Building of the Month July 2017 - Tonedale Mills, Wellington, Somerset
Tonedale Mills has defeated many attempts at rescue over the years, although the most hopeful – for housing - was felled by the 2008 financial crisis rather than problems with the buildings themselves. That scheme received planning permission and listed building consent in 2007. It would have provided 200+ houses and various other amenities, so there is local authority support to see it – or something similar – back on track.
The mills date back to 1754; when the original timber building was destroyed by fire in 1821 it was rebuilt in brick, and development never looked back for 100+ years. The buildings are now mostly listed Grade II*. The mills belonged to Fox Brothers, who were renowned for their pioneering developments, including khaki dye for troops' uniforms in the Boer War. In the First World War they made puttees, for which the largest order was for 852 miles of cloth. Earlier it was famous for the production of Taunton serge, a thick yet lightweight fabric from the sheep of the surrounding area. At its peak 3,600 people were employed on the site. But the firm retrenched to a small part of the site in the 1980s, and most of the rest has been decaying ever since. Happily, part of the site flourishes with 40-odd small businesses and, in 2009, two of the dragons from Dragons' Den invested in the down-sized Fox Brothers, who continue to manufacture nearby, preserving what might be called a historic thread. But that leaves an awful lot of the seven acre site still in urgent need of friends and investors.