SE3231 : Thwaite Mills from across the canal

taken 5 years ago, 4 km from Leeds, Great Britain

Thwaite Mills from across the canal
Thwaite Mills from across the canal
Also a mooring point for narrowboats on the Aire and Calder Navigation.
Thwaite Mills

The current mills complex was created between 1823 and 1825 by the Aire and Calder Navigation company, although there had been a mill on the site from at least the middle of the 17th century.

The mill was built as a corn-grinding and oil-seed crushing mill, but in 1872 was taken over by the Horn family and redeveloped as a flint crushing mill supplying the local ceramics industry.

Later the family moved to the production of whiting from crushed chalk, supplying a variety of industries. Some of this was also used to make glazing putty, and this became essentially the sole product with the huge increase in demand that resulted from bomb damage during the Second World War. Production continued until 1976 when the weir was breached during a flood; the resulting loss of water power meant that the business could no longer be carried on.

In 1978 a society was formed to preserve the mill. Eventually the mill was taken over by Leeds City Council who developed it as a museum with much of the equipment still operable.

The mill complex represents a remarkably complete example of a 19th century water mill, with little in the way of more modern buildings and with virtually all the equipment surviving. There are 5 main buildings surviving:

1. The mill itself, which contains two large low-backshot wheels, 18 ft in diameter and 8 ft 6 in and 14 ft 6 in in width respectively. These work a number of machines involved in the crushing and refining of the raw materials through line-shafting and drive belts. In the 1930s a modern Raymond crushing mill was installed; it was found to require more power than the waterwheels could provide and a Marshall diesel engine was installed to drive it. At the north end of the mill range is a later engine house and boiler house; the steam engine is thought to have been a Cornish type engine and may have been used to pump water back into the upper level when river flow was low. The boiler house was later converted to a drying area with a coal fired rotary kiln, which is itself a rare survivor.

2. A warehouse building fronting the canal which incorporates time-office and a pair of drying floors where flint and later chalk slurry was spread to dry over a series of Roman-style hypocaust flues.

3. A workshop building, which still contains original machines, such as lathes and drills, as well as a blacksmith's forge. At the side of this are the remains of a pair of calcining kilns from the period as a flint mill.

4. A stable and storage building.

5. The mill owner's house, an attractive four-square building in Georgian style. Some of the ground floor rooms have been fitted out as period interiors as part of the museum development.

All these buildings are Listed Grade II, the stable block for group value rather than specific merit. Also listed is the bridge which forms the main link across the tail race of the mill.

The final item of interest is the steam driven crane on the canal wharf area. Built in 1947 by Butters of Glasgow, it was removed elsewhere for preservateion, but was later returned to site and restored. It is still steam at regular intervals for demonstration purposes.

Aire and Calder Navigation Canal, Knowsthorpe, Leeds

In 1893, a number of engineering firms in Hunslet, Leeds, obtained an Act of Incorporation for the Hunslet Railway Company, with the aim of establishing local facilities for the handling of their goods, dissatisfied with those afforded by the Great Northern Railway at Wellington Street, two miles away. The GN saw several benefits in this scheme and, a year later, took the company over.
Plans for the line were prepared by W B Myers-Beswick - a regular servant of the Great Northern - whilst the works were contracted to J T Firbank of London. The main line was 3 miles in length, but the vast goods yards near South Accommodation Road pushed this distance to four miles.
Much of the track was laid on embankments, material for which was brought from eight pit heaps, some as far as three miles away. But the principal engineering feat was a six-span bridge over the Aire & Calder Navigation and adjacent River Aire at Knowsthorpe (or Knostrop). As a concession to the waterway's authorities, it was agreed that the span over the Navigation should be constructed in such a way that a swing mechanism could subsequently be installed, thus accommodating plans for the possible formation of a ship canal into Leeds.
The resulting structure was vast: a clear span of 170 feet across the waterway and 275 feet between abutments. The two main girders, 41 feet apart, extended for 295 feet, with a depth of 30 feet. The weight of their steelwork amounted to 1,250 tons. The ashlar column supporting the main span was 45 feet in diameter whilst the foundations for the piers were sunk to a depth of 35 feet. To test the span's strength prior to the line's opening, the free end was jacked up, the support rollers and bed plates removed, then the deflection was recorded as the jacks were gently lowered. To counterbalance the forces exerted on the long arm when loaded, a weight of 157 tons had to be applied to the short arm. This was achieved by boxing in its main and cross girders, thereafter filling them with cast iron.
Work on the structure got underway in January 1897, under the auspices of Darlington's Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company, the appointed subcontractor. Three men lost their lives during its assembly and two others sustained injuries.
Immediately beyond the main span were two short steel-deck sections over a narrow ribbon of land separating the Navigation and river. The latter was crossed by a pair of bowstring girder spans supported by a pier standing in the water. The track over the bridge ascended on a gradient of 1:100 to the south, with the structure incorporating a curve of 25 chains in radius.
Leeds' ship canal never came to fruition and the main span was never adapted to swing. The line over it closed on 3rd January 1966, although the section from Beeston Junction to Middleton Colliery exchange sidings was retained until 3rd July 1967. At the north end, Neville Hill-Hunslet East Goods officially remains open but very rarely sees traffic.
Ogden Demolition dismantled the bridge in 1977, leaving only the masonry column for the swing span, the northern abutment and the mid-river pier.

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SE3231, 211 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Wednesday, 7 December, 2016   (more nearby)
Thursday, 8 February, 2018
Geographical Context
Rivers, Streams, Drainage  Industry 
River (from Tags)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SE 3281 3122 [10m precision]
WGS84: 53:46.5772N 1:30.2173W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! SE 3278 3112
View Direction
North-northeast (about 22 degrees)
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