Low Gatebeck gunpowder works, 540m south west of Gatebeck Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Low Gatebeck gunpowder works, 540m south west of Gatebeck Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Lakeland (District Authority)
Preston Patrick
South Lakeland (District Authority)
Preston Richard
National Grid Reference:
SD 54342 85003

Reasons for Designation

Gunpowder was the only explosive available for military use and for blasting in mines and quarries until the mid-19th century. Water-powered manufacturing mills were established in England from the mid-16th century, although powder had been prepared by hand for at least 200 years. The industry expanded until the late 19th century when high explosives began to replace gunpowder. Its manufacture declined dramatically after the First World War with British production ceasing in 1976. The technology of gunpowder manufacture became increasingly complex through time with the gradual mechanisation of what were essentially hand-worked operations. Waterwheels were introduced in the 16th century, and steam engines and water turbines from the 19th century. Pressing and corning were also introduced between the 16th and 19th centuries to improve the powders. Pressing improved the explosive power of the mill cake and corning broke the pressing cake into different sizes and graded it with respect to its fineness. Additional techniques were developed throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to improve the quality and consistency of the finished product, and this in turn resulted in a variety of types of powders; ranging from large coarse-grained blasting powders used in mines and quarries, to fine varieties used, for example, in sporting guns. Gunpowder manufacturing sites are a comparatively rare class of monument with around 60 examples known nationally. Demand for gunpowder centred on the London area (for military supply), other ports (for trade), and the main metal mining areas. Most gunpowder production was, therefore, in Cumbria, the south west, and the south east around the Thames estuary. The first water-powered mills were established in south east England from the mid-16th century onwards, and many of the major technological improvements were pioneered in those mills. All sites of gunpowder production which retain significant archaeological remains and technological information and survive well will normally be identified as nationally important.

Despite demolition and levelling of the northern section of Low Gatebeck gunpowder works, the southern part of the site survives well and remains one of the better preserved 19th/early 20th century gunpowder works in northern England. It retains many of its structural components, including four pairs of incorporating mills, two corning mills, two engine houses, two charge houses, a watch house, glazing house, boiler house, drying house, store house and parts of the water management system which powered the waterwheels. Many of these surviving buildings preserve technological information relating to their 19th and 20th century use.


The monument includes the upstanding buildings, ruins, earthworks and buried remains of the southern part of Low Gatebeck gunpowder works, located on the east bank of Peasey Beck to the north east of Endmoor village. The gunpowders manufactured at Low Gatebeck ranged from fine powders used for sporting and military purposes to course powders used for mining, quarrying and other blasting activities, and the remains include a number of structures and ancillary buildings associated with aspects of this manufacturing process, together with a weir and part of the water management system constructed to provide water power for some of the gunpowder production processes. Gunpowder production consists of eight principal stages: preparation and first mixing of the main ingredients of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal, the incorporating of these ingredients by mixing and grinding, pressing of the mixed powder into a `cake' to improve its specific gravity and explosive power, corning or breaking up and sizing of the press cake, dusting of the sized powder to remove loose particles, glazing of the gunpowder to protect against moisture, drying in a heated building known as a stove house or drying house, then finally packing or moulding in barrels or cartridges. Each of these processes took place in purpose built structures, some of which were located away from the main group of buildings because of the danger of explosion. Remains of many of these survive at Low Gatebeck, including a store house, two corning houses, two engine houses, a stove house, a glazing house, a boiler house, four pairs of incorporating mills, two charge houses and a watch house. The original licence to manufacture gunpowder at Low Gatebeck was granted to W H Wakefield in 1850 and production began two years later when the company's main manufactory was transferred from Old Sedgwick gunpowder works. Initially, pressing, corning and glazing of the gunpowder was carried out under one roof of a compartmentalized building. However, a rapid growth in export orders led to expansion of the works and the opportunity was taken to separate the buildings and processes during the 1860s. In 1875 a tramway connecting Low Gatebeck with Milnthorpe railway station was laid and this superseded the horse and carts which had previously transported gunpowder from the site. Rationalisation of the gunpowder industry led to a merger with the Nobel organisation shortly after the end of World War I but falling orders led to eventual closure in 1936 and much of the machinery was transferred to the Ardeer works in Ayrshire. Following Board of Trade regulations, many of the buildings were subsequently dismantled and/or burned to ensure no explosives could remain in crannies. A weir was constructed across Peasey Beck upstream from the gunpowder works and a large mill race from which smaller leats ran was cut to provide water for waterwheels and turbines to power the machinery. Steam engines were also used as a power source. A smaller mill race flows through the southern part of the site. The remains of the gunpowder works are described from south to north; the remains of a pair of incorporating mills survive at the southern end of the site. Here the gunpowder ingredients were crushed and ground together under heavy edge grinding runners to form mill cake. Large waterwheels and heavy edge runners of stone or cast iron were employed, meaning the design of an incorporating mill is instantly recognisable as two identical rectangular structures either side of a mill race and waterwheel, with a tail race taking the used water away. When the mills were burned at the closure of the works, the light wooden framed huts that enclosed each mill were burned to the ground, leaving only the thick stone built three sided outer blast walls. The incorporating mills at Low Gatebeck were overdriven, that is, water to drive the wheel was fed from above. However, considerable flexibility was used as a means of powering the mills when the level of the beck was low or during severe frost: the southernmost pair of mills were driven by electric motor, and opposite the mill are the ruins of the engine house. North of this incorporating mill is a round arched tunnel-like opening in the masonry wall within which is the charge house where gunpowder was stored temporarily before or after incorporating. A second pair of incorporating mills stands to the north, while opposite are the ruins of a steam boiler house where an engine was located which provided another alternative energy source to drive the incorporating mill wheels. Between the second and third incorporating mills are the ruins of a watch house; this was a personnel shelter where millmen could rest in safety during a mill run, emerging to lift the incorporated or `ripe' charge and lay a new or `green' charge when necessary. The third pair of incorporating mills lie immediately to the north and between this and the fourth pair of mills is another charge house. Approximately 100m north of the fourth pair of incorporating mills stand remains of the glazing house. Here, graphite was added to the gunpowder to protect against moisture and the mixture then turned in drums. Opposite the glazing house are the low walls of a small stove or drying house where the gunpowder was dried by hot air. To the rear of the glazing house a stone-lined flue runs directly up the steep valley side for 60m to a tall stone chimney, where waste smoke and gasses were expelled. Approximately 100m north of the glazing house stands the ruins of a large corning mill. This structure housed corning machines which undertook the most dangerous process of all, that of breaking up the compressed gunpowder, and the thick stone and concrete blast walls survive to their full height. An 1898 plan of the gunpowder works depict the engine house for the corning mill lying immediately to the south, and buried remains of this building will survive. To the north of the corning mill there is a brick-built store house which stands to its full height. About 30m to the north, the base and rear wall of two buildings, identified on the late 19th century plan as a pattern store and a shoemakers shop, are located, and approximately 90m north west of these remains, in woodland close to Peasey Beck, stand the ruins of a second corning mill, with a tall thick blast wall located immediately to its north. Remains of a brick-built engine house stand on the south side of the corning mill with stone engine mounting blocks adjacent. A leat runs southwards from the engine house to enter a mill race just south of a weir across Peasey Beck, from where water for the mill race is tapped. Powder was initially transported around the site by horse drawn carts, but this method was superseded by an extensive tramway system during the 1870s, and a late 19th century map depicts the full extent of this tramway within the works. In places the course of these tramways can still be determined. The gunpowder works originally extended further north into the area now occupied by a caravan park. Various workshops, boiler houses, refineries and further mixing and corning houses originally existed in this area along with offices. Much of the area has been levelled and the majority of buildings have been demolished. An office building, however, does survive at the site entrance, along with two charcoal retorts (iron vessels in which charcoal was produced) which survive as gateposts. These features are not included in the scheduling. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include all modern walls and fences, and the surfaces of all access drives and paths; the ground beneath all these features, however, is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Patterson, E M, Black Powder Manufacture in Cumbria, (1995), 24-32
Crocker, G, 'Gunpowder Mills Gazetteer' in Gunpowder Mills Gazetteer, (1988), 38-9
Crocker, G, Crocker, A, 'Gunpowder Mills Study Group' in Gunpowder Mills Study Group: Newsletter 11, (1992), 11-14


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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