Friday, 5 April 2013

Trowbridge Industrial Town Trail

 The group outside Handle House, a place to store and dry  teasels, used for napping woolen cloth.  Only a few of these buildings still remain in the UK, and this one is used as a restaurant.

It was freezing cold on Friday morning, when we stood at the bus stop in Devizes waiting for the Trans Wilts Express bus to take us to Trowbridge, for the start of an Industrial Town Trail. The town is not an attractive place, having been wrecked by its road system and neglected historic buildings, but with a map and led by our trusty leader, we were able to trace the town's interesting history as an industrial centre since the 14th century.  

For much of this time, Trowbridge was the centre for the production of high quality woolen cloth.  Until the spinning and weaving industry became mechanised in the late 18th century, most of the production processes, took place in individuals home.  Families depended on cloth production for their livelihood, and worked in rooms with long windows, to enable as much light as possible to enter.   When the process became mechanised with the introduction of steam powered looms, whole families were forced to work in the newly established mills, which became death traps for all and sundry.  Small children gathered the cotton detritus from under the spinning jennies and looms, and breathed in the dust that damaged their lungs.   

 A loom in Trowbridge Museum.

The museum contains many looms and equipment used in the weaving process, and shows videos of the history of the town and scenes of the working looms.  The mills must have been very noisy and dangerous places in which to work.    

The BBC film of "North and South," by Elizabeth Gaskell, contains many interesting scenes  filmed in a working mill.   Part One deals with the control the owner had over his workers, and the ever present danger of fire in the mill.   Cotton dust, thrown up from the spinning process, filled the air, and was easily ignited by anyone foolish enough to smoke.    One such mill in Trowbridge burnt down, with the heavy iron looms and other equipment crashing through the floors into the basement.

 Courts Mill near the River Biss.

The town is full of these interesting old mills, standing derelict at the moment, but with plans for redevelopment into apartments.   The last working mill closed in the 1960's. 

Model of Trowbridge Castle. The museum stands on the site of the old castle, built in the 12th century.  

Trowbridge is mentioned in the "Doomsday Book," and is thought to mean the, "Wooden or Tree Bridge," which crosses the River Biss.   Some water driven mills were built in Trowbridge, but the water source was intermittent and not entirely adequate.  The introduction of "Boulton and Watt" steam pumps in the late 18th century, enabled cloth production on an industrial scale,  and the town became the biggest producer of wool cloth in the West of England.  

The only working Boulton and Watt steam engine in its original situation,  pumps water into the Kennet and Avon canal on special open days at Crofton pumping station.  Search "Crofton Pumping Station" in Google for a history of the pumps and details of working days.

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