. All this in the days before any of these sources became available online.

His notes, dated 15th August 1987 and entitled “Keswick’s Water-Powered Mills and Manufactories” were published posthumously in The Cumbrian Industrialist, Volume 8, 2013. He describes a total of 27 mills in a number of ‘mill-districts’:-

Greta Bridge – 2 mills and 2 workshops
Greta Hamlet – the Southey Hill complex
Greta Mills – a complex of 8 mills
Greta Forge – all on the left (west) bank of the river
Shooley Crow (correctly Shorley Croft) – 4 mills up as far as the railway bridge
Brigham Forge – a complex of 7 mills and possibly 1 workshop, or t’Forge
Briery, or Low Briery – a complex of 5 mills, a tannery, and possibly some workshops

Here is a selection from the photos Mike took during his research. There are many more which you can see by searching the Cumbria Archive Services catalogue.


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Here is an excerpt from Industrial Archaeology of the Lake Counties, published in 1969. Since then, the three firms mentioned have reduced to one – Samuel Gawith & Co – still operating on an industrial estate to the north of Kendal. Click here to read more about Helsington Laithes mill.

Although the major part of the nation’s snuff is made in Sheffield, the remainder, even today, is manufactured in the Kendal district by an industry of considerable age and standing. This is represented by the three firms of Samuel Gawith & Co, Gawith Hoggarth & Co, and Messrs Illingworth’s at Aynam Mills.

There was a considerable import of tobacco through Whitehaven in the first half of the 18th century, as well as through the port of Lancaster, and it is possible that packhorse loads from Whitehaven found their first resting-place, after a day’s journey via Hardknott, in southern Westmorland. Since the goods were jogged continually, the resultant tobacco dust and broken stalks may have been purchased by Kendal traders at a nominal price. Whatever the case, Kendal is known to have had a snuff mill on Natland Beck in 1740, and there was another at Mealbank in 1792.

The industry was essentially a water-powered one, involving the use of grinding machinery, and the organisation of the present-day Helsington Laithes mill gives a clear idea of its refinements. This mill still obtains its power from an undershot, paddle-type wheel. The tobacco, carefully roasted, is graded and then ground to a powder in pestle grinders. There are also ball mills, a mixer and a riddle-and-shaker which utilises a principle similar to that used in corning gunpowder. The product is then blended, wrapped and marketed from Kendal.

Kendal Museum have produced an information sheet about the snuff industry, and look out for the book ‘Kendal Brown: the history of Kendal’s tobacco and snuff industry’ by J.W.Dunderdale, published in 2003 by Helm Press.

All these photos were taken by Mike Davies-Shiel, and feature the mill at Helsington Laithes except for those marked **.

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Peat cutting

Most of these photos were taken by Mike Davies-Shiel, mostly during a visit to Foulshaw Moss in the south of the county in May 1990. The bottom four photos were taken by Rob David on the same visit, and show the peat barrow in more detail. You can read about the visit here.

Bobbin Mills

The Mike Davies-Shiel Collection includes over 1200 items on the bobbin-making industry. Mike took photos of anything and everything that would help in his research – maps, original documents, newspaper adverts, old photographs etc.. Here is a small selection of photos from the many he took on site in the 1960s and later of the remains of a once thriving industry.

Click on this link to a map of where the wood turning mills were located.
Click on this link to see a drawing of one of them – Stock Force in Ambleside.
Click here to find out more about woodland industries, including bobbin-making.


These photos are from the MDS Collection, many of them taken by Mike Davies-Shiel in the 1960s and later.
Click here to read more about growing and processing flax by hand, and here to find out more about the production of linen and other materials from the fibres.
Follow this link for a general map showing flax and hemp production in the Central Lakes, and another showing local evidence for flax at High Newton in the south of the county.

Muncaster Mill

There is documentary evidence of there being a mill at Muncaster going back to 1455, fed from a weir on the river Mite over a mile up the river. Rather than have a “top pond” the water is stored in the long leat which feeds a simple overshot water wheel powering 3 sets of stones, although in recent times only the left set of stones was used for flour.

The derelect mill was purchased in the 1970s by Lake District Estates – the parent company of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway – to be restored as a track side attraction. The millers (who leased it) then supplied organic stoneground flour (assorted wholemeal, white, brown, semolina and bran) and provided tours of the mill. It also featured in the Thomas the Tank Engine book (see illustration below).

Thanks go to Dave Priestley, son of Ernie the last miller (pictured below), for the notes and the photos. They were taken in the late 1990s at low resolution and relatively small image size.

Backbarrow Ironworks

The surviving structures of Backbarrow Ironworks in South Lakeland have been described by Historic England as “the best illustration nationally of iron-smelting technology development from the early C18 to the C20”. The site has featured on the Heritage at Risk register for many years, and there have been a number of previous attempts to “save” it without success. Until now that is.

Under the supervision of Historic England work is underway to conserve the remains of the scheduled ancient monument – which include the furnace stack, hot air stoves and blowing engine – alongside work to develop the rest of the site for housing. Potentially dangerous sections have been fenced so, for example, no-one can wander inside the furnace stack.

The Backbarrow Ironworks Heritage Trust has been established to take over responsibility for the ironworks once development of the whole site is complete in 2020. Until then there is no public access to it. These photos have been taken by members of the Trust.

For the latest information, checkout their website.

Cockermouth Mills

All these photos were taken by Mike Davies-Shiel between 1969 and 1971, except that of the Tweed Mill being demolished c.1916.

To find out more about these mills and others in Cockermouth look out for The Watermills of Cockermouth leaflet, the Cockermouth Mill Trail, and the two booklets on Industry in the series Cockermouth in Pictures by Bernard Bradbury.

Workington Port

Most of the photos show the Prince of Wales Dock under construction in the 1920s.
Click here to find out more about Workington and other ports in Cumbria.