As part of the 2012 season of community archaeology survey for the Windermere Reflections project, the Fulling mills survey report is now available online at the OA Library.
Just to recap I have already posted on the fieldwork for this season of the project in 2013. As part of the 2012 field season we collaborated with the National Trust and the Lake District National Park Authority on a community archaeology project using local volunteers to survey a series of five fulling mill sites. These were each located in the water catchment area of Windermere Lake in the Lake District. The project was intended to undertake a series of detailed topographic surveys and desk-based analyses of the potential ruinous fulling mills sites while providing support and training for volunteers in areas such as archaeological survey and archive research.
The project was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and was one of three community archaeology surveys that have been undertaken in the last two years under the banner ‘Reflections on History’ as part of a wider range of conservation and heritage themed projects under the umbrella of ‘Windermere Reflections’ for the Windermere Catchment Restoration Programme.
Topographic survey was undertaken between the 9th April and 5th May 2012 to identify, record, and describe any extant structures and features associated with the possible fulling mills. Desk-top historical survey of information pertinent to each site, including historical maps, and records held in the Armitt Library and Kendal Record Office took place on the 9th and 10th May 2012.
Fulling describes the process of cleaning and de-greasing woollen cloth, either with potash, dung and urine or fuller’s earth, and the pounding of the cloth to compact the fibres of the fabric. The pounding of the roughly woven woollen cloth was undertaken using large wooden hammers (known as stocks) which were lifted by cams on an axle turned by a water wheel. The stocks would act upon the cloth within a large fulling trough which also contained water and fuller’s earth. After fulling, the cloth would be washed, stretched and dried.
Four of the five sites examined by the survey are located within the northern part of the catchment, near the villages of Grasmere and Langdale, an area documented as important for fulling and weaving. The condition of the mills was variable, with one at Sourmilk Gill being an exceptional survival and representing an archetypal medieval fulling mill, whereas at Loughrigg Terrace, for example, there is reasonable survival of the water system but the mill remains are open to interpretation. Two of the mills, that at Sourmilk Gill and Stickle Ghyll, were originally stone founded structures, associated with well-defined water supply systems, comprising head race, wheel pit and tail race, and, at Sourmilk Gill, a launder platform also. Both mill structures were potentially reused and their operational life is uncertain.
At Loughrigg Terrace, the putative mill platform is only 4.5m by 2.6m in size and it is possible to conjecture that the stocks and trough would not have been contained within a building, although a simple timber structure could have been erected over the working components. There would, in any case, have only been room for a single stock hammer and trough.
The head and tail races were the most diagnostic features of all the mills, and often provided the most definitive evidence for a mill, notably at Loughrigg Terrace. The relatively limited water supply for many of these water wheels indicates that the supply would have been taken over the top of an overshot wheel (as opposed to an undershot wheel which required a large flow of water) using a wooden launder. These rarely survive; but a large stone platform for a launder survives at Sourmilk Gill.
At three of the mill sites (Sourmilk Gill, Low Wood and Little Ore Gate) a series of ponds survived, which drew water from a divert channel, although their function as part of the fulling process were potentially varied.
The process of fulling was bound into a broadly agricultural economy of mixed farming, including the rearing of sheep and shearing, as well as weaving and potash manufacture. Spatially associated with a number of the mills were stock pounds, arable farming remains and potash kilns, which reinforce the historical evidence that indicates that fulling was undertaken on a part-time basis alongside a large range of agricultural activities and was seasonal following on from the annual wool shear typically in mid-summer.
Special thanks must go to all of the volunteers who participated on the five survey projects, especially for their fortitude in ofter trying weather conditions.