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HER Number:MDV7783
Name:Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills


Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills built in the 18th century with later additions and alterations. Probably on the site of an earlier monastic building of Buckfast Abbey. Alternate name: Berrys Mill.


Grid Reference:SX 741 672
Map Sheet:SX76NW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishAshburton
Civil ParishBuckfastleigh
Ecclesiastical ParishBUCKFASTLEIGH

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: SX76NW48
  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 1305502
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX76NW/7
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX76NW/7/2

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • TEXTILE MILL (Constructed, XVIII to XIX - 1701 AD (Between) to 1900 AD (Between))
  • INDUSTRIAL BUILDING (Built, XIX - 1801 AD (Between) to 1900 AD (Between))
  • SPINNING MILL (Constructed, XIX to Late 20th Century - 1900 AD (Between) to 1998 AD (Between))
  • WATER TURBINE (Early 20th Century - 1901 AD (Throughout) to 1901 AD (Throughout))

Full description

Ordnance Survey, 1904 - 1906, Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map (Cartographic). SDV325644.

'Lower Buckfast Woollen Mill' shown on early 20th century map,

Hamlyn, A., 1913, Proceedings at the 52nd Annual Meeting, 28 (Article in Serial). SDV348637.

Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills. A deed of the 18th century showed that the older part of the mill was built in 1760. An older mill stood on the site previous to that and before that was an old stamp works.

Copeland, G. W., 1964, Demolition of Historic Buildings, 391 (Article in Serial). SDV20152.

Buckfast Serge Mills; John Berry and Sons Ltd. Demolition proposed.

Harris, H., 1968, Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, 190 (Monograph). SDV149229.

Buckfast Woollen Mill; interspersed amongst more modern buildings of the Buckfast Spinning Company are only a few of the remaining features of the earlier Buckfast Woollen Mill, dating from when Berry's business was moved here from Ashburton, in about 1850. Most of the Lower Mill was destroyed in the fire of 1877. The chimney stack is original, though shorter now. A stone shed near the abbey, against the leat is old; it was recently used as a wool store until gutted by fire on 31st March 1967. The leats pass the building on two sides where it is used for processing purposes. Water from the River Dart is still the source for the mills power, though now through the generating of electricity.

Devon County Council, 1974, Survey of Watermills in Devon: Gazetteer (Report - Survey). SDV83967.

Timms, S. C., 1979, Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills (Personal Comment). SDV348638.

Site visited on 6th November 1979. Mill chimney, which is brick and was built in circa 1906, is in the process of being demolished and replaced by a new stack. Other details: Photographs.

Greeves, T. A. P., 1982, Report on Archaeological Implications (Planning Application). SDV348633.

This mill may originally have formed part of the Medieval abbey complex, and the proposed improvements to visitor facilities should take account of this.

Timms, S. C., 1984, Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills (Personal Comment). SDV348639.

Site visited on 23rd February 1984. Large industrial factory complex dating from the transfer of the woollen mill from Ashburton in the mid 19th century. Site which is still in textile industry use occupies a rectangular area to south of Buckfast Abbey and east of Buckfast Road.

Harris, H., 1986, Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor (Revised Edition), 190 (Monograph). SDV295019.

A modern factory spinning yarn for Axminster carpets incorporates some earlier buildings at the northern end. Immediately east of the abbey gateway is an altered 2 storey stone building with a blocked stone arch in the wall to the south indicating the position of the headrace to a presumed former external overshot waterwheel driven by water from a higher mill. The headrace to the east at a lower level carries water into a culvert below more modern buildings but was probably the source of further water power. Above the culvert is a long late 19th century symmetrical range in stone with stone quoins and brick dressings. The range has a simple ridge with 3 cross-gables and intervening dormers. It is of 2 storeys with an attic and of about 27 bays. The first storey openings have segmental brick heads but those on 2nd and 3rd storeys have arched brick heads. Extending to the south from this range is a long range of 3 storeys in brick and stone in more than one phase. The site was not examined in detail.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, DAP/JP, 6-11 (Aerial Photograph). SDV292049.

Brown, S. W., 1988, Excavations and Building Recording at Buckfast Abbey, 55-65 (Article in Serial). SDV348443.

National Monument Record, 1994, NMR 15017, NMR 15017/21 14-APR-1994 (Aerial Photograph). SDV361877.

The industrial complex has been photographed from the air.

Harris, W. B., 1995, Hydro-Electricity in Devon: Past, Present and Future, 259-286 (Article in Serial). SDV125385.

SX 742 672 In 1901 Father Denys Matthieu and his nephew installed a turbine at West Mill Buckfastleigh to generate electricity for the Abbey. The scheme was driven by a leat from the River Dart through the Abbey grounds. In order to obtain an electric supply while the mill was in operation from 6am-6pm accumulators were installed and used until 1917. Electricity was still being generated in 1995.
NB: There is a 'West Mill' in Buckfastleigh at SX76NW/40 fed by the Dean Burn leat but the above grid reference is the location for the scheme (Unattributed SMR reference).

Gent, T. + Manning, P., 2013, Heritage assessment of buildings associated with the former Buckfast Spinning Mills, Buckfast, Devon, 2-3, 6, fig 3 (Report - Assessment). SDV359778.

Lower Mills
The Lower Mills site contained two mills or mill factories, known respectively as Lower Mill and Higher (or Little) Mill. Higher Mill was powered by Higher Leat, which also fed the millpond for a wheel at the south end of Lower Mill. A second wheel on the eastern side of Lower Mill was powered by Lower Leat. Both leats may be of medieval, or late medieval, origin.
Lower Mill was built a little before 1800 on the site of an earlier tucking or fulling mill which appears to be documented in 1769. A lease of 1800 refers to Lower Mill as 'lately newly erected, anciently a tucking mill', and includes land to the west as far as the road.
It is not known when Higher Mill was built, but both 'Higher and Lower Mills or factories' are mentioned in a bargain and sale of August 1810. It is possible that there was also a grist mill on or near the site, as an indenture of 1827 includes 'a certain mill or factory and grist mill called the lower factory' and also mentions 'higher mill or factory'. In 1837 'Higher Mill', was described as a blanket mill.
There were serious fires on the Lower Mills site in 1825, 1877 (most of mill destroyed) and 1967. The 1877 fire displaced 450 mill workers, but the mills were 'rapidly being rebuilt' in 1878, and employing about 400 hands again in 1897. The development of the mills from the later 19th century onwards is evident from historic mapping and seems to be linked to the relocation of Berry's mill business from Ashburton in about 1850. The mills were the largest (woollen mills) in the parish in 1877.
There are 19th-century documents that refer to Lower Mills, together with other buildings that formed part of the property or a particular holding, but it is not clear whether the other buildings were within the present Site boundary. For example, documents of 1830 and 1899 refer to a 'worsted mill or factory and grist mill and smith's shop and dwelling house adjoining called Lower Factory..'.
It is documented that water from Higher Leat was used to irrigate meadows in South Parks, to the south of the Site, and Orchard or Churchyard Meadow, to the north, implying the existence of water channels that passed through the Site. A section of such a feature has been seen to the north of the Site where it exists as a large underground stone lined and capped channel. A document of 1825 refers to a gutter conveying water from the north side of the mill pond to Churchyard meadow etc.
The 1910 Inland Revenue field survey book gives details of property No. 21, Lower Woollen Mills, John Berry & Sons Ltd, which included: a stable and cart shed (both 'very old'), tailor's store, wool store and carpenters shop (all timber built). A stone and slate weaving shed contained 150 looms, and there were seven other buildings (mainly of stone and slate, or stone, brick and slate), with up to three floors, and one with a basement, with machinery and equipment listed. A further un-named property containing industrial buildings is also detailed but it is not clear if it refers to the Lower Mills site.
John Berry went into receivership in 1950, when the property was conveyed to the Urban District Council, and then to the Buckfast Spinning Co. Ltd in 1960.
Building J
Building J (Photo. 10) covers a substantial part of the Site, and it is evident that development took place in a number of phases. On the basis of both map evidence and construction methods and materials, it is clear that much of the structure, including the whole of the southern half (Photos 10 and 11), and significant elements at the northern end, was built after 1961. Much of the south-west corner has been terraced into the hill slope, and linear channels of unknown function have also been cut into the floor across this most recent part of the building.
Across the remaining central section it is suspected that much of the building’s roof structure and all roof cladding and ancillary features, such as ventilation ducting and external ladders, also date to either this period, or the interval between 1905 and 1961. All floor surfaces are also probably of twentieth-century date, although earlier surfaces may survive below these. Earlier fabric does survive however, although this is not always easy to determine beneath modern wall cladding. All four brick walls to one nineteenth-century industrial range (Photo. 12) appear to survive. The roof to this structure is not original. On the evidence that the
western end of a range of this dimension is depicted on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map, this part of Building J is thought have been constructed between c. 1870 (Fig. 5) and this date. At an unknown date, a long brick-lined channel has been cut into the floor along this range.
The roof trusses to the range immediately to the south are thought to be late 19th-century in date, although due to fire probably not original. On the north side these trusses rest on the brick southern wall to the range described above (Photo. 13), but to the south are supported by a brick wall of post 1961 date. The original stone end walls to this partial range also survive (Photos 13 and 14). This stone building is visible on a photograph of c. 1910. Further early wall sections survive within Building J to the north and east of the earliest
ranges. Most are not possible to date with any certainty, although, on the basis of their alignment, it is clear that the westernmost brick elevations to the next range were not constructed until after 1905.
Other wall sections within the building also predate 1961, although none seem to represent complete rooms. Sections may survive on the west side of the boiler house for example, where the room has been terraced into the hill slope, and appear to support the eastern side of an adjoining engine house that contains two Lister diesel units (Photo. 15).
The main works buildings have been almost completely stripped of fittings and equipment. Other than the later twentieth century boilers and the Lister engines, no industrial machinery survives.

Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R., 2018-2019, The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (AI&M) (Interpretation). SDV361305.

The Historic England Archive holds numerous aerial photographs showing the industrial complex from the air.

Historic England, 2021-2022, NRHE to HER website, Accessed 29/03/2022 (Website). SDV364039.

South West Textile Mills Project Number: 419.

Gent, T. + Manning, P., Nov 2011, Archaeological Assessment of St. Mary's School and St. Mary's Convent, Buckfast, Devon, 7 (Report - Assessment). SDV351589.

The Tithe Map depicts a mill and mill pond to the east of the site, recorded as Buckfast Mill. The 1887 and later Ordnance Survey maps show the subsequent development of the site. It is now Buckfast Spinning Mill. It is possible that this was the site of a medieval mill.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV125385Article in Serial: Harris, W. B.. 1995. Hydro-Electricity in Devon: Past, Present and Future. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 127. A5 Paperback. 259-286.
SDV149229Monograph: Harris, H.. 1968. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. A5 Hardback. 190.
SDV20152Article in Serial: Copeland, G. W.. 1964. Demolition of Historic Buildings. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 96. A5 Hardback. 391.
SDV292049Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. DAP/JP. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 6-11.
SDV295019Monograph: Harris, H.. 1986. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor (Revised Edition). Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Hardback Volume. 190.
SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #104757 ]
SDV348443Article in Serial: Brown, S. W.. 1988. Excavations and Building Recording at Buckfast Abbey. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 46. Paperback Volume. 55-65.
SDV348633Planning Application: Greeves, T. A. P.. 1982. Report on Archaeological Implications. Devon County Council. Unknown.
SDV348637Article in Serial: Hamlyn, A.. 1913. Proceedings at the 52nd Annual Meeting. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 45. A5 Hardback. 28.
SDV348638Personal Comment: Timms, S. C.. 1979. Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills.
SDV348639Personal Comment: Timms, S. C.. 1984. Lower Buckfast Woollen Mills.
SDV351589Report - Assessment: Gent, T. + Manning, P.. Nov 2011. Archaeological Assessment of St. Mary's School and St. Mary's Convent, Buckfast, Devon. Archaedia Report. A4 Comb Bound. 7.
SDV359778Report - Assessment: Gent, T. + Manning, P.. 2013. Heritage assessment of buildings associated with the former Buckfast Spinning Mills, Buckfast, Devon. Archaedia. 13.12. Digital. 2-3, 6, fig 3.
SDV361305Interpretation: Hegarty, C., Knight, S. and Sims, R.. 2018-2019. The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping Survey. Area 1, Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (AI&M). Historic England Research Report. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV361877Aerial Photograph: National Monument Record. 1994. NMR 15017. National Monument Record Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). NMR 15017/21 14-APR-1994.
SDV364039Website: Historic England. 2021-2022. NRHE to HER website. https://nrhe-to-her.esdm.co.uk/NRHE. Website. Accessed 29/03/2022.
SDV83967Report - Survey: Devon County Council. 1974. Survey of Watermills in Devon: Gazetteer. Devon County Council Report. Unknown. A4 Bound.

Associated Monuments

MDV7808Related to: Buckfast Abbey (Building)
MDV80420Related to: Buckfast Abbey Lower Mill Leat, Buckfast (Monument)
MDV102767Related to: Buckfast Weir (Monument)
MDV125298Related to: Building associated with woolen mills, Buckfast (Building)
MDV22301Related to: Industrial housing south- west of Lower Buckfast Mill (Building)
MDV65649Related to: Leat linking Higher and Lower Mills, Buckfast Abbey (Monument)
MDV122148Related to: Lower Mill Pool, Buckfast (Monument)
MDV122147Related to: Lower Mill, Buckfast (Monument)
MDV125300Related to: Mill workers cottage associated with Lower Mill, Buckfast (Building)
MDV125299Related to: Range of buildings associated with Lower Mill, Buckfast (Building)
MDV20067Related to: Range of buildings to south of Abbot's Tower, Buckfast Abbey (Building)
MDV20066Related to: South Gate at Buckfast Abbey (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV7071 - Heritage assessment of buildings associated with the former Buckfast Spinning Mills, Buckfast (Ref: 1113)
  • EDV7515 - The South Devon Coast to Dartmoor Aerial Investigation and Mapping (formerly NMP) Survey: Haldon Ridge to Dart Valley (Ref: ACD1748)
  • EDV8699 - RCHME South West Textile Mills Project (Ref: RCH01/063)

Date Last Edited:Mar 29 2022 10:28AM