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HER Number:MDV8171
Name:Belford Mill, Ashburton

Summary

Belford Mill, one of the best late 18th or early 19th century woollen mills in Devon with typical timber wool drying loft. This mill was already in use as an edge mill (or perhaps edge-tool mill) named Brooking's Mill in 1574 when it was reconstructed by Belford as a grist mill. It was later rebuilt first as a fulling mill and finally as a woollen mill, although this was already out of use by around the 1850s. A corn mill then occupied the site, in use until some point in the early-mid 19th century. The corn mill building was demolished in 1978 and the remaining mill building was divided and converted into houses at this time. The Mill was also known as the ‘Coffin Mill’, because of its tall, narrow construction, with angled side wall to accommodate the lane on such a narrow, steeply sloping site.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 753 715
Map Sheet:SX77SE
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishAshburton
DistrictTeignbridge
Ecclesiastical ParishASHBURTON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 445216
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX77SE/1
  • Old Listed Building Ref (II): 375962

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • WOOLLEN MILL (XV to XX - 1401 AD to 1950 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

'Belford Woollen Mill (disused)' marked on map. Mill leat shown running up to building in north and apparently exiting to the south.


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


Amery, J. S., 1924, (Presidential Address) The Ashburton of past days: its manners, customs and inhabitants, 56-57,94 (Article in Serial). SDV315287.

First known as Brooking's Mill, then an edge mill, i.e., one in which the moving stone ran upon its circumference. Belford reconstructed it as a grist mill but it was still known as Brookings, but in a few years was called Belford’s, when it was reconstructed as a fulling mill. It had a varied history, and lastly again reconstructed as a woollen mill, now disused, but still known as Belford’s. Belford converted the mill about 1574, and by 1616 his name had replaced Brooking’s.
Appears to be shown on map of 1605. Other details: copy of map in parish file.


Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1951, SX77SE9 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV315138.

The present building is of three storeys and is very strongly constructed with blocks of limestone. It is quite impossible to say whether it incorporates any remains of Belford’s 16th century mill.


Satterly, J., 1952, Memories of Ashburton in late Victorian Days, 34 (Article in Serial). SDV315139.

Belford Mill was worked by a leat from the River Yeo. Originally used for felting and tucking.


Harris, H., 1968, Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, 185 (Monograph). SDV149229.

Belford mill. An earlier woollen mill of Messrs Berry, but was converted for use as a corn mill before the middle of the 19th century. Though this ceased many years ago, and the buildings now form part of a farm, the gear wheels from the corn mill are still in position and the large wheel pit can be seen. This place, sometimes locally known as coffin mill on account of its narrow shape and tapering end walls, has a striking and almost eerie appearance.


Minchinton, W. E., 1973, Industrial Archaeology in Devon, 2 (Monograph). SDV7016.


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


Booker, F., 1978, Belford Mill, Ashburton (Report - Survey). SDV315141.

One of the best late 18th or early 19th century woollen mills surviving in Devon, with the typical timbered wool loft together with the original ratchet gear for opening and shutting the louvers. Some of the timbering has been roughly replaced with white boarding and the slate roof needs attention. The distinctive taper of the building has led to it being known locally as the ‘coffin mill’ but the building’s design is likely dictated by the processes carried out in the mill.

The mill complex comprises two buildings - a tall narrow four storey building parallel to the road (the so-called "coffin mill") and an adjoining but separate four storey building later used as a corn mill (here called the "corn mill"). The "coffin mill" contains no evidence of power supply and may have been used for drying and carding wool. The "corn mill", which lost much of its roof structure in a snowstorm in February 1978, retains milling machinery and the site of the wheel and pit is discernible. The "corn mill" seems to have been badly damaged by fire in about 1870 and may not have worked after. It has three sanitary shafts for workers on each floor on east side. It is difficult to determine whether the "corn mill" is later than the "coffin mill" or whether both buildings were used as one unit.

These buildings are not easy to date. The first reference so far to a mill on this site is 1747. The two buildings appear to be late 18th or very early 19th century in origin. It is unclear whether the two buildings both functioned as a woollen mill complex, or whether the corn mill was a later structure intended only for grain milling, but it seems likely they functioned together. As the coffin mill has no evidence of any separate power plant (and therefore could likely only be used for drying and carding), the felting and fulling processes, which required water power, may well have taken place in the corn mill. The water power unit could then easily have been adapted for grain milling. Other details: Series of photographs accompany report.


Bodman, M., 1998, Water-Powered Sites in Devon, 9.71 (Report - non-specific). SDV305931.


Newman, P., 2002, Boro Wood, Ashburton, Devon, 6, Figure 7 (Report - Survey). SDV351138.

'Belford Mill' to the east of Boro' Wood.


Waterhouse, R., 2003, Belford Mill, Ashburton. Survey of Louver Mechanism in Wool Drying Loft, 1-9 (Report - Survey). SDV347187.

Waterhouse suggests that the ‘edge’ mill may have been an edge-tool mill, for sharpening tools, rather than milling grain. The proximity to iron smelting furnaces in the 16th / 17th century and the active local mining industry throughout this period may support this theory.
In the first half of the 19th century, Belford Mill is known to have been run by Messrs. Berry of Ashburton (who owned several mills), where Mr Berry constructed a water-powered cloth mill in 1800. It is suggested that Belford Mill was entirely rebuilt, in its current form, at the same time. Belford Mill only continued as a woollen mill until around 1850, when Messrs. Berry moved their operations to Buckfastleigh. A corn mill then occupied the site, its machinery being housed in an additional, detached four storied building to the north-east. The corn mill worked until at least 1870, when there was a major fire, although it was rebuilt and continued in use until some time in the early-mid 20th century.
Following a major storm in 1978, when the corn mill lost its roof, it was largely demolished and shortly afterwards the buildings were stripped off their machinery and the louvered sides of the wool loft were re-planked with plain weather-boarding. The building was also subdivided, becoming two houses around this time.
The historical research suggests a date of 1800 for the building in its present form. The large windows on the first and second floors may have lit weaving rooms, containing hand looms. The loft above would have been used for drying the washed and beaten cloth. It is suggested that the detached building to the east contained powered spinning frames, and perhaps tucking hammers. The First Edition 1880s Ordnance Survey map appears to show a leat running directly into the building at the north and exiting at the southern end. This may indicate that the building housed an internal water wheel, driving power looms, or that the washing vats were located in the ground floor rooms.
This may indicate that the surviving building may be a rare example of part of an early woollen factory, combining several operations, some carried out by hand and some driven by water power, making the building locally and nationally important. The combination of weaving rooms, washing vats, drying lofts and possibly living quarters (for the workers, who may have lived in the tall narrow building to the west) is unusual in an area were such activities were usually separated.
Detailed description provide of the arrangement of hanging features within the loft and also the louver mechanism to open the slats to aid the drying process. A full survey of the buildings here was recommended and a general survey of related buildings in the area to aid understanding of their use and development.


Ordnance Survey, 2011, MasterMap (Cartographic). SDV346129.


English Heritage, 2011, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV347072.

Also known as: The Coffin Mill. Former mill building, now converted to two houses. Known locally as The Coffin Mill on account of its shape. Probably early 19th century in date, constructed of stone rubble. The top storey has 20th century weatherboarding probably imitating the original louvring and a slated roof. There are two stone rubble chimneys on wall adjoining road.
A long, narrow building, the north section bending to match the curve of the road. The south section is wedge-shaped. This building seems to have been used for processing, with a wool loft on top floor. The mill proper with a water-wheel is believed to have been the ruined building immediately to north. No sign of wheel-pit remains, but the line of the leat is still traceable. Four storeys, eight windows wide. Windows are mostly 8-paned sashes, probably of 20th century date. There are no windows in the top storey or in the west wall adjoining the road, although west wall does have a blocked window. Interior: reported to have been gutted during conversion to houses.


White, P., 2013, Previously Unsurveyed Dartmoor Historic Farmsteads (Un-published). SDV352501.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV149229Monograph: Harris, H.. 1968. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor. A5 Hardback. 185.
SDV305931Report - non-specific: Bodman, M.. 1998. Water-Powered Sites in Devon. A4 Spiral Bound. 9.71.
SDV315138Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1951. SX77SE9. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV315139Article in Serial: Satterly, J.. 1952. Memories of Ashburton in late Victorian Days. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 84. Unknown. 34.
SDV315141Report - Survey: Booker, F.. 1978. Belford Mill, Ashburton. Digital.
SDV315287Article in Serial: Amery, J. S.. 1924. (Presidential Address) The Ashburton of past days: its manners, customs and inhabitants. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 56. Unknown. 56-57,94.
SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV346129Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2011. MasterMap. Ordnance Survey. Map (Digital). [Mapped feature: #108165 ]
SDV347072National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2011. National Heritage List for England. Website.
SDV347187Report - Survey: Waterhouse, R.. 2003. Belford Mill, Ashburton. Survey of Louver Mechanism in Wool Drying Loft. A4 Comb Bound. 1-9.
SDV351138Report - Survey: Newman, P.. 2002. Boro Wood, Ashburton, Devon. English Heritage Archaeological Investigation Report. AI/7/2002. A4 Comb Bound + Digital. 6, Figure 7.
SDV352501Un-published: White, P.. 2013. Previously Unsurveyed Dartmoor Historic Farmsteads. Excel Spreadsheet.
SDV7016Monograph: Minchinton, W. E.. 1973. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Industrial Archaeology in Devon. Paperback Volume. 2.
SDV83967Report - Survey: Devon County Council. 1974. Survey of Watermills in Devon: Gazetteer. Devon County Council Report. Unknown. A4 Bound.

Associated Monuments

MDV51838Related to: Adit south of Belford Mill, Ashburton (Monument)
MDV107692Related to: Belford Farmstead, Ashburton (Monument)
MDV120935Related to: Mill Leat to the north of Belford Mill, Ashburton (Monument)
MDV8205Related to: Site of Water Mill east of Boro' Wood, Ashburton (Monument)
MDV51841Related to: Weir at Waterleat Bridge, Ashburton (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV5030 - Survey of louver mechanism, Belford Mill

Date Last Edited:Jan 19 2018 4:00PM