Home The Club Trips & Information Members Interests Business Minutes Guest Speakers

Hugh Charman ‘Stokesley’s Flax Mill – Part 1’

Following an IT problem last June which resulted in the presentation being abandoned, our

own Hugh Charman gave the first part of an illustrated talk entitled Stokesley’s Flax Mill.

Hugh moved to Stokesley in 1963 and almost immediately joined the Stokesley Society. He

became Chairman until his retirement in 2015. In 2011, he with others undertook a research

project on the Flax Mill. He gave us a very interesting social history of the area before and

during the Industrial Revolution.

Flax was a very important crop for centuries. It is stronger than both wool and cotton. Ships

brought flax from Flanders to Yarm in the 11th century. England was a major clothing

manufacturer during the reign of Edward III in the 14th  century. He invited weavers from

Flanders to work in England and an industry developed to make the country the chief wool

producing country in Europe. High quality wool cloth and linen were produced in the 16th

century. Sir Francis Drake traded English linen for spices in the Pacific during his

circumnavigation.

By the 18th  century the industry had settled into a pattern, with spinning predominantly done

by women in country cottages and weaving by men in towns and villages. English cloth was

40% of the country’s exports and Spanish Merino wool was even imported, turned into cloth

and re-exported to Spain. The export trade was so important that an objective of 18 century

wars was to keep trade routes open. One of these conflicts led to the capture of Gibraltar.

Flax was imported through Whitby, Stockton and Yarm. Finished linen, mainly for export,

was produced in Great Ayton, Stokesley, Hutton Rudby, Swainby, Osmotherley and

Brompton. Records show that in the mid 18th  century that in Stokesley there were 118

farmers, 108 labourers and 75 weavers. As late as World War II, when the Government took

control of farm production, there was a flax field at Grey Towers Farm in Nunthorpe.

The Industrial Revolution between 1750 and 1850 was the biggest upheaval since the

Norman Conquest. Its main impact was in the North of England. It developed in Britain

largely because the Glorious Revolution of 1688 led to the Government safeguarding the

rights of ownership. This encouraged the provision of capital and investment. Machines were

developed by working class entrepreneurs. 1733 saw Kay’s flying shuttle and 1764

Hargreaves’ spinning jenny. Arkwright’s jenny of 1771 was a development using water

power. By the time of the 1851 Great Exhibition, Britain was the richest nation in the world.

John Mease was a careful Methodist who was a grocer in Stokesley. In 1800, he leased a

house on North Road. He had two sons, Thomas and John, who were listed in 1823 as flax

and tow spinners. They erected a mill behind the house, which was completed in 1825 and

powered by steam. Hugh showed pictures of two still existing buildings behind 38 High

Street, which were both associated with the mill.  

In about 1831, Thomas bought land on the south side of Levenside for a New Mill. This was

built with bricks made on the site and survives today. It is a tall building with a storey for

each stage of the production process. The ground floor is now used for retailing, but the

upper floors are largely unaltered since production ceased. Thomas went into partnership

with James Blacket with capital of £4000. This partnership was dissolved, because the

Blackets were unhappy over some financial matters. Unfortunately a severe worldwide

depression started in 1837 and the demand for textiles collapsed.  

In 1838, Stephensons of Stokesley, linen manufacturers, were bankrupt. By 1841, James

Blacket was also bankrupt. His son Edmund, who had worked in the Mill, became a surveyor

for the Stockton and Darlington railway company in about 1837. He married Thomas

Mease’s daughter despite opposition from both families. They emigrated to Australia in

1842, where Edmund became a successful church architect.