Falling Sands Rolling Mill (Updated 08/12/2018)
It is said that the first mechanical clock was invented between 723 and 725 A.D. by Chinese mathematician and monk Yi Xing, also spelled I Hsing. Rudimentary clocks existed prior to that in Europe, but they did not have the escapement mechanism characteristic of mechanical clocks. The first pendulum clock was invented in 1656, by Christiaan Huygens, and remained the most accurate means of keeping time until the 1930s. Most mechanical clocks relied on wheels of one kind and another and it was wheels that transmitted the power that drove the Industrial Age.
The horizontal-wheeled water mill may have been invented in the Greek colony of Byzantium during the first half of the 3rd century BC, and the vertical-wheeled water mill in Ptolemaic Alexandria around 240 BC.
Arguably, the Industrial Age, in terms of the powered wheel, first touched Wilden Marsh and Meadows in 1511 with William Baylly and his water-powered fulling mill on the River Stour at Wilden Village. This was the first of 27 watermills to be built along the first two and a half miles of the River Stour, from the Stourport-on-Severn to Falling Sands and along Hoo Brook, before the rise of the steam-age.
In its heyday, there were more watermills (in excess of 100) on the banks of the 25 miles long River Stour and its tributaries than on any other river in the UK. There were 22 watermills along the banks of Hoo Brook alone. Falling Sands Rolling Mills and Ironworks, at the confluence of Hoo Brook and the River Stour – where the water pumping station is now – had its waterwheels hung across the full width of the River Stour.
It was a time of relative prosperity during the 1500s. The country was recovering from a couple of centuries of various plagues, and the many plagues of the 1600s had yet to dilute the labour force still further. Wages were good compared with the rest of Europe, and many peasants could afford to build themselves wood framed houses. Food and firewood were plentiful, and Bill Baylly was looking to increase his fulling capacity and fill his coffers in the process. There was money to be made and many people were scheming to get their hands on it.
The options Bill had available to power his new fulling mill were muscle, wind or water. There were not many people about in the 1500s (2,250,000 people in all England and Wales; another third of this figure in Ireland and Scotland). Wages were increasing rapidly, so Bill decided to use water power to drive his machinery and considered the River Stour at Wilden to be most suitable for his purposes: being a reliable, if somewhat variable at times, source of fast flowing water.
The function of Bill’s mill changed with the years and, using the power of the River Stour, it was converted to a slitting mill, a finery forge and finally a sprawling iron works. In 1958 the iron works closed and in 1964 the site become Wilden Industrial Estate.
Pollution threats to Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest from heavy industry has receded gradually over recent years, but the threat of the reserve being degraded or otherwise damaged has not ceased. Residential pressures have increased tremendously. The old sugar factory has been replaced by a large, modern, combined industrial, leisure and residential estate that now sits on the west bank of the Lower Stour Valley overlooking the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, at Falling Sands. Planning permission is continually sought, by individuals and developers, for leisure, residential and/or industrial estate building projects around the edges of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve. If our District Council is as pro-nature as I believe it to be, Wilden Marsh should be protected for at least the foreseeable future. We have local brown field sites that have been or are being used for residential building. I don’t think that jeopardising the Wilden Marsh floodplain to enable national or multi-national conglomerates to obtain a quick profit can ever be justified.
The wall in the photographs probably dates from the early 1800s. It stands on the east bank of the River Stour immediately north of Hoo Brook. The sewage pumping station now occupying the site is built over the remains of the Falling Sands Rolling Mill and Iron Works that dates from 1791 to 1902. The rolling mill site was powered by two waterwheels: one 24 horsepower overshot and one 12 horsepower undershot working two pairs of rollers together with sheet and bar shears. The larger of the two waterwheels was 14 feet in diameter and 15 feet wide; it was manufactured and installed during 1847 at a cost £250.00. Immediately downstream of the waterwheel was a dam and sluice used to control the speed and power of the wheel.
400 metres north and upstream, on the east side of the river, was the inlet sluice of a leat, along which the river flow was diverted when the waterwheel dam sluice was closed. The leat allowed the river flow to be diverted around the ironworks site, into Hoo Brook, and back to the River Stour immediately south and downstream of the dam. The historic wall became more clearly visible when the area was cleared during the creation of the Falling Sands Nature area along the eastern bank of the River Stour, north of Hoo Brook.In Stourport-on-Severn, water wheels powered 7 mills: Jenny Hole Forge, Mitton Forge, Mitton Corn Mill, Mitton Worsted Mill, Mitton Wire Mill, Wilden Forge and Slitting Mill and Falling Sands Rolling Mills.
Further upstream were Caldwall Mill, Town Mill, Waterside Mill, Puxton Mill, Townsend Mill, Clensmore Mill and New Mill.