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Thwaites Mills Museum and Aire and Calder Navigation Leeds Yorkshire

Thwaites Mills Museum and Aire and Calder Navigation Leeds Yorkshire

A fully-restored working watermill which is nestled on an island location between the River Aire and the Aire & Calder Navigation. Thwaite Mills is one of the best examples of a water-powered mill in Britain.

In 1641 a fulling mill was built at Thwaite. Little is known about this mill, except that is consisted of 8 fulling stocks and 4 waterwheels. The process of fulling is one of the final stages in the manufacture of woollen cloth, being carried out after the wool had been spun and woven into cloth. Large water-powered hammers (fulling stocks) pounded the woven fabric in fuller’s earth and urine in order to matt the fibres together.

By the 1820s, the Aire and Calder Navigation Co had purchased the Mills at Thwaite and had decided to rebuild the whole site. Thomas Hewes, a well known mill builder of the day and mill wright, was asked to construct two brand new large waterwheels and also to advise on the rebuilding of the mill itself.

The rebuilding took two years to complete, and the work came to a total cost of £15,876.
When finished, the brand new site consisted of a 2-storey mill building with attic, an engineers’ workshop, warehouse, stables, dwelling house and a row of workers’ cottages.

These are the buildings that can be seen today, with the exception of the workers’ cottages which were demolished in 1968.

When the mills re-opened in 1825, the lease was taken on by W and E Joy of Leeds, seed crushers and oil refiners. They specialised in rape oil which they sold both for lubricating and for lighting. It has been claimed that the lubricating oil for Stephenson’s Rocket was produced at Thwaite Mills by the Joys!

For a short time, exotic woods imported from South America were also crushed here. The crushed wood would have been used to produce colour in dyes for the local textile industry. Corn was also ground at the mills, but this was never a major activity.

The Horns came to Thwaite Mills in 1872. They already had mills nearby at Oulton, Castleford and Ferry bridge, and were well established in the business of grinding flint and china stone and producing whiting. The mills at Thwaite were adapted to suit these purposes.

The flint and china stone were ground for use in glazes for the local pottery industry. Whiting, which is ground chalk, was manufactured for whitewash, putty, polish, pharmaceuticals, and even food products. They also crushed barytes which is used in the making of paint.

The Horns worked Thwaite Mills as a water-powered mill up until 1976. By this time, their main line of business was putty manufacture. In 1975 the weir collapsed in a flood. The waterwheels could no longer work, and the Horns were forced to call it a day.

Thwaite Mills Society, a registered charity, was formed in 1978 to restore and preserve this unique site as an industrial museum.

This information from the museum website.

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