New Sedgwick gunpowder works, 580m north of Gate House


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Lakeland (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 50969 87878

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 conversion of part of the monument into a caravan site, much of the northern and central parts of New Sedgwick gunpowder works still survive well and it remains one of the better preserved 19th/early 20th century gunpowder works in northern England. It retains many of its structural components, including the remains of nine incorporating mills, corning mills, an engine house, a dusting house, stove houses, glaze houses, a pump house, a press house, a saltpetre refinery, a boiler station, stables and a joiner's shop, together with large parts of the water management system which powered the waterwheels and water turbines. Many of these surviving buildings preserve technological information relating to their 19th and 20th century use. Buried remains of other associated buildings depicted on site plans will also survive.


The monument includes an upstanding building, the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of the northern and central parts of New Sedgwick gunpowder works, located on the west bank of the River Kent approximately 1km NNW of Sedgwick village. The gunpowders manufactured at New Sedgwick mainly comprised 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, incorporating 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, and remains of many of these, including corning mills, a dusting house, stove houses, glazing houses, press houses, pump houses, a saltpetre refinery, a boiler house, powder houses, an engine house and incorporating mills survive at New Sedgwick. The original licence to manufacture gunpowder at New Sedgwick was granted to Walter Charles Strickland of Sizergh Castle in 1857 and production began the following year. In 1864 the company failed but the business was reconstructed by the Sedgwick Gunpowder Company. 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 1935. 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, of which fragments survive, was constructed across the River Kent upstream from the gunpowder works, and from it a large stone-lined mill race was cut to provide water for waterwheels and turbines to power the machinery. An electric engine was also used as an alternative power source. The remains of the gunpowder works are described from north to south; the ruins of a building sandwiched between the mill race and the river are those of the top corning house, and a short distance to the south are the ruins of a dusting house. Further south, on the west side of the mill race, stand the remains of the new stove house and chimney where the gunpowder would have been placed to dry, while a short distance to the south lie the footings of the old stove house which it replaced. Opposite this latter building, on the east of the mill race, are a wheelpit and the ruins of glazing houses, while a short distance to the south are remains of a building variously described as a corning mill and a glaze house. To the east of a bridge across the mill race are two substantial earthen blast-banks between which ran the tramway used for transporting powder around the works. Although no surface remains are visible, a site plan depicts an early corning house located immediately to the south of the eastern blast bank. On the west of the mill race a tramway cutting leads to the ruins of a cartridge press house, while flanking the eastern side of the mill race are remains of a corning mill with attendant blast banks, a powder press pump house and a cartridge press house. A short distance to the south stand remains of nine incorporating mills arranged as a group of six and a group of three, with a tall blast wall separating the two groups. Here the gunpowder ingredients were crushed and ground together under heavy edge grinding runners to form mill cake. Large waterwheels powered the grinding stones, meaning that the design of an incorporating mill is instantly recognisable as identical structures either side of a waterwheel with a tail race taking 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. To the south of the incorporating mills, on the east side of a leat, are remains of a green charge house or unprocessed powder store. To the north are remains of a ripe charge house where the incorporated powder was stored. To the south, site plans show the location of the preparing house where the gunpowder ingredients were measured out and given an initial mix; buried remains of this structure will survive. On the eastern side of the monument, close to the river, stands an electric motor house which powered machinery in the now demolished adjacent dust house. Site plans show that a cartridge press house and a heading house were also located in the vicinity and buried remains of these structures will also survive. To the south lie the remains of a group of buildings collectively known as `Black Pot'; these consisted of the saltpetre refinery, a boiler station, stables and a joiner's shop. Site plans show that a powder packing house was located close to the point where the tailrace exits into the river, and buried remains of this building will also survive. The gunpowder works originally extended further south to the gatehouse which provided access to the complex. Workshops and offices originally occupied this southern area. Some of these buildings survive to some degree but they have remained in use and are not included in the scheduling. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern buildings, barriers, signposts, electrical hook-up points and water points associated with the caravan site, the surface of all roads, tracks, paths, car parks and caravan pitches, a timber walkway flanking a glaze house, all flagged areas, all modern bridges, and all modern walls, fences and railings, although the ground beneath all these features 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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Crocker, G, Gunpowder Mills Gazetteer, (1988), 40-1
Patterson, E M, Black Powder Manufacture in Cumbria, (1995), 33-7
Wilson, , A Short History of the New Sedgwick Gunpowder Mills
Newsletter 11, Sept 1992, Gunpowder Mills Study Group, (1992)


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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