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The Whitfield project 2009-2013

Embsay, a village just 2 miles or so north of the market town of Skipton, is nowadays a rural village sitting on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a popular spot for walkers and tourists to visit the Dales countryside and enjoy the rural landscape. 


Few visitors suspect that during the 19th Century this was an industrial village with 5 cotton spinning mills and a spindle making factory. 

To the north of the village lies Embsay Reservoir, opened in 1910 to supply Skipton. It is a favourite place for dog walkers, anglers, sailing enthusiasts, and ramblers setting off to go up onto Embsay Crag and the moors above.

On the north side of the reservoir stands a large stone building, virtually all that remains of Whitfield Syke Mill, an early cotton mill which was established here circa 1795.

Behind it, the wall, which separates the land around the reservoir from the moorlands above, provides a wonderful record, embedded into the stonework, of a terrace of cottages that also once stood here. 

During the spring and summer of 2010, and into the spring of 2011, the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group conducted a non-invasive, archaeological survey of the mill site and the former hamlet.


The survey sought to identify the exact location of the Whitfield Syke Mill buildings and identify the different building phases it went through. The footprint of the cottages was also identified.


The water management systems established to supply the spinning mill were an important element in the survey, which took us onto the moorland where the old mill ponds can still be seen.


To complement the archaeological survey, we also carried out a botanical survey and documentary research. Both these surveys produced fascinating results.


The combination of historical and archaeological information helped us to provide a greater insight into the development of Embsay as an industrial village from the early days of the cotton spinning industry until the demise of the small mills in the wake of competition from larger factories in the late Victorian period.


We looked at the impact of these changes upon the local population and the impact of industrial activity upon the landscape.

Our report has now been published and copies deposited with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Skipton and Embsay public libraries, The Duke of Devonshire’s Archives at Chatsworth and Bolton Abbey, and at the Craven Museum.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

UWHG are grateful to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Yorkshire Water and Bolton Abbey Estates for supporting this project.

Read the Whitfield Survey blog here

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