The small market town of Hawes near the head of Wensleydale, through which the River Ure flows eastwards from the Pennines towards the sea, is the location of one of England’s most significant textile mill buildings.
Gayle Mill, 2 km. south of the town, was built in 1784 by Oswald and Thomas Routh and was intended to spin cotton using water-frames and associated carding machines developed by Richard Arkwright (1732-92). The mill was one of many constructed at a time when many entrepreneurs thought that they could emulate Arkwright’s success, and the Rouths were one of several partnerships to attempt to spin cotton in remote locations. The building is the least altered of the Arkwright-style cotton-spinning mills that remain in Britain. It was subsequently adapted to spin flax, and later to spin woollen yard that was supplied to traditional knitters of stockings in Wensleydale. In 1879 it became a saw mill in which the machinery was powered by a double vortex turbine. From 1920 part of the building accommodated the generator of the Hawes Electric Company which provided electric lighting to the town.
The saw mill closed in 1988 and the mill fell into disuse but a trust was established in 2004 to adapt it for the needs of the twenty-first century. The building was opened to the public in 2008. Guided tours offerexplanations of the original functions of the mill as well as opportunities to examining the woodworking machinery, a rack saw bench, a circular saw, a thicknesser (or planing machine) and lathes, all operated by overhead line-shafting. The mill also accommodates workshops for ceramics, and glass- and metal-working.