After decades of neglect, work has finally started on saving one of the most at-risk parts of Tonedale Mill. Last month Taunton Deane Borough Council served an Urgent Works Notice on the owners, Mancraft Limited, who have carried out unauthorised works to the historic mill owner’s house – Tonedale House.
Staircases, fireplaces and panelling have been lost in recent years and the roof has begun to collapse. These unauthorised works have undermined the structural integrity of the building and harmed its historic fabric. Contractors have begun work to create a weatherproof shell around the house and construct an internal “birdcage” scaffold to support what floors are left.
These temporary measures will secure the building while the Council investigates future options to secure the long term preservation of the building. All the costs, potentially amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds, are likely have to be borne by the owners.
In the interim TDBC, with the support of Historic England, has commenced the temporary work necessary to secure the building before it gets beyond saving. Together they will continue to investigate the future of the derelict part of the Grade II* listed 11-acre Tonedale Mill site which is ultimately owned by Sheikh Holdings Ltd.
The company, a family investment business based in London, with property across UK, Asia and, Africa, makes ambitious claims for Tonedale on its website, saying: “At the heart of this multi-million pound vision for Tonedale Mill is the commitment to sustainable development and sympathetic regeneration. The original stone and red brick buildings will be sympathetically restored and many of the original features including vaulted ceilings, cast iron pillars, huge exposed beams and floor to ceiling windows will be retained.”
However, in recent years little or no work has happened and the six major factory buildings and the Pump House have deteriorated massively with roofs and floors giving way and an arson attack last summer. Police and fire officials have expressed alarm at the danger to youngsters who gain access to the site from an adjacent footpath. Heritage groups such as SAVE have highlighted the importance of saving Tonedale Mill, making it a national priority.
The leader of the Borough Council, Cllr John Williams, said: “This Urgent Works Notice is a significant step forward in the extremely important task of protecting the Tonedale Mill complex which is an important part of both our national and local industrial heritage.”
Tonedale House – not to be confused with the Big House Co’s Tone Dale House in Wellington – was built by Thomas Fox and his wife Sarah in 1801 beside their woollen mill. The house was divided in the late 19th century and part of the house was incorporated into the mill.
The mill was built in the late 18th century for Fox Bros and was used for wool preparation and yarn spinning. At its peak just after WWI Tonedale was the largest woollen mill in the South West of England employing around 3,000 people. The mill ceased production in 1992.