Basingill gunpowder works, 130m south of Force Bridge


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018824

Date first listed: 17-May-2000


Ordnance survey map of Basingill gunpowder works, 130m south of Force Bridge
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cumbria

District: South Lakeland (District Authority)

Parish: Sedgwick

National Grid Reference: SD 50775 86692


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 the monument into an operational fisheries site, many of the original features associated with the incorporating of gunpowder survive well. It remains one of the better preserved late 18th to early 20th century gunpowder works in northern England and a rare example of a gunpowder incorporating plant divorced from the other stages of the gunpowder manufacturing processes. Many of the monument's structural components still survive, including remains of all the incorporating mills and a charge house, together with virtually all of the water management system which powered the waterwheels. Many of the surviving mills preserve technological information relating to their use from the late 18th century until closure in 1935.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of Basingill gunpowder works, located on the east bank of the River Kent approximately 700m WSW of Sedgwick village. The site is unusual in that it was not a self-contained gunpowder works, but was instead established in 1790 to provide additional incorporating mills for Old Sedgewick gunpowder works located a short distance upstream of Basingill. Later, once Old Sedgwick closed in 1850, it performed a similar role for a milling annexe to Gatebeck gunpowder works some 4km away, a function it performed until closure in 1935. The gunpowders incorporated at Basingill mainly comprised coarse powders used for mining, quarrying and other blasting activities, and the remains include three sets of incorporating mills with architectural features and a small amount of original timberwork, the water management system constructed to provide power for driving the machinery in these mills, the remains of a green charge house and the sites of a wrought charge house and watch house. At the northern end of the site, a short distance downstream from Force Bridge, stand the remains of three incorporating mills which were the first to be constructed at Basingill. Here the gunpowder ingredients of charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur were crushed and ground together under heavy edge grinding runners to form mill cake. Large waterwheels powered the grinding stones, so that the design of an incorporating mill is instantly recognisable as being identical structures either side of a waterwheel, with a tail race taking used water away. All the mills were deliberately burned at the closure of the works to ensure no explosive powder nestled in crannies and, as a result, the light wooden-framed huts that enclosed each mill were destroyed, leaving only the thick stone-built three-sided outer blast walls. These early mills were powered conventionally by a waterwheel located between the central and northern mills. Water to turn the wheel was channelled off the Kent a short distance upstream and taken along a leat; once it reached the mills some of the water was diverted 90 degrees to power the waterwheel, after which it flowed back into the Kent via a short tail race, while the remainder of the water flowed along an underground tunnel towards the other sets of incorporating mills. Immediately south of these early incorporating mills lie the ruins of the green charge house where unincorporated powder was stored, and south of this, close to the river, lie a pair of incorporating mills with a short tail race. The third set of incorporating mills stand on a terrace a short distance to the south east and comprises a set of three. The large waterwheel pit lies between the central and northern mills and water to power the wheel exited the underground leat through a semi-circular opening known as a Rennie's Hatch. A tail race then took the waste water southwards for approximately 100m to empty into the river. Although no surface evidence remains, site plans show that a wrought charge house stood on a flat terrace near to the site entrance; here the ripe or incorporated mill charge would be stored prior to transportation. A pathway with a stone retaining wall on its western side runs southwards from this terrace to two freshwater wells. The site plans also show that a watch house was situated near to the entrance, but a modern store now overlies remains of the watch house. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include fish hoarding tanks, a fish counter hut and counter weir, the modern store near to the site entrance and the platform on which it stands, and all modern walls, fences, seats, sluice gates, telegraph poles and gateposts; 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.

Legacy System number: 27834

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Patterson, E M, Blackpowder Manufacture in Cumbria, (1995), 14
'Gunpowder Mills Study Group Newsletter' in Gunpowder Mills Study Group Newsletter, (1992), 11

End of official listing