Water Mills in the South Pennines

Some water mill sites in the area are known to have been in use in the medieval period. For example, there was an agreement about access to water made in 1314 between the Lord of the Manor of Wakefield and a neighbouring landowner. Their corn mills stood on opposite banks of the same river, one in Wadsworth, one in Heptonstall, although the exact location is not clear. The growth of fulling mills in the medieval period seems to have been encouraged by the custom of charging only a small rent for building and operating of these mills - in other parts of the country fulling mills were leased by the Lord of the Manor for quite a high rent.

There was a further significant growth in water mills in this area from the mid 16th century onwards, when the growth of the woollen industry meant an increased demand for water power for fulling cloth. However, the biggest growth in the number of water mills in the region area came with the industrial expansion of the late 18th C onwards. A rise in population and a new demand for goods also meant a big increase in the demand for water powered machinery, initially for preparing and spinning cotton, but then for woollen and worsted too.

Next section: Water and steam power

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