A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Uses of Fingle Mill: discoveries adding detail

Fingle Mill has its history deeply rooted in the Teign Valley with records of its existence dating back to the 1600s. Although, as it was already a well-established operating site by then, it is easy to assume the building is older still. The survey carried out on the parishes of Moretonhampstead and Doccombe in 1639-40 detailed that the mill was being used for both fulling – softening of wool or cloth – and grain production. Within the mill itself fragments of both the water wheel and the grind stones have been found.

As trends and uses for certain objects changed either coming or going out of favour, the uses of the mill appear to change as well. This meant that the mill would have always supplied a lifeline and an income for the families operating it. In the last stage of this buildings life it was doing just that. In the 1800s, trades for things such as fulling were becoming scarcer and therefore many people were finding other ways to gain a reliable income. Throughout this time tourism in the Teign was developing drastically with hordes of visitors pouring down to see the picturesque Fingle Bridge. This is where the mill played an entirely different role; it became a tea room to cater for the sightseers and picnickers that were now heading to the area. Yet this was to be the buildings last use as in 1894 there was a fire the decimated the building leaving behind what is seen today.

The stone floor being uncovered – the fire damage is clearly visible.

On Thursday, mill expert Martin Watts visited the Fingle Mill. He identified one of the mill stones as being French Burr. This stone is a freshwater quartz and was quarried in the Marne Valley in Northern France. It is the most popular, expensive, and arguably best stone ever discovered for grinding wheat into white flour. The owners of Fingle Mill were therefore able to afford the highest quality equipment and were likely to be producing high quality grain. Another, much smaller, mill stone found in the ruins is made from sandstone, a stone much more closely related to the areas around east Devon. There is of course no evidence that this particular stone is from that area, but the interesting thing is the consistency of the stone. Instead of using granite that would have been too coarse, the sandstone was used to create a far finer flour, reinforcing the idea that this mill was producing a very high quality product.

As well as grain production, still situated at the site today are the remains of old slag heaps, suggesting that this mill once had another use in the form of iron production. Although other than the slag heaps, there is no record of the mill ever producing iron it seems likely due to the sheer amount of slag left behind.

The mill as it is today.

Throughout the first week of the dig we have hosted visits from local schools. As well as taking part in the dig and making their own water wheel they had a go at pounding cloth (as part of the fulling process) and casting key rings out of metal. This has helped to bring what would once have happened at the mill back to life. Uncovering what lies beneath the layer of soil that now covers the mill is important and interesting because it has laid there undisturbed round 120 years.

By Ella Chambers, Social Media Intern

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