Sedbergh: Farfield Mill


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.


Level 2 Heritage Display

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.


Level 2 Heritage Display

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.


Level 2 Witney Blanket Loom

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.


Level 2 Howgill & Dover Galleries

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 Demonstration Area & collection of Looms

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.


Level 1 The 20hp Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon Turbine 1896

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.

Farfield Mill: The Process


Launched by Laura’s Loom in 2008, the Howgill Range has a limited edition of 70 throws woven in one design – a herringbone twill with a subtle vertical stripe. The throw, known as the Howgill Classic, is finished in two colours – a pure undyed natural cream and a rich deep madder. In 2009, the Dentdale was introduced with 12 large throws and a range of new products which includes baby and cot blankets with handsewn satin borders, stylish wraps and scarves. The Howgill Range is woven in exquisite herringbone cross-check – the hallmark of the range.


The process starts with a couple of hundred roman nosed Bluefaced Leicester sheep. Following the shearing, there is then the skirting, sorting, scouring, carding, spinning, coning, warping, beaming, sleying, threading, winding and then the yarn is ready for weaving. For the throws, the yarn is weaved on traditional Dobcross shuttle looms and modern Dornier rapier looms for the smaller items. The yarn is then transformed through steaming, blowing and purling of fringes into soft fabric. The people involved in the process of cloth making are all highly skilled craftsmen and women.


During the 18th century, Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent saw people knitting wool everywhere from sitting on doorsteps to walking to work. The ‘Terrible Knitters e’ Dent’ became famous all over Britain after Robert Southey described them in a story published in 1834. Meaning terribly good, the true story tells of two girls, Betty and Sally Yewdale, who were sent to Dent in the 1760’s to learn how to knit. They hated knitting as they were forced to knit as fast as they could all day long. The girls eventually ran away and walked the long miles home to Langdale via Kendal. The knitters of Dent and Sedbergh used a thick, greasy yarn called ‘bump’ as well as finer wool for special items like patterned gloves. They made hats and caps, mittens, socks, waistcoats and jackets which were called frocks.


Joseph Denver died in 1838 but his sons and their descendants ran Farfield Mill for nearly a century until 1937. The government in Australia, one of their main outlets, put higher tariffs onto imported cloths. Demand for Farfield’s check horse blankets and collar lining cloth was in decline as there were fewer working horses and with the continued loss of business, the Dover family decided to sell the mill to the Farfield Spinning Company.


There was various owners throughout the following years with the buildings used to store wool, for making cheese during the Second World War and for making crankshafts for Airspeed Oxford Trainer planes. Despite having a revival during the 1960’s and 1980’s, the mill was never used to full capacity again. David Douglas started weaving woollens under the trade name of Pennine Tweeds and he trained Bryan Hinton to use the remaining 1934 Dobcross looms. Bryan and his wife took over the business, weaving wool and mohair goods, until October 1992 when they gave up the business.


Farfield Mill: Mixed Media Collages


As part of the In Place exhibition held at Farfield Mill was several pieces of work by the textile artist Mary Sleigh. The mixed media collages (above and below) combine maps, feathers, stamps, paint, fabric and stitches to create connections between materials and a sense of place.

Flight316     Flight293

All created by hand, Mary is passionate about craft and textile heritage and is a member of the Embroiders Guild.


Mary enjoys the industrious process of creating work,  investigating materials and ways of working. By combining fabric, paper, stitched surfaces with unexpected objects, her work invites viewers to respond in their own way.

Flight428     Flight536

‘Every acquisition, whether crucial or trivial, marks an unrepeatable conjuncture of subject, found object, place and moment.’ Roger Cardinal, The Cultures of Collecting


Farfield Mill: Flies in a Bottle


On display as part of the In Place exhibition at Farfield Mill was the above work entitled “Flies in a bottle”. The wood, perspex and ‘found’ objects box is the work of the textile artist, embroiderer and bookmaker Mary Sleigh. Having collected numerous items of no intrinsic value, Mary has created artistic works that capture the memory of the moment. The In Place exhibition was concerned with creating personal connections with materials and objects while developing a sense of place.