Heritage Category:
Listed Building
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Date first listed:
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Statutory Address:

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

South Somerset (District Authority)
Castle Cary
National Grid Reference:
ST 63555 32321


This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 12/02/2016






Former flax, hemp and tow factory, partially in use as a horsehair weaving factory. Mid-late C19 with some C20 additions, on site of an early C19 mill, developed by T.S .Donne and Sons. Rubble stone and red brickwork, with double Roman clay and plain clay tile roof coverings. PLAN: L-shaped, accretional plan, developed to the north of the River Cary, formed by a functionally related group of buildings: the FLAX MILL at the eastern end of the site, and a series of buildings in a long range along the north side of the site, comprising (from east to west) the UPPER WAREHOUSE, MIDDLE WAREHOUSE and OFFICES, DYEHOUSE and LOWER WAREHOUSE

EXTERIOR: The FLAX MILL is a three storey structure of five bays, aligned north-south. It is a c.1870 rebuilding of an earlier mill, built in two phases which allowed production to continue uninterrupted. It is built of Hadspen stone with red brick dressings and has an ornate bellcote on the southern gable. Most of the windows retain the original cast-iron frames with pivoting central panels. The front elevation has taking-in doors in the third bay from the northern end, with a further one in the south end wall serving the top storey. Single storey brick-built extensions at the southern end of the mill date from the early to mid C20, on the foundations of an earlier structure. The waterwheel was sited against the external north wall and its wheelpit survives, capped with concrete. The late C19 expansion of the site included the addition of the UPPER WAREHOUSE. It was built between 1887 and 1896 and represented a doubling of the warehouse capacity at the site. It is three storeys and built to a symmetrical plan of five bays, with the main entrance and a full-height row of taking-in doors in the central bay of the front (south) elevation. The stone walls, limestone plinth, windows and use of red brick are all similar to the Flax Mill.

In the central section of the long west-east range is a group of attached buildings of at least four phases, two of which pre-date 1870. From east to west they comprise a mid C19 warehouse of six bays used as offices. It is of rubble construction with a narrow plan and the southern gable end contains former taking-in doors to the first floor and attic. A small two storey west wing is attached to the northern end bay, distinguished by the use of stone quoins in the external corners. It has a blocked taking-in door in the western end of the upper floor, suggesting that it also functioned as warehousing. Immediately west is the larger mid C19 MIDDLE WAREHOUSE which is three storeys and four bays. It is built of the same stone and red brick as the Flax Mill and has a canted bay in the south elevation. A late C19 cast-iron wall crane and an earlier hoist beam remain attached to the west (front) elevation. The area between these two warehouses has been infilled with an early C20 two storey building which may have functioned as a showroom area or an office extension. It has pairs of sash windows to both ground and first floors. West of the MIDDLE WAREHOUSE is the former DYEHOUSE which is built of red brick laid in Flemish bond on a limestone plinth, contrasting with the other mill buildings which are of stone. It is two storeys and four bays with a gabled roof. It was built in two phases, the eastern three bays being the original building. The western bay was probably added in the late C19 and was used as a fire engine house in 1947, when the eastern room was used as a canteen. The windows have flat heads in splayed brick and most retain C19 cast-iron frames. The entrance is in the north side, above which is an external stair leading to a door in the upper storey. A modern single storey block-work shed with double doors to the south (front) elevation fills the space between the Dyehouse and the Lower Warehouse to the west. It is not of special interest. The LOWER WAREHOUSE dates from c.1870 and is similar in size, materials, fenestration and construction to the Upper Warehouse.

INTERIOR: The FLAX MILL main entrance gives access to separate wooden staircases, and has floors of joisted timber construction with beams supported on cast-iron columns. The roof has king post trusses with angled struts and two ranks of purlins. The internal engine house was located in the south end bay of the ground floor, although the horizontal compound engine has been removed and the boiler house and chimney demolished. Unusually the building was designed to be powered by both the steam engine and by the external waterwheel. The UPPER WAREHOUSE floors are supported by cast-iron columns with cast-in sides to the top plates to provide additional support to the beams. The southern side of the roof retains evidence of a former manual hoist pulley. To the west, the mid C19 warehouse was lit by small windows at ground floor, between which are vertical niches in the side walls, possibly to accommodate machinery. The MIDDLE WAREHOUSE has an office room at the southern end of the ground floor, identified externally by the bay window. It retains some mid to late C19 features including panelling and a fireplace and was probably the wages office. Elsewhere the warehouse was open from end to end, each floor served by a taking-in door in the front (west) elevation. The LOWER WAREHOUSE has joisted timber floors supported by cast-iron columns which are of simpler form than those in the Flax Mill, with bracketed top plates. The upper floors are accessed via a straight wooden staircase next to the south side, east of the entrance. The top storey is open to the gabled roof, which has king-post trusses, and there is a projecting hoist beam above the top taking-in door. The fittings for the hoist also survive in the roof trusses together with holes for the pulley ropes in the floors. The building is currently used for horsehair weaving.

Form a group with the Entrance Lodge (qv).

HISTORY: Sources indicate that mills have been present at the site of Higher Flax Mills from at least the C17, and that it was used for the flax industry from at least the C19. All the extant buildings date from the late C19, when the site was rebuilt and extended as a flax, hemp and tow factory by the firm of T.S. Donne and Sons. It functioned as an integrated flax factory, combining a water and steam-powered mill with covered and open walks and large-scale warehousing, producing thread, linen warps for the horsehair fabric industry, twine, rope, cordage and webbing. T.S. Donne and Sons closed in the early 1980s. Much of the site is now occupied by the firm of John Boyd Textiles Ltd, who produce horsehair cloth at the site. It is considered to be the only horsehair fabric manufactory in the world which uses powered looms, some of which date from the c.1870s.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Higher Flax Mills is one of the largest and unusually complete examples of an integrated rope and twine works in the West Country. The mill complex provides clear evidence of the production process for rope and twine manufacture and the type of structures which characterised a significant regional industry in the C19. The current use of part of the site by John Boyd Textiles is of added significance; the company is unique in being the only horsehair weaving factory in the world which uses power looms.

SOURCE: English Heritage Architectural Investigation Report, "Higher Flax Mills, Castle Cary, Somerset" 2001, NBR No. 105517


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

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Books and journals
McGarvie, M , Castle Cary Avalon Industries, (1980)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 12 Aug 2003
Reference: IOE01/11214/14
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr John Barker. Source Historic England Archive
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