Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Bridge at Easedale and the Fulling Mill

Over the last week our job has been to build a bridge over Sourmilk Gill in Easedale to provide access for a team of archaeologists and volunteers to survey a Medieval Fulling Mill.

The mill dates from at least the 13th Century and is the remains of the first Fulling Mill in the Parish of Grasmere. The ruins of the wheel pit and other structures are still visible when the bracken is down.

Remains of the Fulling Mill

Fulling was a process used to clean and felt wool which involved it being beaten by wooden hammers usually driven by a water wheel or walked on by people wearing heavy wooden clogs, hence the alternative name “Walk Mill” is sometimes used.

This mill is first mentioned in 1283 when it was producing enough cloth to supply Grasmere, Langdale, Loughrigg, Rydal and half of Ambleside. By 1324 it was providing the Lord of the Manor Ingelram de Gynes with a substantial income. The tenant of the mill at the time was Rad de Grenerige (another fantastic Norse name!). At this time a sheep’s fleece was worth the equivalent of a working mans wages for a year and stealing a fleece was punishable by death. Wool was brought to the site from all over the Parish.

In 1453 another mill was built in Langdale. This was either due to increased demand or because of the toll charged by the Township of Grasmere to the people of Langdale. You walk through this mill's remains as you exit the National Trust car park at Stickle Ghyll. The Wool trade flourished and at its peak in 1575 there were eighteen mills in the Parish.

It is hoped that after the surveying eventually the mill will be excavated as finds from a Medieval structure such as this are few and far between.

Rather than produce a temporary bridge, it was decided to build something more substantial that the tenant farmer could also use for access. In return he helped us out greatly by moving the beams down next to the beck. So next we had the job of moving the beams (each weighing roughly half a tonne) into position.

The beams next to the beck

We strapped both beams together and used our trusty winch, along with quite a lot of levering with crowbars, to move them into position to span the beck.

Moving the beams into position

Next it was time to get both beams level. On the lower side of the bridge we raised the beams onto a wooden frame to gain enough height above the water that the bridge would be clear when the beck is in full spate.

Levelling the beams

With the beams now level and joined together by threaded bars and wooden spacers, we built a stone revetment on the lower side of the bridge (next to the wooden frame). This revetment will act as a retaining wall for the river bank and also to support the bridge.

Building the revetment

After a couple of days we began attaching the treads and the uprights for the hand rails.

Attaching the treads and uprights

By the end of the fourth day we finished nailing on the final treads so that the bridge would be usable for the visiting archaeologists.

Attaching the last few treads

The next job was to connect the rails. We're still waiting on some more materials to finish it off properly, as we're one tread short and the hand rails for the top of the uprights have not been cut yet. But the bridge is now pretty much completed.

The bridge after adding the rails

Update: And here's a link to some videos about the Fulling Mill on ITV's Border News....click here

Update 2: A full report with findings from the survey can be seen here...click here

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