Cold harbour Woolen Mill lies in the county of Devon and can be found a little off the beaten track, near the village of Uffculme. The mill is a unique survivor of a West Country industry that was hugely important to the country during the 17th and 18th centuries. This fact alone makes the mill’s history particularly interesting as it was constructed late in the 18th century and continued in profitable production well into the 20th. This was at a time when the industry in general was in decline and most other mills were being converted by their owners, to paper or flour production. It appears that there has been a mill of some description on or near the Cold harbour site since Saxon times, the Domes day Book recording two mills in the Uffculme area.
Prior to development as a woolen mill, references suggest that the mill was formerly a paper mill. Two Quaker brothers, the Fox brothers, purchased the Cold harbour site for 1100 Guineas in 1797. The sale included the original mill buildings, along with fifteen acre’s of grazing land. Although major redevelopment of the site was required the important factor in the purchase was that the head of water available from the River Culm was good. At this time irtually all mills were still being powered by water, although the advent of the steam engine was soon to change that. The water wheel, which continued in use right up until 1978, can still be seen and is currently awaiting restoration.
The Fox Brother’s success lay in their ability to produce two types of cloth – Serge and Flannel. Serge is a hardwearing cloth much used in the manufacture of uniforms, and Flannel was the softer cloth preferred for underwear and trousers. The serge would be produced in ‘Long Ells’ which were long strips of cloth measuring 75ft long by 31 inches wide (an Ell), each weighting some 21 pounds. Both products found good export markets in the colonies, China and later America. In 1865 Cold harbour Woolen Mill moved over to producing Worsted Yarn rather than Woolen Yarn and this necessitated the need for more power to drive new combing machines. (Worsted is made from long fleeced sheep and the wool has to be firstly combed to ensure all the fibres are parallel)
Initially a 25hp steam powered beam engine was installed, followed by a second in 1890. A Pollit & Wigzell 300hp, cross compound steam engine then superseded these engines in 1910 and continued in use, along with the water wheel, until Fox Brother’s closed the mill in April 1981. Today the cross compound steam engine remains fully operational and in situ. A replacement beam engine has also been re-erected on the site of one of the originals; this also is fully operational.
Today the mill is a working museum, and an informative guided tour will take you through every step in the process from combing and carding to spinning. All machinery is operational and much of it is over 100 years old, giving the visitor an insight into working conditions during the industrial revolution.
Volunteers give demonstrations of the part each machine plays in the overall process. Outside the mill there is also plenty to see. The engine and boiler room, the Gas Retort House (gas was used to light the mill as well as part of the village), the weaver’s, carpenter’s and dye workshops, and an old air-raid shelter. Reference www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/industrial/coldharbour.htm