Welcome to the Dulverton Weir & Leat Conservation Trust website.
The Dulverton Weir & Leat Conservation Trust (DW&LCT) has emerged and grown from the efforts of local people and wider interest groups who have been working to save Dulverton’s medieval weir and leat from collapse, restore them to good condition and conserve them for future generations. We became registered as a Charitable Trust in 2016.
Both Dulverton Weir and the Leat are of significant national historic interest and form what is referred to by experts as an ‘Urban Watermill Landscape’. The leat has been recognised by some in academic circles as ‘the best preserved medieval leat in England’ and the weir is built using an oak stake and boulder technology, first introduced into the UK by the Normans and used throughout the medieval period.
There are three very interesting things about the Dulverton Urban Watermill Landscape:-
Firstly, its size; we know there were 6 mills in Dulverton in the 16th century, there were also 6 listed on the 1820 map of Dulverton. As late as 1832 the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia still listed the three main blanket manufacturing locations in England as being Leeds, Witney and Dulverton. The weir structure is about 160 yards long, and when the weir and leat were built it represented an enormous investment in ‘cutting edge’ water power technology. It is a little recognised fact that what we now refer to as ‘The Industrial Revolution’ (based on coal power) was actually the second industrial revolution. The first industrial revolution took place in medieval times and was based on water power. The historian Jean Gimpel called it a period of ‘the medieval genius of inventiveness’, leading to the harnessing of water power all over Europe…..and Dulverton was part of it.
Secondly, when the leat was built it stood in open ground outside the town. This was where all of the dirty and noisy industrial processes were carried out (for example the process of ‘fulling’ cloth was very noisy and required lots of water and urine). The original town of Dulverton was up the hill from the leat, starting approximately where the Town Hall now stands and stretching up the hill, past Sydenham Hall. It was only as Dulverton grew that the leat came to flow through the middle of the town.
Thirdly, the 1331 reference to milling in Dulverton mentions shares in a mill. The shares may well have been shares in the whole watermill system including the leat and weir that serviced the mills. This is the situation that existed at the Bazacle Urban Watermill System, near Toulouse in France, at about the same time. The historian Gimpel has famously traced the origins of the capitalist system back to this sort of arrangement.
The weir and leat are situated on the River Barle, a tributary of the River Exe, in Dulverton, a vibrant market town in Exmoor National Park, a favourite destination for large numbers of visitors.
Fed from the huge weir just to the north of the town, the leat flows right through Dulverton, presenting many vantage points for residents and visitors to view its beauty and marvel at the skill and ingenuity of the men and women who built it.