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Thorncombe Village Trust


                        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 1782-1798 include details of  one Winsham parishioner and seven Thorncombe parishioners growing  flax around Thorncombe  and  Winsham, and at  Wagg’s Plot, Crewkerne, Chillington, Chard, Chardstock and Stoke Abbot. See Hemp & Flax Bounties (Thorncombe) 1781-1798  Thorncombe Overseers of the Poor Accounts record that in 1804, Samuel Phillips who rented a flax plot from Mr Wyatt  at Chardstock  between 1791 and 1793, agreed to take on parish pauper William Mitchell as an apprentice dresser for 5s 3d per week for one  year.

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 Thorncombe 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