Farfield Mill is situated near the Howgill Fells between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District. One of thirty seven designations within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Farfield Mill was given conservation status in March 1993. The first mill building was constructed in 1837 for Joseph Dover, who was originally a merchant from Keswick, to card and spin wool. Farfield was one of five water powered woollen textile mills which were an important part of the economy of the Sedbergh area in the 19th century. The associated cluster of historic buildings, cottages and owner’s houses were also added during the 19th century. The Dover family continued to run the business until 1935 when Edward and Thomas Dover both died with no direct descendants.
In 1937 the complex was sold to Thomas Histler, a builders merchant, and Robert Johnson, a carpet manufacturer. The mill was subsequently used for manufacturing crankcases for Airspeed Oxford Trainer planes during World War II and the buildings were requisitioned by the Admiralty for storage. The mill was then returned to a West Riding based spinning company, Batty Bros, in 1953. Textile manufacture once again resumed in 1965 and continued until 1992. One building, and two working Dobcross looms it contained which had been installed in the 1960s, was purchased by the then Sedbergh and District Buildings Preservation Trust in 1998 and now houses an Arts and Heritage Centre.
Typical of the period in which the buildings were constructed, the architecture reflects the social hierarchy and function. The stone buildings consist of simple detailing and regimented rows of windows which provide well lit open spaces. The original mill building is three bays wide and nine bays long and is built into the slope being two storeys high at eaves level and three storeys high at the edge of the river. Many of the original iron support pillars, by Lound foundry of Kendal, survive as do many of the wooden floors. The coursed rubble building features a queen truss roof capped with Westmorland slate and sandstone lintels.
Within the Heritage display on Level 2 is a 300 year old Witney Blanket Loom (above). One of the earliest of its type, it has a flying shuttle and was invented during the Industrial Revolution. It is a timber framed four heddle hand loom with the flying shuttle mechanism added around 1800. The loom was used to weave horse collar check and woollen blankets since 1702. The loom stands over 9 feet high and was donated by The Early’s Archive Trust who closed in 2002 when the loom was offered to Farfield Mill.
Sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Level 2 displays the Living History Heritage exhibition created by local people and dedicated to the rise and eventual demise of the Victorian woollen and textile industry in the Sedbergh area. Examples of the processes used at the mill from 1911 onwards are displayed throughout Level 2 and the dangerous conditions those employed at Farfield are highlighted. The Howgill, Dover and 2K Exhibition Galleries are also located on Level 2 and feature changing exhibitions throughout the year.
Level 4 (above) is home to a numerous collection of floor and hand looms which have been loaned, donated or acquired since it opened to the public in 2001. The mill uses wool from Rough Fell sheep on its looms and local lace-makers and rag-rug makers regularly demonstrate their craft during each month.
The machinery at Farfield Mill was powered by a big waterwheel when it was first built by Joseph Dover. The water came along a millrace from the nearby River Clough and was led into the mill under an arch half way along the side of the main building. The main waterwheel was replaced in 1896 by Joseph’s grandsons Thomas and Edward. The wheel was replaced with a Vortex water turbine which was manufactured by Gilbert Gilkes and Gordon of Kendal. The company helped to restore the example at Farfield. A steam engine provided extra power from 1911 with an engine shed and its chimney once standing beside the current building. When the insurance became too costly to continue, the building was demolished in the 1960’s.
Restored during 2010 with advice from other weavers , a Douglas Andrew 4 shaft counterbalance floor loom with 6 treadles (above) is now in operation at the mill. With the assistance of green threads at each end (holding the shafts steady), initial problems with the loom when working on narrow warps have been solved. The loom has a universal tie up which enables you to work on any pattern without the need to re-tie the treadles.
A plaque celebrating the restoration of Farfield Mill reads as follows:
“Our restoration of the building celebrates the achievements, not only of those who lived in the valleys of the Clough, the Rawthey, the Dee, but of all those who lived in the valleys of the northern uplands where the water of its rivers drove the water-wheels which powered iron monsters making cloth for slaves in Jamaica, for coolies in India and for horses in English royal stables.
It celebrates men like Will Stainton, who lost the skin off his back while cleaning out the wheel pit and the lining of his lungs from inhaling dust, but who laboured in this mill for 85 years.
Yet out of the toil, the tedium and the sorrow came a sense of comradeship and purpose and artefacts of value and of beauty. The tradition is here today where artists work, not in isolation, but in a community: where the work of an artist inspires work of a ceramicist; the work of a weaver inspires that of a goldsmith.
We who undertook the task of restoration and transformation did so in the hope that the building would remain a monument to mankind’s unique capacity to work together tirelessly to produce objects that provoke, delight and astound.”
The Past Serving the Future.