Remains of the gas plant, chimney, wheel pit and mill race of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill


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

Statutory Address:
Land adjacent to Old Mill House, Wagon Road, Dolphinholme, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA2 9BX


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Statutory Address:
Land adjacent to Old Mill House, Wagon Road, Dolphinholme, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA2 9BX

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

Location Description:

Wyre (District Authority)
Nether Wyresdale
National Grid Reference:


The standing remains and earthworks and buried remains of the gas plant, chimney, wheel pit and mill race of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill.

Reasons for Designation

The remains of the gas plant, chimney, wheel house and mill race of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill, are scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: as probably the earliest gas plant or gas work remains known to survive in the world (built in 1811 with additions in about 1820); * Rarity: an exceptionally rare example of a gas plant site representing an experimental and pioneering phase in the history of the gas industry, Dolphinhome Worsted Mill being one of the earliest mills in England to be lit by gas, which is also thought to have been used to light the village street and proprietors house; * Survival: the remains of the gasholder (tank, counter-weight, drains, pipes and enclosing wall but not the bell or gasholder itself) survive particularly well for a structure of such remarkably early date (1820), as do the gas flues, chimney and water management features associated with the worsted mill; * Documentation: the site is well documented in early C19 texts, plans and drawings, showing the layout of the mill, gas plant and the manner in which the mill was lit by gas. This is complemented by a survey of the gas plant remains carried out to a high standard in 1986; * Potential: the site is not known to have undergone geophysical survey or excavation and retains a high degree of archaeological potential to contribute to our understanding of such an early, pioneering phase industrial site; * Group value; the mill remains have a close association and interrelation to the gas plant remains, and the survival of both industrial remains on one site is of considerable importance nationally. In addition it holds group value with the Grade II-listed former mill proprietors’ house, Old Mill House, which was lit by the gas plant, and the Grade II-listed houses, gas lamp and wall on Wagon Road, all within Dolphinholme Conservation Area.


A detailed history of the Dolphinholme Worsted Mill is set out by Bennett (1986), and the following is a summary based on that account. The gas plant at Dolphinholme was among the earliest in the history of the industry and it is useful to initially outline the wider historical context. The engineer William Murdoch was central to the discovery of a commercial process for coal gas manufacture. In 1792 Murdoch demonstrated gas lighting made from coal when he lit his home and office at Redruth, Cornwall, by distilling coal in a retort in his backyard. He worked at the Soho Foundry of Boulton and Watt, an engineering firm in Birmingham, where he constructed apparatus and later experimented with the manufacture, washing and purifying of gas. In 1802 the first public display or exhibition of gas lighting took place when the front of the manufactory was illuminated in coloured oil lights and two gas lights to celebrate the Peace of Amiens. The following year Murdoch lit part of the works itself. He was assisted by Samuel Clegg, a highly-skilled engineer who had joined the company as an apprentice in 1798. Clegg realised the potential of gas lighting and in 1805 left Boulton and Watt to set up in competition with Murdoch. In that year Murdoch developed the world’s first circular gasholder, and the Boulton and Watt factory operated as the only supplier of gas-making plant in the world. Clegg also installed a gasworks at the cotton mill of Henry Lodge, near Halifax, which was claimed to be the first mill to be lit by gas. Murdoch was installing apparatus at a premises in Salford at the time, and Clegg apparently had his men working day and night to beat him to the record. Providing mills with gas lighting allowed them to operate at night, replacing the need to light them by oil lamps or tallow candles (requiring up to 1,500 candles per night), limiting the risk of fire and considerably cutting insurance costs. Clegg went on to install gas plants at several premises and in 1809 established a works at Major Street, Manchester, where he fabricated his next six gas plants. In 1810 to 1811 he simultaneously installed gas plants at Dolphinholme Worsted Mill and Stonyhurst College, near Clitheroe, Lancashire. At about this time he invented a lime machine for the purification of gas and a hydraulic main, which conveyed gas from the retorts to a condenser; features that became widely adopted by the industry.

In December 1812 Samuel Clegg became engineer of the newly-founded Chartered Gas Light Company for which he designed and built the first public gas works at Great Peter Street, Westminster, after an earlier site at Cannon Row failed technically. He laid the street mains and lit Westminster Bridge. Over the next four years he invented rotative retorts, the semi-fluid lime machine, the rotative and reciprocating gas meter, the governor, and an apparatus for the decomposition of oil and tar. Following his success in London, gas works emerged in towns and cities across the country. The development of the gas industry subsequently centred on the undertakings of private gas companies. Clegg lit several towns and cities and then designed major works for the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company at Shoreditch, St Pancras and Fulham in the 1820s. He subsequently left the gas industry to work on a number of other engineering initiatives but returned several times before he died in 1861.

Dolphinholme, a village situated on the River Wyre approximately 9km south-south-east of Lancaster, was the site of the world’s first worsted spinning factory in 1784. Prior to this date Dolphinholme was a small hamlet consisting essentially of a farm, some cottages, a corn mill and Wyreside Hall. Thomas Edmondson and two associates took a lease out on the mill and installed two of Richard Arkwright’s water frames for the spinning of worsted yarn (worsted was a smooth yarn spun from combed wool). The mill suffered damage after the River Wye flooded in 1787 and was subsequently abandoned. In 1795 a new factory was built on this site to the south of Wagon Road. The mill was a T-shaped four-storey building located in the current position of the garden of Old Mill House. A weir was built upstream, and a mill race constructed to divert water from the river to drive a new water wheel. On the opposite side of Wagon Road a three-storey building combining a wool combing mill and warehouse was built. To the north of the river was another warehouse, and close to the worsted mill was the house of the proprietors, the Hindes, now called Old Mill House. By 1799, the worsted mill was so successful that it was spinning both day and night. Raw materials were transported by long wagon (hence the name Wagon Road) from Bradford and Norfolk and the finished yarn taken back on the return journey.

In 1810 it was decided that gas lighting should be installed at the mill and Samuel Clegg was appointed to build the gas plant, which was commissioned in February the following year. It was located right next to the mill and a plan shows four circular structures, which may have included a circular tar tank, a dry well, a recently invented lime machine used to remove hydrogen sulphide from the gas, and a gasholder to subsequently store the gas, though it is also possible that one or two of the features could be a condenser. On the adjacent hillside the gas plant chimney was built, where it still survives. It was purposely located at a distance from the proprieter’s house (Old Mill House), and was, according to Clegg, built in the form of an obelisk. It contained two flues; one laid from the steam boiler at the wool combing mill, and the other from the retort house of the gas plant. The gasholder was replaced in 1820, probably because more gas storage was required after the mill was extended, and the remains of this later structure survive on the site. It is thought to have comprised of a gas bell suspended by a chain over a stone water-filled tank. The chain was probably fed over two wheels located on the top of a cast-iron frame, consisting of horizontal beams supported by four columns, with a stone block forming a counter-weight to the bell at the other end. It has been estimated that the gasholder may have had a capacity of 7,000 cubic feet. The retort house was also replaced with one built adjacent to the current mill race retaining wall. A drawing shows that each storey of the worsted mill was steam heated and installed with gas pipes at ceiling level which then fed vertically downwards and were teed-off to form two gas lights; a set-up repeated across each floor so that there were numerous lights. Gas also lit the adjacent wool combing mill, Old Mill House, and probably some lamps in the street.

The worsted mill was extended in 1818, forming a cruciform-shaped building shown on early plans. In 1822 a steam engine was installed to provide additional power. An industrial dispute at Dolphinholme in 1832 began a period of decline for the worsted mill, although a survey of 1836 valued the worsted spinning mill at £1831 10s 0d and the retort house and gasholder as £56 0s 0d. In 1839 a new 56 horse power water wheel was ordered from Robert and Thomas Whittaker of Walton-le-Dale, near Preston, at a cost of £1,150. However, before the installation could be completed, the mill company of Hindes and Derham went bankrupt. The worsted mill passed into the hands of several companies before being converted into a cotton mill using the existing machinery in about 1852. The mill continued to operate until 1867 but then closed, whereupon the water wheel was blown up and the buildings gradually dismantled. The mill and gas plant remains are now situated in woodland and the garden of the Old Mill House next to the River Wyre (private property). It is within the Dolphinholme Conservation Area and the woodland is within the area covered by Wyre Council Tree Preservation Order Number 6 of 1975 (Dolphinholme).


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: the gas plant includes the standing and buried remains of a gasholder, buried remains of a retort house, below-ground gas flues and the standing remains of a chimney. In addition there is the wheel house of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill surviving as standing and buried remains, and the mill race surviving as an earthwork.

DESCRIPTION: an early ground plan of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill shows four circular structures associated with the first gas plant installed in 1811 but probably demolished when the mill was extended in 1818. The structures may have included a circular tar tank, a dry well, a lime machine used to remove hydrogen sulphide from the gas, and a gasholder. They were located in a yard immediately south of the mill (at SD 51984 53297) and may survive as buried remains and foundations.

A second GASHOLDER (at SD 52000 53282) was built in about 1820 and survives as standing and buried remains (including much of the structure but not the gas bell or holder itself). A circular squared stone rubble wall surrounds the gasholder tank. It is ruinous and varying in height but stands up to approximately 3m high in places and originally served to shield the gasholder from the wind so the bell could rise (fill) and fall (empty) smoothly. The circular tank is constructed of ashlar and is about 8.2m in diameter and 4.7m deep. It was sealed with puddle clay. At four positions around the perimeter are bolts, 2.5m in diameter, originally for holding down the cast-iron columns of the frame; there are also indentations in the stonework from the bases of the columns. Resting near the wall on the east side is the counterpoise or counterweight, about 1m in diameter and 1.3m high, with a lifting eye on the shank. On the south side is a tank overflow drain whilst on the north and west sides are the outlet main pipes and also on the west side is the inlet main pipe. The gasholder bell and frame no longer survive but the design is considered to be similar to that shown in the Theory and Practice of Gas Lighting (1819) by T S Peckston. It comprised a bell suspended over the water-filled tank by a chain fed over two wheels on top of the frame itself, which consisted of two horizontal beams supported by four columns, with a stone block forming a counter-weight at the other end.

The second RETORT HOUSE (at SD 51978 53288) on the site is shown on plans to be located between the mill race retaining wall and the wheel pit. The plans indicate that it is about 11m by 8m. Masonry footings and other features will survive as buried remains. Near the retort house are two 10cm diameter cast-iron mains, which pass through the adjacent retaining wall and under the mill race as they proceed to the gasholder tank. One probably served as the inlet from the retorts and the other as the outlet supplying the worsted mill. The second outlet pipe from the gasholder probably supplied the village gas lamps or the wool combing mill. Tarry waste from the retorts, which discharged directly into the River Wrye, has been identified on the site near the river.

On the hillside at the north-east of the site are the standing remains of the CHIMNEY. It is constructed of stone rubble and contains two flues; one originally running from the steam boiler of the wool combing mill and the other from the gas plant retort house. Flue pipes are shown on plans extending in these directions, north-west and south-west from the chimney, and will survive as buried remains.

The MILL RACE survives as an earthwork formed of a deep depression, which was water-filled at the time of inspection (January 2019). It is approximately 75m long and up to about 10m wide, extending south from a point close to Waggon Road towards the gasholder before curving to the west where it is supported by a substantial rubble stone retaining wall, which is included in the scheduling. A water channel originally extended from the mill race to the WATER WHEEL HOUSE. The wheel house (at SD 51968 53291) is constructed of stone rubble and survives as low standing and buried remains. It is approximately 17m long and 7m wide with a wheel pit at its centre which originally held a water wheel 12.2m in diameter and 2.7m wide.

EXCLUSIONS: the monument excludes all modern fences or fence posts, gates and gateposts, and the modern concrete water tank at SD 52045 53352. However, the ground beneath all these features is included.


‘Appendix E: Mr Clegg’s own account of his inventions. Extracted from a small pamphlet, published by him in 1820’ (referring to gas lighting at Dolphinholme on page 328), in Matthews, W, An historical sketch of the origin, progress and present state of Gas-Lighting (1832). Available online at:
Bennett, A S, Dolphinholme 1811: A historical investigation into the manufacture and supply of gas in Dolphinholme between 1811 and 1867 (1983). Lancashire Archives Reference: LQ34/BEN
Ground plan of proposed alterations to Dolphinholme Worsted Mill, 1852. Lancashire Archives Reference: P/187/3
Hall, P, Dolphinholme: A history of the Dolphinholme Worsted Mill 1784 to 1867 (1869). Lancashire Archives Reference: LM331/HAL
Lancashire County Archaeology Service HER Record Number PRN10265 – MLA10265 Dolphinholme Mill
OS Maps (1:2500): 1892, 1912
Peckston, T S, Theory and Practice of Gas Lighting (1819)
Plan of Dolphinholme Worsted Mill (dating between 1810 and 1818), including sectional drawing showing details of steam heating and gas lighting. Lancashire Archives References: DDHH/BOX26 and P/187
Thomas, R, 2014, The History and Operation of Gasworks (Manufactured Gas Plants in Britain). Available online at:


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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