Going batty

Local residents supported by the Somerset Small Mammals Group have been spending late evenings together. A pleasure, we’re sure, but there is another purpose – listening and looking for bats!

The results of their survey will form part of the Biodiversity part of the Heritage Project and will complement other surveys looking at ornithology; flora; trees; insects; small mammals; and invertibrates, crustaceans, amphibians and reptiles.

If bats interest you then why not join us for the last Bat Walk of the season this Saturday, 22nd September? We meet at 7pm in the Darshill car park and warm clothing and a torch are advisable.

In May seven types of bat were heard on the provided bat detectors, so lets hope we will be as lucky this time!!!

We’d like to get some idea of numbers attending, so please let Jane Williams know you’ll be there by Friday 21st by email at westcountryjane@gmail.com

Please note the Bat Walk will be postponed to Saturday October 6th, if the weather is bad on September 22nd. So do keep an eye on this blog!!

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)





Darshill factories

Around 1820 there were three factories or mills at Darshill: two rented by William Gaite from the Pippett family and another occupied by John Rossiter, the property of William Serle.

Gaite probably occupied the factory formerly run by Jenkins and Green, which was by far the largest concern in Shepton, whose trade in 1810 was rated three times larger than its nearest rival. That factory in 1793 occupied buildings which were insured for £2000. The firm gave up in 1811 and the factory was offered for sale including machinery and two wheels, one nearly 30 feet in diameter and the other, an overshot wheel, 20 feet. The fall of water for the latter was 23 feet.

By the 1830’s, all three factories were owned by Nalder and Hardisty, silk cloth and silk crape manufacturers. Their evidence to the 1833 Commission (see last post) says that they had four factories at Darshill: one at Lower Darshill in Pilton parish, one at middle Darshill and two at Upper Darshill. The Lower (ex-Jenkins and Green/Gaite) was located on the site of the present-day water treatment works and burnt down in 1843; the Middle is repurposed today as Silk Mill Barn adjacent to Darshill House; and the first of the two at Upper Darshill is today repurposed as Lower Silk Mill housing and the second – pictured on the blog home page – remained in operation until 1913. Derelict, it was demolished in the 1970’s and is today housing with a reminiscent external appearance.

At the Lower Darshill and Lower Silk Mill sites, water power was supplemented in summer by steam engines of ten and four horse power respectively. The other two mills used water power only.

Sources: Kenneth Rogers, Wiltshire & Somerset Woollen Mills and Turnpike Map 1852 (shows buildings, the river and mill leats in preparation for the construction of the new Shepton to Wells road)

Children employed at Darshill and Coombe Lane Silk Mills

In his evidence to the Factories Enquiry Commission (concerning the employment of children in factories), Mr William Hardisty explained that his company did not employ anyone under the age of eight at the four Darshill and Coombe Lane silk crape millsalthough children as young as five could undertake the very light work of winding silk. “Children are generally more handy than grown-up persons at swift engines, and consequently better calculated to take stations at throwing-mills than hands introduced grown up,” he explained. 

He also explained that dangerous machinery at the mills is fenced off and that stoves and steam apparatus supplied heat to workers in winter as the process of making crape required no heat. The work is not of a filthy nature.

Working hours are 6am to 8.15am, 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 7pm six days a week in summer and an hour less on a Saturday in winter. The two breaks are for breakfast and lunch.  Manufacturing ceases when there is insufficient light. The hands enjoy a few days holiday a year. “The trade not being unhealthy, and the hours of working not very extended, the health of the people has been uniformly good,” Mr Hardisty added.

Summing up his evidence to the Commission, he said, “All our hands appear to be perfectly satisfied with the present regulations, we are not aware that any legislative provisions would be attended with material benefit to the children.”

Evidence given on behalf of Nalder & Hardisty, 10th May 1833.


Contemporary cartoon


Proportion of children employed in silk factories

Bowlish factory c.1800

Kenneth Rogers in his book ‘Wiltshire and Somerset Woollen Mills’ researched insurance policies and selling notices in newspapers and says this about Bowlish:

“West of the town were small industrial settlements at Bowlish and Darshill. Here the stream is still only small, but the valley is steep and mills could be sited close together. At Bowlish two superb clothiers’ houses remain but little of the mills. In 1810 a factory consisting of three buildings, a fulling mill capable of driving two pairs of stocks and other machinery, and a dye-house which probably stood here were offered. Certainly at Bowlish was the factory of William Hyatt, clothier, which was for sale in 1836; it was worked by an iron wheel and included a dye-house and stove.”

The three storeyed building was the Bowlish fulling mill c.1920

The next post will look at the Darshill mills.

Bowlish haunted hayrick…

As our project gets under way, one of the first sources we’ve been searching are historic newspapers and this piece from the Bristol Mercury of 10 July 1886 popped up.

Given the success of Andy Neal’s Shepton Ghost Tours, the interest in the supernatural doesn’t seem to have waned over the years!

We did it!

It may have been more than two years in the planning, involved numerous meetings as well as a complex and lengthy application process but, after all that, we did it!

On Satuday the Darshill & Bowlish community came together to celebrate the award of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant outside one of the only two remaining handle houses left in the country. You’ll have seen it – it’s a local landmark on the A371 Shepton Mallet to Wells road and was used to dry teazels used in the manufacture of woolen cloth. Now the work really starts.

Keep reading our blogs to see what we uncover.

From left to right:- Bryan Bailey (owner of the Handle House), Alan Fisher, Caroline Slater, Carol Fisher, Jane Williams, Sue Dickerson, Alan Marter, Paul Williams, Sue Abbott, Jane Nicklin, John Abbott, Milo Hollands, Eddie Oram, Rachel Hollands, Alan Griffiths, Pam Neill, Bob Carley, Ian Keys, Christine Oram, John Yeo, Tim Pollard, Brian Neill (at front), Keith Jenkin, George Webb, Jilly Jenkin, a young Webb, Olive Bailey, Hannah Webb, Sallie Patten, Dan Hollands, another young Webb, Dave Brown, Caroline Brown with Star (the dog), Amanda Hirst.