The location of Thwaite Mills has meant it has been a well used site for a number of years, due to its closeness to the river where large waterwheels have powered the site.
In 1641 a fulling mill was built at Thwaite. Little is known about this mill, except that is consists of 8 fulling stocks and 4 waterwheels. The process of fulling is one of the final stages in the manufacture of woollen cloth, being carried out after the wool had been spun and woven into cloth. Large water-powered hammers (fulling stocks) pounded the woven fabric in fuller’s earth and urine in order to matt the fibres together.
By the 1820s, the Aire and Calder Navigation Co had purchased the Mills at Thwaite and had decided to rebuild the whole site. Thomas Hewes, a well known mill builder of the day and mill wright, was asked to construct two new large waterwheels and also to advise on the rebuilding of the mill itself.
The rebuilding took two years to complete, and the work came to a total cost of £15,876 – a lot of money in those days! When finished, the new site consisted of a 2-storey mill building with attic, an engineers’ workshop, warehouse, stables, dwelling house and a row of workers’ cottages.
These are the buildings that can be seen on the tour today, with the exception of the workers’ cottages which were demolished in 1968.
Thwaite Mills Society, a registered charity, was formed in 1978 to restore and preserve this unique site as an industrial museum.
The dedicated work of a few enthusiasts was just the beginning of what was to become a major restoration project. Much of the work completed was funded by West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council.
Thwaite Mills is now run by Leeds City Council in partnership with Yorkshire Water and has a new future as an educational and enjoyable working museum set in a beautiful, tranquil riverside locations. This active museum offers a great day out for all interests and ages and special event days turn back the clock to relive what life was like in wartime 1940s Britain.
Today, only two miles from the bustling city centre it is hard to believe there is the beautiful and tranquil surroundings of Thwaite Mills watermill. The Island which the mill stands has become rich in wildlife, attracting kingfishers, herons, terns and woodpeckers to name but a few.
During its industrial life, Thwaite Mills would have been a bustling scene of activity. The grinding process produced a fine white dust which covered the buildings and the surroundings. As well as dust there would also have been large stock piles of raw materials and soil heaps.
Since Thwaite stopped production in 1976 the harsh industrial scene has been taken over by nature. The Island on which the mill stands have become a rich wildlife habitat with areas of water, woodland, scrub and gardens attracting many species.