Evidence of the early industrial age when mills were dependent on water power can still be found around our becks and rivers, writes Robin Longbottom

FOOTPATHS alongside local becks and riverbanks often take the walker past relics of the early industrial age when mills were dependent upon water power. These remains were known to our forebears as damstones, goit stocks and goits but today they are more commonly called weirs, sluices and mill races.

Damstones, or weirs, are the most prominent features and were built across watercourses to raise the level to divert water to power waterwheels at mills. Until the 18th century they were constructed of timbers with an infill of rocks, not dissimilar to a modern-day gabion. With industrialisation more permanent structures were built out of stone. Good examples can be seen from footpaths along the North Beck in Keighley. Along its course there are 12 weirs that served 11 mills. Some of them have a single step, some are multi-stepped and others, where the bedrock was hard and near the surface, were a raised incline.

Single and multi-stepped weirs ranged in height from a couple of feet to 12 feet or more. They were faced with cut stone blocks and their foundations were dug deep into the bed of the watercourse. The blocks were bonded together using water-resistant mortar made of 60 per cent slaked lime and 40 per cent wood ash and the joints were finally sealed with tar. The top of the weir was finished with large slabs of stone often fastened together with iron cramps (staples) set into the stone with lead. As their design improved, curved weirs were built and were arched towards the flow of water, hydrostatic pressure holding the stones in place.

Immediately below a weir the bed of the watercourse was excavated to create what was known as a 'stilling pool' to slow down the wash from the flow of water and prevent erosion to the banks. Behind the dam another pool, known as a 'still pond', was formed. It was constrained by walls at either side and designed to form a calm pool known as the ‘sheet’ from which water could then be drawn off to the mill. The crest of a weir was often raised in height by baulks of timber, or by boards that could be raised up and down depending on the amount of flow.

The water left the still pond through a sluice gate, once known locally as a goit stock. Many of the rusting controls that once raised the sluice gates up and down can still be seen alongside weirs. Some operated single sluice gates and others more complex double ones. Good examples can still be seen along the North Beck above Brow End Mill, Goose Eye and Holme Mill, off Fell Lane, Keighley. The extraction of water had to be strictly controlled, as it was imperative that the flow of water to the next mill owner was not interrupted.

From the sluice the water travelled along a goit (a narrow channel) into a mill pond to provide a reserve of water, however, in a few cases waterwheels were powered directly from the goit. Overflows were installed to both goits and ponds to return water into a beck, or river, in times of flood.

The spent water from a waterwheel had to be discharged back into the watercourse, sometimes directly from the mill and in other cases along a tail goit, or tail race. In some instances, such as at Lumbfoot Mill at Stanbury and Vale Mill at Oakworth, a weir was built to raise the water level to allow the tail goit to discharge below it and prevent water from backing up the goit in times of flood.

Today these relics of our industrial past remain largely unrecorded and unprotected and as time passes many are in danger of being lost to history.