Field work

Probably the easiest place to begin is by looking for the evidence on the ground. Mills usually obtained their water supply not directly from the river but from a goit or channel which would run from above a weir on the river. Start looking for signs of a goit perhaps about 800 yards upstream of the mill site. Well built weirs are often still there in the river even when the mill itself is long gone, and the remains of a sluice gate may be visible where the goit was taken from the river.

Mill pond

The goit fed into a dam or series of dams which could be filled overnight – the dams will be higher than the mill site -with an overflow to run off excess water. Dams may have been filled in but sometimes a sunken area or patch of rushes can indicate the dam site. Water was channelled from a dam to the waterwheel, which was sited either externally along the wall of the mill or within the building. Water wheels were often removed or allowed to decay, but the wheel pit, often built of very large stone blocks, may still be visible. If it is, it can give an indication of the size of waterwheel and of the horse power generated. From the wheel pit, look for the remains of another goit carrying the water back into the river, usually well downstream of the mill site.

Mills sometimes received water from more than one source, with an additional supply from a smaller stream or brook. Two or more waterwheels might be used at the same site. Goits were sometimes taken underground through a stone lined tunnel or culvert, and sometimes run under cottages or even a hillside to reach the mill or river – in this case only the entrance or exit will be seen. Over time mill owners would often create a more reliable supply of water, so in many cases the earlier water supply system would have been simpler. But by the early 1800s there were already some quite complicated supply systems in place.   

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Power From the Landscape

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