waulking.jpgFulling was originally carried out by 'walking' the cloth, as can be seen here in this picture of walkers in Scotland

In the course of being made into cloth, wool passed through numerous processes, the main ones being carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, raising the nap, and shearing.  

The fuller was responsible for scouring, (cleansing the cloth of grease) and fulling, which involved pounding the cloth. Wool fibre has barbs on it when inspected at close range, and under agitation and heat these catch each other and tighten. The cloth then felts - it shrinks and becomes much stronger. For many centuries this had been done by trampling or walking the cloth in a trough of water with a cleansing agent, and in the north of England, fulling mills were commonly known as walk mills.

Surname map.jpg

Urine was mainly used as the cleansing agent but was replaced in many areas by Fuller's Earth.

Songs known as 'waulkiing' songs in Scotland were often sung as the cloth was worked and these are still sung today as part of the folk tradition. An example can be seen here

The surnames Fuller, Walker and Tucker all came from this industry and in Wales a fulling mill was known as a 'Pandy'.

Fulling Mills

mill with overshot wheel 2.pngThis is a medieval illustration of a corn mill using an overshot wheel which was more powerful than the simple undershot water wheel. Overshot, or breast shot, wheels were rare in this country until the 16th century. 

Ovenden fulling mill.JPGThe plans for an 18th Century fulling mill, built at Jumples in Ovenden in 1785 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale RP:779

The mechanisation of the industry spread to Europe and the UK from the Islamic world - they were being used in Spain and Normandy by the late 11th century - mainly by the Cistercians.   The principles of converting the rotary power of a waterwheel into an up and down action had been known in Alexandrian times, but the earliest evidence of water powered fulling mills comes from Persia (Iraq) in the 9th century.

One of the earliest recorded fulling mills in England was used by the Knights Templar on their monastic grange at Temple Newsome, near Leeds, in 1185.

Details of the fulling mill sites on Hebden Water can be found in the mills of the Hebden valley section of this website, and also of the feud between the two families who owned fulling mills on Luddenden Brook in the 1590s.  

The following instructions for building new fulling apparatus at Jumples in Ovenden, were agreed between Joseph Mitchell of Honley, in the parish of Almondbury, millwright, and Charles Hudson of Shawhill in the parish of Halifax, merchant.

This was for "one water wheel, 4 foot wide x 17 foot high, two pushing stocks and 3 falling stocks ….. the axle tree for the job to be 20 foot long and convenience to be made for a cog wheel to turn an upright shaft or a tumbling shaft to turn engines etc in the room above … the pentrough is to be stone".

DSCN3771.JPG Fulling hammers at Helmshore Mill

The agreement was made in September and work was to be completed by the next February, the millwright providing all wood and materials, and receiving £190-10s-6d. This agreement contains details of the machinery in a fulling mill and related to the rebuilding of Jumples Mill in Ovenden in 1798. One of Watts Sun and Planet steam engine was already being used to keep the mill working in dry weather by ‘throwing back’ the water on the wheel.

By this time two kinds of stock were in use - falling stocks which came down almost vertically, and driving stocks which came down in a slanted direction. Oak was used for falling stocks and these had to be specially curved to give the cloth the right amount of movement at each blow, and the mechanism had to be made to withstand the heavy blows of these hammers.

The inner surface of the box which held the cloth was rounded so that the cloth circulated freely as it was struck. The feet of the stocks were also notched, to turn the cloth over.



DSCN3773.JPG Tenter frame at Helmshore Mill

After the fulling process was complete, the wet cloth was stretched onto Tenter Frames, with Tenter Hooks, in the fields in the open air - hence the expression "being on tenterhooks".

Tenter frames were well known landmarks in the fields of the Calder Valley well into the 20th century - eg at Tenterfields near Luddenden Foot.

For a period in the 18th century, all cloths were measured by inspectors to make sure they conformed to the correct width.

Daniel Defoe, in his visits to this area, remarked "... hardly a house standing out of a speaking distance from another ... almost at every house there was a tenter, and almost on every tenter a piece of cloth ... look which way we would, high to the tops, and low to the bottoms, it was all the same, innumerable houses and tenters, and a white piece upon every tenter".

Tentering or drying tower at Stubbins.jpg Photo © Paul Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A lot of textile activities were carried on out of doors, so there was an obsession with the weather! Clothiers looked for a draughty day - which is one with a drying breeze.

Being in the open air, they were vulnerable to theft and it is documented that the infamous Gibbet was ordained to put a stop to the theft of cloth from tentergrounds, by cutting off the thief's head!

The Gibbet's Law says 'If a felon be taken within the liberty of Halifax...either hand-habend (caught with the stolen goods), back-berand (caught carrying them away), or confessand (confessing to the crime), to the value of thirteen pence half-penny, he shall, after three markets...be taken to the Gibbet and there have his head cut off from his body'.

John Taylor's poem of 1622, The Beggar's Litany 'From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us', written by John Taylor in 1622, refers to the Gibbet Law and says:

"At Halifax, the Law so sharpe doth deale,
That whoso more than thirteen pence doth steale,
They have a jyn [engine] that wondrous quicke and well
Sends Thieves all headless unto Heav'n or Hell"

John Wilkinson was one of the last people to be beheaded at the Gibbet, for stealing a piece of Kersey from tenterframes at Brearley Hall in 1650.

Tentering or drying tower at Stubbins, near Helmshore, Lancs. This building used to contain wooden tentering frames on which cloth from the mills was stretched to dry with the help of the wind blowing through the tower


Heptonstall Cloth Hall

Heptonstall Cloth Hall.JPG Photo courtesy of Nigel Lloyd

Heptonstall was a very good centre, as there were well established, historical routes into Lancashire through Widdop and the Long Causeway, and this meant that large numbers of small producers could conveniently get to the Heptonstall market.  A building known as the Cloth Hall still stands on the north side of the churchyard.  In 1562 a hall or house called Blakwelhal built near the chapel yard of Heptonstall was in the possession of the Waterhouse family. They leased lands in the 1530s belonging to the Priory of Lewes and became Lords of the Manor in their own right in 1555. They also held the greater and lesser Blakwelhall in Halyfax.  The main cloth hall in London was called the Blackwell Hall, and wealthier clothiers from this area sent their cloth to London to be sold at the cloth fair near St Bartholmew’s churchyard or at the Blackwell Hall. 


Story of fuller at Dapper Mill, Wheatley
near Ovenden – an old legend

One owner was a bit of a sportsman and would follow the chase when opportunity offered. On one occasion he was carried far afield and as it was a warm day needed refreshment,

‘ somehow the fuller lost count of the number of tankards and flight of time.  He arrived home on the following afternoon, when he discovered that in his haste to get away he had forgotten to attend to the sluices, and the stocks were still merrily pounding away at a piece which had almost been reduced to ribbons '

- WB Trigg, Water Supply of Ovenden, HAS 1933

In about 1730 the story was told of a merchant who supplied the Russian army with Yorkshire cloth, but the cloth was overstretched which meant that it would shrink on its first encounter with water.  The Russian army had just acquired a new uniform and troops wearing these turned out to be reviewed by the sovereign.  Just as they lined up a short sharp shower came down – the cloth shrank so the sleeves became too short and the pockets crept up to the soldiers armpits…

Tricks of the Trade, Thoresby Society, vol.xxii, pt iii, 1914


The Foxcroft and Farrar Dispute

In 1586, Queen Elizabeth granted a licence to Henry Farrar (or “Farrer”), Justice of the Peace for the West Riding, to build two fulling mills between Luddenden and Luddenden Foot. This licence gave Farrar:

“full power licence and authority to attach or diverte so much of the Ryvers, stream and watercourse in any place or places within the lordship of Sowerby ... as will be sufficient for the dryvynge of twoe fullinge mylles whereof one to be taken out of a water there called Lodingden Water, together with licence and power to build and erect the sayde fullinge mylles or either of them up on the streams and watercourses so as to bee diverted as aforesaid So as the erecting of the sayd mylles or eyther of them bee not prejudicial or hurtfull to any of Her Majestys. Corne Mylles there.”

The agreement with Farrar was fixed at a term of 21 years with rent at three shillings. The Luddenden fulling mill was on a site now occupied by a public house called the Weavers Arms. On the opposite bank of the river was a fulling mill occupied by Michael Foxcroft, and a feud took place in the late sixteenth century over the water rights of the Luddenden Brook.

This was a prolonged argument during which two people were murdered, the roots of which have been traced by Hugh P. Kendall to an initial dispute between Foxcroft and one Samuel Wade, Henry Farrar’s nephew, over property rights regarding certain trees in a wood named “Crawoode”—ostensibly owned (or at least occupied) by Foxcroft, but felled and removed by the Wade/Farrar faction in October, 1594. The value of this loss of timber was fixed at around £160.

Disagreements and quarrels continued on both sides, with staves put through windows and common assaults carried out by members of both parties; notably assaults on Wade by Michael Foxcroft Sr. and Michael Foxcroft Jr., which escalated from stone-throwing to attack by pike, and then an attempted assault using a pitchfork. It was while Wade was recovering from the pike thrust at the house of a local Luddenden man, that Foxcroft Jr. entered the building and stabbed the injured man with a dagger. Wade died about three weeks later and was buried on April 16, 1596 at Halifax. However, it does not seem that any official punishment was meted out to his killer. There was something of a lull in hostilities after this dramatic event, until Henry Farrar instituted proceedings in the Duchy Court of Lancaster against Foxcroft Sr., in respect of two fulling mills on the Luddenden brook—complaining that Foxcroft had illegally diverted the brook’s waters.

The Royal Cartographer, Christopher Saxton, was briefed to prepare a map for the suit, to be heard in the Duchy Court. To aid him in accomplishing mapping and surveying tasks, Saxton was usually issued with an open letter from the Privy Council addressed to local authorities at his destination, for example, in a document of March 11, 1576:

“A placard to ... Saxton servant to Mr Sackeforde ... Requests to be assisted in all places where he will come for the view of mete places to describe certen counties in Cartes being thereunto appointed by her Majestes bill under her signet”.

Mete places” would generally be the most advantageous viewpoints of the local area. Maps would be prepared using two main surveying techniques; triangulation and traverse – the former requiring some understanding of geometry, and first described in detail by the 16th-century cartographer, Gemma Frisius. It is based on the fact that if one knows the distance between two points, and the bearings of a third point from the ends of this line, one can calculate the distance to that third point. This was a marked development from the direct measurement required for the traverse technique. It is likely that Saxton used a mixture of these methods, probably plotting rivers using traverse up the river valleys, but perhaps using a simple theodolite in order to implement the triangulation technique (Saxton’s contemporary John Norden mentions the use of a theodolite in his 1607 Surveyor’s Dialogue). He probably also used as much ready-made material that was available in order to carry out his work swiftly.


Although most famous for his atlas of county maps, Saxton spent much of his later life working as a local estate surveyor, employed in both public and private matters, including a number of boundary disputes such as the Foxcroft and Farrar case. He was born in Sowood and was probably buried at Woodkirk, near Wakefield, so his links with West Yorkshire are interesting to note. Two maps were prepared, the first in 1599 and the second in 1602. The first map showed the stream, goits and mills from Luddenden Village to Luddenden Foot, and the second showed more details in the vicinity of Luddenden Village, with notes concerning the heights of water. It also showed the location of an earlier mill. This may have been the site of the replacement for Warley Corn Mill, possibly the oldest in the Halifax Parish, being noted in the 1274 Wakefield Manor Roll. By 1379, this mill was unable to cope with demand,a nmd so a new mill was constructed on the Luddenden Brook in the centre of Luddenden – which may well be what Saxton's map refers to where it states “here stood the old milne”.


The Foxcroft fulling mill was fed by a goit half a mile long which came from the dam stones of an old decayed mill. Henry Farrar had constructed a dam not far upstream, which was actually adjacent to Foxcroft’s land at Appleyard Holme, but according to witnesses, in no way encroached on Foxcroft’s land. However, according to Kendall's notes, “there was a considerable amount of perjury on both sides”. Farrar’s position was that Foxcroft had diverted the brook at Appleyard Holme, thus depriving Farrar’s mills at Luddenden Foot. Foxcroft, however, complained to the Star Chamber that he had only diverted the brook back to its previous route, as a response to a hostile action by Farrar. Foxcroft’s story was that on June 18, 1599, Farrar and his faction had come armed with swords, daggers, rapiers, long piked staves, pitchforks, iron forks, gavelocks (a kind of iron crowbar) and picks, with diverse other weapons and had broken down the dam; using the stones to fill up the goit that fed Foxcroft’s mill.

After Foxcroft had repaired the damage, the Farrar party had allegedly returned, and once again pulled down the dam. Moreover, Farrar had maintained an armed guard on the spot for three weeks, during which time there had been a number of affrays in which young Foxcroft, the miller and several others had been badly injured. Foxcroft claimed that his mill had been fulling 160 kersies a week prior to the loss of his watercourse.

Farrar cited the licence from the Queen in his defence – claiming that his men had returned the brook to its original, natural state (before any dams had been constructed) in order to fulfil the terms of the grant, namely full “authority to attach or diverte so much of the Ryvers, stream and watercourse in any place or places within the lordship of Sowerby”. While all this was deliberated, however, Michael Foxcroft had been busily attempting to render Farrar’s mills unproductive; breaking down the banks of the brook, increasing the level of his own dam and generally being a nuisance, for which he was bound over by the Court for a sum of £60, which did not appear to affect his combative attitude in the slightest. At this point, Samuel Wade’s son, Richard, perhaps frustrated by the lack of effective punishment, accorded to the Foxcrofts over the course of this matter, made an armed attack on Foxcroft’s house, where he committed £40 worth of damage, but did not have to pay the fine himself as he was underage.

In April 1601, Michael Foxcroft filed a bill against Farrar et al, complaining that the latter’s faction had built a new fulling mill “within ten rods” of Foxcroft’s own mills, and in doing so had constructed a strong weir and a new watercourse, not only depriving Foxcroft’s mills of water to such an extent that they were rendered inoperable, but also flooding the access route to them.

Lawsuits, disputes, quarrels and bad feeling continued between the two factions, at least until Farrar’s murder by one Thomas Oldfield in 1610 — a man thought to be connected, at least tangentially, with the Foxcroft coterie, but likely to have had reasons of his own for wishing Farrar dead.

In the Court Rolls of the Rectorial Manor of Halifax and Heptonstall there is evidence of a local dispute in 1578 which was resolved more peacefully – although this was probably the resolution of an internal family disagreement. “We appointed William Thomas to take the half of the water that cometh down betwixt the lands of Robert Thomas and Riding Hill into his own lands above the footway that leadeth into Colden from Heptonstall, and to make a sufficient course for it, and the other half be equally divided betwixt Robert Thomas and Edward Thomas.”

However, in the surrounding area there were constraints on other, related industries; “In 1621, time of James I, we find a penalty of 10s. laid, on those who keep dyehouses in Halifax, & take too much water from the town’s supply.” (J. Lister, “Halifax in the Time of Queen Elizabeth”, Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1921, p.33).<