Visit To Coldharbour Mill Uffculme

Unlike the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ of Northern Legend, Coldharbour Mill is a beautiful red brick building that sits rather incongruously in the rural setting of the village of Uffculme


Thomas Fox, a Quaker from Wellington bought the old Grist Mill (Corn/Flour Mill) in 1799. Uffculme was already a Wool Town and had Spinners and Weavers as part of a supervised cottage industry.


In the 1700s there were many Mills in the north, but, very few in the south.

The old Grist Mill proved not to be powerful enough for Fox’s plans and in 1821 an overshot wheel was introduced, this was 18ft in diameter and allowed 5 tons of water at a time to power the Mill Wheel.


This proved satisfactory until 1861 when Steam Power was introduced to Uffculme. The Steam engine has been patented in England in 1769.

Despite a few protests, the Mill was generally welcome in Uffculme. The alternative was Farm labour.


Working Hours were strict and long. You clocked in at 5.55am and worked until 6.00pm. If you were late in the morning you were fined! The clock that is still in the Mill was used until the 1940’s.


In 1863 carding machines were introduced, this replaced the hand process of eliminating tangles and getting the wool into a ‘Straight line’.

Various processes followed under the names of Scribbling, Slubbing, and eventually Spinning ensued.


James Hargreaves is credited with the invention of the Spinning Jenny, which allowed many reels of thread to be spun at the same time. Richard Arkwright was to invent a machine that did all three processes. This was a huge breakthrough.


The machines were not without dangers. They were ‘Overlooked’ by an adult, who was helped by four children up to the age of 12. These children would piece together any threads that had broken and ‘scavenge’ any wool that had fallen on the floor. This was all done whilst the machine was still working. Not so much Health and Safety, more like To Hell with Safety!


Waste was looked upon with great disapproval, one small binful a month was all that was allowed. It was not unusual to see children leaving in the evening looking a bit plumper than they did when they arrived in the morning!  The noise in the mill was incredibly intense, even one machine is loud enough. We were told that the big Mills in the North would have up to 400 looms working at once. This is where the expression ‘Cloth Ears’ comes from. Deaf from work!

At its height the Uffculme Mill produced huge amounts of cloth for uniforms. Despite Fox being a Quaker, he would not let his pacifism get in the way of a good contract with the War Office!


Uffculme became famous for its Worsted yarn, which it would send to Wellington for weaving.  Part of the Worsted Process is called the Woolcomb, this is capable of turning one meter of Woollen ‘Tops’ into 13720 meters of yarn!


Sadly the Mill was to shut as a going concern in 1981, but, the villagers formed a Trust to save the Mill and today visitors are very welcome and a small amount of Specialist work is still produced.


Nigel Bush

All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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