Reminiscences of Frank Peel

(letter to P. Hudson, June 2000)
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 


My father started at the mill in the late 1800s. He was a good rifle shot and was taken into the Territorials. He asked to see Mr Christie for permission to go to the Isle of Man with the Territorials — thinking he might lose his job. However, Mr Christie agreed and gave him a sovereign. He became a foreman later and retired after he had been Works Manager for 20 years or so.

Frank Peel was born in West View in Langcliffe in 1920 and moved to the Mill House in 1922. Mill House was attached to the mill buildings. The mill provided gas to Langcliffe village. Frank used to pump water from the gas main which went up over the railway bridge.

The mill ran in conjunction with Shed Mill where most of the copwinding and doubling was done. This was powered by a Woods Tandem steam engine then a Gilkes water turbine in 1926. High Mill supplied drinking water which was pumped from a field near the Lodge gates and softened by the Permutit system. Frank worked on mechanical and electrical maintenance from 1938 to about 1941. One vehicle delivered to Lancashire and another shuttled between the two mills and taking goods to Settle station. Mr Ingham the General Manager had a works car.

The ‘Penny Hole’ was so-called as in times past anyone who was late (after a second buzzer sounded) found the main gate closed and had to pass through the ‘Penny Hole’, having this amount deducted from their wage. It is not known when this practice ended.

The gas works were fitted with six horizontal retorts (about 1930) supplied and erected by Drakes — the cast iron ones in the riverbank are very old, almost certainly from the mid- to late 1800s. There was a much older stack of five retorts, not normally used, which were commissioned when the working six had to be replaced. Langcliife did not get mains electricity until the 1930s. The new gasholder was installed around 1930.

Opposite the retort house was the mortar house which contained a mortar grinding mill. Coke and slaked lime were found together and used for ‘luting’ (sealing) the cast iron doors which closed the retorts. The exhauster machine which kept the retort pressure neutral was driven by a small Gilkes water turbine. As the retorts were of porous clay the neutral pressure was needed to avoid gas escape into the furnace and vice-versa. The turbine occasionally choked with leaves sometimes requiring a call-out from the night-watchman. Electricity was produced at the mill using a turbine. Lighting was 110v dc and power 400v ac. Lights out at 11pm when the turbine was stopped.