Mines and Mills 1680 - 1962

by Emma Bray

Banner Image: Greenside Mine © Tim Clarke

The Lake District may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of an industrial area, yet industry has played an important part in shaping its history, economy and landscape and Ullswater is no exception. Industries have ranged from mining and quarrying to milling and the production of potash, charcoal and lime.


The area would have been dotted with watermills from medieval times and their use changed over time. Fulling mills which mechanised the felting of woollen cloth were associated with the medieval wool trade and continued into the 18th century. The process involved the pounding of woollen cloth by wooden hammers (stocks), driven by the mill wheel, to compact the fibres. Fulling mills have been identified throughout the valley, with examples in Thackthwaite, Dockray, Glenridding and Martindale. With the industrial revolution, local fulling mills were superseded by larger industrial units in towns such as Kendal and so either fell out of use or were converted.

Dockray mill watercolour 1890

The fulling mill in Martindale was adapted in response to the industrial revolution by converting it to a bobbin mill in the 1820s, employing up to 15 people until the 1860s when it was converted once again, this time to a sawmill.

Most communities had a corn mill powered by water. Because the predominant corn crop was oats which are soft, they needed to be dried in a kiln before milling. Hartsop had a separate corn drying kiln, whereas in Dockray, the oats were dried in the mill building. Mass industrial processes developed during the 19th century gradually led to the decay of the area’s mills. The Dockray corn mill is known to have been out of use by 1878. However, Sparkett Mill in Hutton John operated as a corn mill as late as 1975.


Customary tenants had the right to gather bracken which was used for livestock bedding and thatching, but some found an industrial use for it in the making of potash for soap. The industry was linked to the wool trade as soap was used to clean the cloth before dyeing. Numerous potash kilns have been identified in the area. One in Glencoyne was photographed in 1940, but has since been destroyed. It was a stone building containing a fireplace with a flue leading under and into a saucer-shaped hollow lined with stones. The trade was thought to have existed from around the late 15th to late 17th century when local potash was replaced with North American imports.

There were also a number of lime kilns to the north-east of Ullswater and also at Blowick and Glenridding, the lime being transported to the latter by boat. Lime was used from at least the 17th century as a fertiliser, for mortar and white-wash and in industries such as tanning and soap production.

Above: Potash kiln Glencoyne woods by boathouse 1987 © Cumbria Industrial History Society, with thanks to Mike Davies-Shiel
Below: Lime Kiln Barton Fell © Anne Clarke

Charcoal Platforms

Charcoal was produced as a fuel for use in industries such as smelting and the production of gunpowder. There may have been charcoal production in medieval times, but demand and price increased from around 1700-1850 which led to an increase in charcoal burning around Ullswater. Thirty-two charcoal burning platforms have been identified in Harstop alone, concentrated in the wooded areas close to Hartsop Hall and in Dovedale. It seems the lord of the manor developed the industry as an additional source of income during this period.

Hartsop lead mine headrace & charcoal pitstead - still at work in 1956 - closed by new landowners National Trust. (Photo taken 1977) © Cumbria Industrial History Society, with thanks to Mike Davies-Shiel

Mining and Quarries

The most significant industrial impact on the valley landscape and economy has come from mining and quarrying. The exact date when mining began in the valley is uncertain, but by 1696 there was a lead mine at Harstop Hall and by 1784, Eagle Crag mine was being exploited. A survey of 1767 recorded 16 miners living in the Patterdale area.

Eagle Crag Mine interior © Mark Hatton, with thanks

There was also significant quarrying for slates from the 18th century until the 1930s at Caudale slate mine. The largest mine was Greenside lead mine above Glenridding which was probably mined in the late 1700s, but was developed extensively from the 1820s to become the largest producer of lead ore in the country until it closed in 1962. Greenside had an enormous impact on the social and economic expansion of Glenridding, brining an influx of miners from outside the valley and leading to over fifty new houses being built in the village.

Caudale interior © Mark Hatton, with thanks

Although these industries have largely disappeared from the valley over time, they have left their mark on the landscape and are a reminder of Ullswater’s rich industrial heritage.

by Emma Bray

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