South East Regional Industrial Archaeology Conference 1983
"The Uses of Water"
Saturday 16 April 1983, hosted by
Surrey Industrial History Group
University of Surrey, Guildford, SurreyThis meeting is the first of what is hoped will be annual events or conferences for industrial archaeologists from the South Eastern counties of England, namely Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Greater London. Following the establishment of a SERIAC Committee, the Surrey Industrial History Group offered to be the host for the first Conference and has organised it with the help and support of the University of Surrey, who kindly provided the venue, and especially the Department of Educational Studies who provided administrative help.
1000 Coffee Available
1020 Official Opening of the Conference by the Chairman, Kenneth Gravett
1040 Introductory talk - Dr Peter Brandon, Dept of Geography, Polytechnic of North London
1115 London's Main Drainage - Dr Denis Smith, Greater London IA Society
1145 The Gunpowder Industry - Dr GP Moss, Surrey Industrial History Group
1215 Questions and General Discussion.
1400 The Dolphin Barge Museum, Sittingbourne - Tony Ellis, Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum Trust
1430 Romano-British Watermills - RJ Spain, Kent Archaeological Society
1530 Coultershaw Pump, the water supply to Petworth - Alan Allnutt, Sussex IA Society
1600 Paper Mills of Surrey - Prof Alan Crocker, Surrey Industrial History Group
1630 Water Power on the Farm - Mrs Pamela Moore, Southampton University IA Group
1700 Closure of the Conference.
Summaries of Talks
Guildford could not be a more appropriate venue for a meeting of this kind because in the immediate locality were some of the most advanced areas for water management in the whole of Britain. The Rivers Wey, Tillingbourne and Thames and many of their headwaters were used for motive power from medieval times and then in the late 16th and 17th centuries they constituted a rural workshop involving cloth, brass, iron, gunpowder and other industries. The access to the London market via the waterways was probably crucial in the economic development. The successive stages of technology in harnessing water will be outlined and the economic and social effects broadly discussed.
London's Main Drainage
Dr Denis Smith
In the 1840s the Thames in London was badly polluted and outbreaks of cholera were of alarming proportions. Even when cholera was identified as a water-borne disease the solution to this public health problem required the combined skills of scientists, lawyers, politicians and engineers.
This lecture will deal with the formation of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856 and, in particular, with the work of its chief engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The design and construction of the main drainage system made a distinctive mark on the built environment of Victorian London and has left us with a magnificent heritage of industrial monuments.
The Gunpowder Industry
Dr GP Moss
This talk considers the many uses of water in the making of gunpowder. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, most gunpowder was imported into this country. Then factories to produce it were started at Battle, Chilworth, Dartford, East Molesey, Ewell, Faversham, Hounslow and Waltham Abbey, and in the 19th C. in Cornwall and Westmoreland.
Of the first three ingredients - saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur - only the first needed water for its recrystallisation. After mixing in the relevant proportions (75:15:10), the key step was incorporation, which replaced the medieval pestle and mortar process. This involved a pair of vertical edge runners rotating in a circular bed. Each pair of stones was turned by water, animal or (in the 19th C.) by steam power. The charge (up to 60 lb) was moistened by 4-6 pints of water to minimise explosions. A water drenching device was an important safety measure to minimise the spread of an explosion to other mills. After incorporation, the mill cake was broken down, pressed (to remove excess water), granulated, glazed and dried.
The most hazardous stage was in the press room where an explosion was bound to be serious. Water played a part also in transporting the gunpowder from building to building along the complex water systems linked also to the water mills of the factory.
Finally in the distribution of the final product, water was the favoured method of transport, even after the development of the railway system.
The Dolphin Barge Museum
Milton Creek is a tidal inlet running from the communities of Milton and Sittingbourne to the Swale - the tidal channel separating the Isle of Sheppey from the mainland. The heyday of Milton Creek was in the mid-19th C. when paper mills, cement works and brick fields had appeared in the area. By the turn of the century fleets of sailing barges brought in London sweepings and sand for bricks, mud for cement, and took away the finished product. As with all extractive industries, the benefits of a handy location with water transport and raw materials nearby began to fade as the local brick earth and chalk supplies dwindled. The changing scale of industry and new methods of transport spelt the end for the sailing barge in this area. By the Second World War the creek (whose yards had produced over 500 vessels in 150 years) had seen its best and gradually the wharves fell into disuse, although after the War a number of craft were repaired or rebuilt. An occasional cargo came up to Crown Quay in the 1950s and there was a boom in sand and gravel when the M2 was built. Now the only commercial traffic is sand and aggregates to one wharf and ships going to the breakers yard in the lower reaches of the creek.
However, the yard of Charles Burley remained, repairing barges owned by the Burley company until about 1965 when the last barge operated under power was sold. The site fell into disrepair and came under new ownership.
In 1968 the Dolphin Sailing Barge Museum Trust was formed and a lease was negotiated with the new owners. The Society for Spritsail Barge Research sponsored the establishment of the Trust in order to restore the yard as a live 'folk' museum with particular emphasis on the Thames Sailing barge. The yard was seen by the Trust as being one of the most complete, unaltered, small and traditional shipyards of its type remaining on the east coast.
There are only twelve known sites in the Roman Empire where the Vitruvian type water mill probably existed. Eight of these are in Britain. This type of watermill, comprising a vertical wheel and gearing, is the ancestor of the modern watermill. It had the advantage of developing greater power and a higher throughput than the more primitive Greek or Norse watermill. Vitruvian-type mills are thought to have been established during the first century BC and thereafter spread throughout the Empire.
In Britain, Victorian archaeologists failed to recognise Romano-British watermill evidence at Hadrians Wall, and it was not until Simpson's work on the Haltwhistle Burn Head mill in 1907-8 that their existence was accepted. At Haltwhistle the site evidence has facilitated a hydraulic and mechanical analysis which shows that the undershot wheel developed 1.7 hp Two additional Roman watermills probably existed on Hadrians Wall, one at Chesters and the other at Willowford Bridge. Two other probable Roman sites were found, one in the 1950s at Spring Valley Mill, Essex, and later in the 1970s near Leeds village, Kent.
Numerous drainage wheels have been found in Roman mines and those from Rio Tinto, Tharsis, Ruda and Verespatak in Dacia are particularly good specimens to study for Roman workmanship.
In 1974 two Roman watermill sites were discovered and excavated at Ickham,near Canterbury. The oldest site, dated to 150-280 AD yielded numerous post ends, well preserved in a water-logged site. A reconstruction of this mill suggests that it was entirely earth-fast, having a post and truss frame in which the wheelshaft and bridgetree were supported independent of the building frame. The mill race passed through the mill driving an undershot wheel approximately 2 m in diameter and 0.6 m wide. Analysis of the post groups indicates several phases of building and, later, problems of structural settlement and tailrace deposition which culminated in the abandonment of water power.
The later mill, dated to the 4th C., had a larger and superior structure compared with the older mill. Although the structural analysis has still to be completed, it would appear that the millstream was revetted within the mill for a length of 13 m with a width of 1.4 m It is possible that more than one undershot wheel may have operated here.
Many fragments of millstones and querns were found at the Ickham site, several exhibiting a marked degradation, from rotary work to saddle quern and whetting. Among the stones were found three which had been modified to act as bearings for horizontal journals.
Ickham was apparently a site where industries other than corn milling existed, for military belt buckles and fittings, ballista bolts, bronze and pewter work were found. One exciting find, which may be unique to the archaeology of the Roman world, was an iron hammerhead exhibiting mechanical wear, probably from a water powered trip-hammer.
Coultershaw Pump, the Water Supply to Petworth
Petworth has had a good supply of spring water since the 15th C.. More was needed in the 18th C. so a water-wheel driven beam pump was installed to pump from the River Rother. There are reasons to believe that the pump which worked until about 1960 is unique.
In 1976 the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society started restoration of the pump with grants from West Sussex County Council and the Inspector of Ancient Monuments. Since completion in 1981, the pump has been demonstrated to the public and has been scheduled as an Ancient Monument. An old barn has been erected over it as a shelter and the upper floor of this is being developed as a museum of rural water supplies.
Paper Mills of Surrey
The craft of paper making was first successfully introduced into England from the Continent in the late 16th C. By the end of the 17th C. there were some 100 paper mills in the Country and over half of these were in the South East. The location of these mills was influenced by the availability of finance, the supply of raw materials, particularly rags, and a market for the paper. Proximity to London was therefore important. However the mills required pure water to produce the pulp or stuff from which the paper was made, water to power the stamps used for this purpose, and water to dispose of the effluent. Most of them therefore were situated on fast flowing streams about 30 miles from London. During the 18th C., the Hollander beating engine was introduced replacing the old stamps but still powered by water. By 1820 there were over 500 paper mills spread more or less uniformly over England. However the Fourdrinier paper making machine which produces continuous rolls rather than individual sheets of paper had by then been introduced, and mills gradually began to increase in size and decrease in numbers. The demand for paper grew enormously, steam power was slowly adopted and in the second half of the 19th C. first esparto grass and then soft wood were introduced as substitutes for rags as raw materials. In order to break down these materials into pulp, more powerful chemicals were required and this resulted in major pollution problems. Although steam power was now dominant, many paper mills replaced their water wheels with turbines. The raw materials had now to be imported and during the 20th C. very large paper mills have been built in coastal areas and most of the inland mills have closed. In the lecture these developments will be illustrated with reference to the paper mills of Surrey. Some 25 sites in the historic County are known, covering a period of about 300 years from the early 17th C. to 1928.
Water Power on the Farm
Unlike some counties, Hampshire was, perhaps surprisingly, not noted for the use of water power to drive farm machinery. Evidence of a few installations has been found but there is nothing to suggest that the water-wheel was in common use in the county for agricultural purposes. Sites have however been discovered at Hockley, near Winchester, at Abbotstone, and also at Brownwich Farm, near Titchfield. The last mentioned site has been excavated recently by the Southampton University Industrial Archaeology Group, and it is on this I propose to concentrate.
Brownwich Farm is, with the exception of its farmhouse, owned by the Hampshire County Council, who are at present in the process of restoring the very fine barn. Rumours that a waterwheel had formerly driven various machines in this barn led to an invitation to the Group to investigate. Initial excavation soon revealed the bearing of a waterwheel and so in December 1981 it was decided that a full scale operation should take place in an attempt to discover the detailed nature of the installation. Months of hard and very dirty work followed, the wheel pit containing besides sections of the former wheel, a multiplicity of items ranging from bottles to bones, all of which were coated with a slimy mixture of mud and diesel oil. The artefacts removed from the pit were examined and recorded and it was possible to draw conclusions about the size and structure of the waterwheel. Documentary and oral evidence were also sought and, following appeals in the press and on local radio, a number of people who remembered the use of water power at Brownwich were traced and interviewed. The placing of dye in the wheel pit resulted in the identification of the underground course taken by the water after it left the pit on its way to the sea.
Despite considerable difficulties, in particular with flooding, by October 1982 the bottom of the wheelpit was reached and the excavation completed. The details of the site's future have yet to be finalised, but some degree of preservation is envisaged of what is, in Hampshire, an unusual application of waterpower.