Sunday, 3 October 2010

Seeking the Stainton Snuff Mill!


I was invited by a local History Group to visit Stainton village near Penrith, in the hope that my experience might throw some light on the exact whereabouts of the former local Snuff Mill, which had according to legend been demolished in the early 19th Century by customs officers for non­payment of tobacco duty.
The position of the buildings shown as 'Snuff Mill' on the 1861 map made it very unlikely that they had ever employed water power, and there were no structural dues. So we tracked a nearby beck as it made its way to the River Eamont, and noticed a trickle of water on the other side ­possibly a tail race. We crossed the beck and discovered slates and stones, probably the site of a former building.
Evidence of a mill race ran parallel to the beck with a stone wall between, and upstream an area that would have served as the mill dam, where sluice gates would have controlled the available water power to the wheel which was either an undershot or a pitchback. Presumably product­ion of snuff would not have required excessive power. An excavation could reveal more.
When the mill ceased operating, it is likely that most equipment would have been taken for use elsewhere. But I have been informed since my visit that workmen in the loft of a nearby building could not stop sneezing!
My own experience of snuff dates back to my time working in a coal mine, where taking snuff helped to clear the airways. It was very much a social ritual underground; the owner of the snuff tin would tap the lid before removal and offer its contents to the gathering, each of whom would take a pinch. This was divided into two mounds on the back of the left hand, an equal amount for each nostril. It was unsociable to refuse! DK.

News from the Trustees

2010 Membership Renewal.
Membership fees have been held at 2009 levels, and the Trust has decided not to introduce payment by standing order or direct debit for the time being, in view of the cost involved. We hope to substantially increase membership in 2010.
Appeal for New Trustees.
The Trust is keen to strengthen its Trustee body in the coming months, and invites mem­bers to consider taking on this responsibility. The Trust is likely to decide to move to a new corporate structure (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) which is being developed under the new Charities Act to make life simpler for Trustees of small charities. If you would be interested in becoming a Trustee, please contact Company Secretary Peter van Zeller.
Looking further ahead.
The second Object of the Trust is as follows:
"To advance the education of the public in the history, heritage, geography and geology of Eskdale so as to increase their understanding of the built and natural environment."
Trustees are assessing how this second object might be moved forward, in order to conserve the unique social, environmental, agricultural and industrial heritage of Eskdale. There is a danger that much of this heritage may be lost or forgotten in an era of rapid change. Links are being strengthened with Eskdale & District Local History Society and other local bodies.
Hydro-electric power generation (cont'd) Initial funding has been provided by the Lake District National Park Authority, which is keen to initiate work of this type where appropriate. A National Park survey shows that the Whillan Beck has great potential for hydro-power, although any such development will have to safeguard the exceptional scenic value of the gorge alongside the Mill. Much will depend on the level of the feed-in tariff" to be introduced by the Government in 2010.
The capital cost of such a development will be high, but it would then provide a small additional revenue stream for the Trust and at the same time contribute to the 'greening' of Eskdale valley.

The Kiln at Eskdale Mill


Most people visiting the Mill pass straight through the Drying Room Without even pausing to inspec.t the kiln, but on closer scrutiny it is quite an Impressive construction.
A few years ago, Hubert Dawson, an old lad from .Dereham in. Norfolk, wrote to me regarding the kiln hIes, havmg worked on them in the 1950s. This prompted me to clamber down into the chamber to record, measure and photograph.
The kiln is an upturned pyramid, with a firebox 12 in. x 18 in. x 30 in. deep, situated in the lower floor, .expanding to a.12 ft: square drying area upstaIrs. InsIde the kiln, eIght stone buttresses jut out from the sloping sides to support four awsome 12 ft. stone lintels, where 30 in. slate 'T' pieces sit. 144 cast iron tiles, 12 in. square, rest on these.
The oats would be spread out on these tiles to dry above a peat fire, fuelled by peat cut and dned on Eskdale fell. An oak roller was fitted to the side to assist the Miller when hauling the sacks onto the kiln floor.
Most kiln tiles are made of fired clay, perforated to allow the heat through. Cast iron ones are fairly rare. Some of the old clay tiles which were used ?efore are s~ill about, and I have acquired a selection of clay hIes from other mills as well.
Carved into a granite stone on the left hand side of the firebox is the date 1819, with the name of M. Tyson - probably an ancester of John and Tom who recently repaired the bakehouse roof!
Also the initials D.T. - possibly the Miller, Daniel Tyson.