The Bobbin Turning Industry in Martindale

by Jane Brimmer

This small remote farming community must have been surprised when a Bobbin Turning Industry arrived in Martindale in the early 1820’s. The Mill was built by ‘off-comers’, worked by ‘off- comers’, and the end product sold out of the area to the cotton spinning factories of Lancaster, for their ever-whirring machines. The industrial revolution had reached this quiet rural area.

The mill was powered by the fast-flowing and plentiful water of Fusedale Beck, which enters the lake at the present steamer pier; the mill was developed on the site of an earlier Fulling Mill, such mills being commonplace in sheep-farming wool areas.

Fulling is the process of scouring wool and thickening it after it has been woven. This was originally achieved by walking on and treading lengths of wet wool. Water-driven paddles were then invented to do the task more efficiently. The other requirement was potash. This was produced by burning the plentiful green bracken from the adjoining fells, in a specially constructed stone built kiln. The ash produced was mixed with tallow and lime to make a soft soap to scour and clean the wool

The new mill was the typical style, two-storey rectangular stone-built building with large upstairs windows for light. The wheel (long since gone ) had an overfall of 26 feet. It powered the lathes and saws that cut and turned the industrial-size bobbins. The bobbins were made from locally grown and coppiced birch, ash & hazel; they were not the later ‘one-piece’ bobbins, but the earlier, more basic type consisting of a spindle and two ends, that were glued in a separate process.Tumbling them in barrels with wax gave a final smooth surface, to prevent snagging the cotton.

The finished bobbins were transported by boat down the lake. And the business benefited in 1846 from its proximity to Penrith railway station, on the newly-built Lancaster / Carlisle railway line.

In 1851, the Mill employed 15 people. Unlike other lakeland mills, this mill never modernised to steam-power. In common with other bobbin mills, it was hit by the 1860 Cotton Famine and reduced demand, and cheaper wood supplies from Norway. And it ceased production of bobbins in the mid 1860’s, continuing in a very much smaller way as a general saw mill. When this business too ceased, the building fell into disrepair and ruin.

In 1935 the building was renovated by local efforts and became Martindale's ‘Recreation Room’. The old mill workings were all removed, modern day electricity and water services were installed and new wooden floors and stairs put in. Today after further renovations the building serves as Martindale’s Village hall, used by the local community for meetings and social events.

by Jane Brimmer

Other topics that may be of interest