Ancient Monuments

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Drying house at The Coach House, Willow Vale

A Scheduled Monument in Frome, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.232 / 51°13'55"N

Longitude: -2.318 / 2°19'4"W

OS Eastings: 377895.699048

OS Northings: 148141.749502

OS Grid: ST778481

Mapcode National: GBR 0S9.NSR

Mapcode Global: VH97D.R9YC

Entry Name: Drying house at The Coach House, Willow Vale

Scheduled Date: 10 February 1981

Last Amended: 21 March 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016955

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29684

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Frome

Built-Up Area: Frome

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes a circular drying house within the garden of The Coach
House at Willow Vale just north of the River Frome. The drying house, which is
Listed Grade II, is considered to be late 18th or 19th century in date and it
is located within an area of recorded 18th and 19th century dye works; it was
probably used for the drying of dyed woollen cloth.
The structure consists of a roofless, rubble stone-built circular tower about
5m in diameter with walls 0.5m thick and standing to a height of 5.5m. It has
a single entrance on the north side which has a substantial timber lintel and
a timber door frame but there are further openings above floor level in the
interior. The stone work of the interior was rendered with plaster, at least
at the lower levels, and some of this survives. Opposite the door at about
head height is a decorative stucco plasterwork crosskeys symbol which is
believed to be contemporary with the use of the building. Some brickwork at
the roof line suggests later repairs.
The Sheppard family are known to have made cloth in Frome in the 17th century
and are said to have occupied buildings and used a dye-house at Willow Vale.
By 1808 Edward Olive had vats and furnaces for dying cloth in Willow Vale and
in 1880 a firm called Sheppard and Watson continued the cloth trade in the
same area.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Cloth drying houses associated with dye works of the post-medieval period
often take the form of circular towers of stone construction with internal
fittings of timber which usually do not survive. The woolen cloth, after being
soaked in dye, was hung in lengths from wooden beams to dry after dipping,
with a carefully controlled fire being lit in a stove at the base of the tower
to speed the process. Some drying houses have evidence of a first floor which
perhaps allowed cloth to hang at different heights within the tower. Such
drying houses represent an advance on the medieval wooden drying racks which
were set in open areas and relied on the wind and sun, but are relatively
primitive when compared with the much larger, mechanised drying houses of the
19th century which are more closely associated with the factories of the north
of England.
The drying house at The Coach House, Willow Vale is one of only two drying
houses in Frome which survive from a greater number which were once part of an
extensive area of dye works which are recorded in documentary sources in this
part of the town. Despite the loss of its roofing, and some dilapidation due
to age, it survives almost to its full height with no evidence of any
extensive renovation or alteration and it possesses a plasterwork crosskeys
symbol which is probably contemporary with its use, and which may be unique.
The monument is a rare survival of a once strong local cloth industry in Frome
and it will retain archaeological evidence for the way in which cloth was
treated and processed as part of the production of dyed cloth during the 18th
and 19th centuries.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Belham, P, The Making of Frome, (1973), 74
Rogers, K, Wiltshire and Somerset Woolen Mills, (1976), 202-3

Source: Historic England

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