Langcliffe Mills

Jim Nelson

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The story of water mills at Langcliffe goes back to 1160 when Adam of Giggleswick son of Meldred concerned for his soul, granted to God, St Mary and the monks of Furness his land called "Stacus" for an annual rent of 10/-: to be paid half at Pentecost and half at the feast of St Martin, along with a right to keep pigs and cut wood at Stackhouse. Within a few years monks were in residence with a grange, and in order to be self maintained they built a corn mill utilising the power of the adjacent river. The mill was so successful that it took work from the mill of Elias, grandson of Adam at the Mill Hill, Giggleswick. Furthermore they had built their mill on the Langcliffe side of the river which was land belonging to Elias. A long dispute started. The Ribble perhaps ran in several streams over the alluvial land of Stackhouse Holme, one being taken and made into the mill pond. By 1221 the abbot of Furness asked the pope's legate Panduff to give judgement, which resulted in the Stackhouse boundary being moved to take in the mill pond, but not the mill. Elias gained the mill, but had to pay 2d a year for the mill pond, and release the monks from their 10/- per annum payment.

About this time William of Malham son of Archil, looking for a ticket to heaven also bequeathed his 3 acres at Stackhouse to the monks of Furness, so their land now extended to the boundary of Knight Stainforth. Here another mill was built on the Stainforth/Langcliffe border. The next information about these mills is when Elias gave the Furness mill to Sawley Abbey. Between 1200-1250 Sawley obtained much of Ribblesdale.

In the middle ages little money changed hands, the miller took so much meal in payment for grinding; the soke system. For corn brought in to the market from outside the parish 1 pint was taken from each bag as market toll. Times became hard for the corn mills, it was increasingly difficult to obtain any custom from outside the parish, so a syndicate rented all the corn mills of Langcliffe and Settle, closing all but Runley Bridge where the multure was increased. There were many objections to this. On record is the case of Samuel Watson of Knight Stainforth versus the syndicate in 1652, he claimed a quarter share of the Langcliffe mill as the mill pond was on his stretch of the river. Watson lost his case and was imprisoned at York. To add to the troubles of the water mills of this time the inn keepers of the district who did not grow grain of their own, but bought in the market place, were not under any obligation to use the manor corn mill in contrast to the tenant farmers under the terms of their tenancy. William Foster set up a horse mill to grind his own corn for malt in his own inn, and also for any other innkeeper. This resulted in a long drawn out enquiry which ended in Foster being awarded 10 costs.

By 1753 came the Keighley-Kendal turnpike road. Horse waggon loads of goods changed the life of the mills at Langcliffe, and many other places where there was water power to drive the new machinery for cotton spinning.

In 1783 the new owners of the old Furness mill were George and William Clayton and partner R Walshman (brother-in-law). They were friends of Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the new spinning machines, together they had built and equipped a mill at Halifax; the first cotton mill in Yorkshire. They had ambitious plans for Langcliffe. No local builder had ever built anything larger than a barn, so the owners took charge of the work, first appointing T Smith to go and look for timber. This not being a timber growing area enough wood had to be sought elsewhere. The entire mill was built within the year 1783. The best stone in the district for ashlar had to be found, but around Langcliffe there was plenty of walling stone for the cost of carting. Not enough lime was available from local lime burning, so it was carted from Chatburn, a full days work for a horse and cart. Oak, deal, and alder was used for much of the wood work, and part of the Folly was rented for a joiners shop at the cost of 5.15.6 per half year. Doors, window frames etc. were being made as the building progressed. Picks and shovels were busy enlarging the mill pond and repairing the weir. The nearest source of lead was Grassington lead mines. There were no millwrights around Langcliffe, so this kind of expertise had to be brought from Halifax. The nearest supply of iron and steel was at Carnforth, Lancaster or the forge at Caton. Wages were not very high in those days but there were always extras on special occasions like the laying of the foundation stone when it was drinks all round. An entry in the cash book reads May 1st. Ale 2.7.6. The day that the water wheel axle was fixed there was a bonus of 3/-. By November of that year the mill was ready for working, and the day was celebrated with a party. The cash book reads:-

Dinner at ye opening of ye Mill           7.7.0

Ale               2.2.6

To Hannah Egling 8 doz. buns                   8.0

Oct. 23rd 1st cart load of cotton 6 bags

extra for driver 1.0

In bad weather the cash book might have an entry, To the waggon driver 1/- extra. Child labour was brought from Keighley, but they were well cared for at Langcliffe, unlike the Cromford, Derbyshire mill where the children slept on the mill floor or in the loft, cold and poorly fed. Here children were boarded out with respectable families, and where there was a need for shoes, shirts, coats etc., they were provided. There was also some basic education.

Mr Walshman's share of the partnership was bought out by the Clayton brothers in 1786 and William jnr taken into the business on the death of his father in 1823. Around this time many extensions were built, Langcliffe Place the big house for the mill owner and extensive work at the Shed for weaving. Looking from Stackhouse Lane across the river to the Shed mill the windows indicate that the original mill consisted of what is now a row of cottages. It was powered by a wheel at the north end, this being fed by the cut from the high mill. The north-light weaving shed was built and powered in the same way, and three cottages and a canteen were made out of the original mill. To this the Settle Bridge End mill was added and William Clayton became very wealthy and went into banking at Preston. Early in 1849 there was a slump in the cotton trade, the bank closed and the mills were put up for sale at the Golden Lion, Settle. The notice of sale lists land from the locks at Holm Head to Settle Bridge, Bridge End Mill of 4160 spindles, Shed Mill with 300 looms and the High Mill with 14,032 spindles; all were bought by Mr Bashall, but he could not make it pay and again the mills were silent, this time for 7-8 years. Workers moved out of Langcliffe, many houses were empty and it was reported that grass grew on the streets of the village. Many workers moved to Accrington where there was still work, one area of that town became known as little Langcliffe.

In 1861 Mr Lorenzo Christie bought the mills, and work restarted, not many workers were available so people were recruited from far and near and had to be trained; during this time the weaving looms at the shed were taken out and replaced with spinning then doubling machinery, 44 frames. The Bridge End Mill was disused and was becoming derelict by the time it was taken over for a saw mill. Mr Lorenzo Christie was followed by his son Hector, he was there until his death in 1915.

These mills were all water powered, the first mill dam being set up 800 years ago but enlarged by the Claytons & Walshman to turn a water wheel, and when the mill was extended a second wheel. Late last century turbines by John Turnbull of Glasgow replaced the wheels. These were vertical, fed from a 25 ft drop, one of 90 hp and the other 180 hp and always set to use all the available water to generate power to the Taunton 110 volt dynamos, one 400 amp and the other 150 amp. At least for 9 months of the year the Ribble provided an adequate supply of water, but in a dry summer they had difficulties and so steam power was added at the turn of the century to work along with the water power. This comprised two Lancashire boilers with Coates of Belfast economisers, a triple expansion inverted vertical engine and a 15 ft flywheel coupled with rope belts to the main shafting. It is sad to know that in an age when we are looking to wind power to generate electricity the national grid insisted that the turbines be done away with before they would couple the mill to the grid. The tail race of the High Mill, via the cut, fed the Shed Mill, but today part of this, and some of the buildings, have been done away with and no trace of the wheel or its housing is to be seen.

Details of the turbines most recently in use have been sent to me by private communication. There was a Gilkes of Kendal twin turbine of 145 hp at 210 rpm, installed in 1912, it consumed 7000 cubic feet of water each minute on full power; this was positioned at the north end of the mill, and was at the lowest point possible for the tail race to return the water back to river. There was an estimated 18 ft from the head race to the channel under the doubling room floor. The water power was connected to the line shaft by a round cotton rope drive.

In 1892 steam power was provided by a horizontal twin, single crank engine made by Messrs Wood & Co. This engine which utilised the steam from two Lancashire type boilers, had a 19 inch diameter high pressure cylinder and the low pressure cylinder was 29.25 inches in diameter, with a 48 inch stroke which generated 440 hp It used a flywheel of 18 feet diameter which rotated at a rate of 70 revolutions per minute. Power was transferred from the flywheel by 9 ropes each of 1.75 inch diameter to the central shaft.

I thank the many people who have given me time and information. Historical notes from Brayshaw & Robinson. For technical data I thank Mr F Peel.