THORNCOMBE’S FLAX & HEMP INDUSTRIES
Tucked away in the Synderford Valley lies the ruin of Chaffeigh Mill. It is at least 175 years old. Set in a stunning location, what is left of the building is gradually disintegrating but underneath the ivy you can still make out some of its walls. With the help of historic maps it is still possible to spot remnants of leats in the undergrowth. Leats, interconnected waterways, were dammed up when it rained. The buildup of water was then released to run the water wheels at Chaffeigh and Shedrick Mills. See Thorncombe's Industrial Relics Chaffeigh is about 15 minutes walk from Blind Land opposite Gribb View, across three fields following a footpath along which mill workers made their way to work. The picturesque route continues towards Winsham along the banks of the Synderford River to Shedrick. See Walk 3. There are local stories of linen being woven at Chaffeigh. Flax from which linen is woven was indeed grown in Thorncombe for processing by local weaving mills at the end of the late 18th and early 19th century. But so far no hard evidence has been found to confirm whether Chaffeigh or other mills elsewhere in Thorncombe were ever used for either spinning flax or weaving linen. It is more likely that locally grown flax was sent to Crewkerne or Bridport for processing. During this period, both towns had mills where sails were woven for the navy.
Records covering the period 1782-
Two flax shops in Horseshoe Road near Thorncombe Thorn crossroads marked on the 1839 Tithe Map, had disappeared by the time the 1889 OS map was published. Several flax dressers, swinglers (beaters), factory workers and a flax merchant are variously listed as living and working in Thorncom be parish in the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses.
Extracted from the 1839 Thorncombe Tithe Map. Arrows show location of two flax shops on Horseshoe Road. The one nearest the cross roads at Thorncombe Thorn, was owned by Thomas Langford, and is roughly next to the allotment. The other owned by Thomas Stroud, was opposite the entrance to the Sports Club. Reproduced courtesy of Richard Holt and Dorset History Centre.
Field names recorded in the 1840 Tithe Apportionment and addresses in the 1841 and 1851 census suggest that hemp, used for making rope and nets, was grown on land around Saddle Street and Yew Tree Farm at one time. A plot called Hempland is included in 19th century deeds for the house in Chard Street of the same name. But there is no mention of hemp being grown in Thorncombe in the 18th century bounty records.
© EVE HIGGS, April 2015