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Countess Wear Paper Mill

A Grade II Listed Building in Exeter, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7025 / 50°42'8"N

Longitude: -3.5042 / 3°30'15"W

OS Eastings: 293870

OS Northings: 90281

OS Grid: SX938902

Mapcode National: GBR P1.X754

Mapcode Global: FRA 37K7.0N1

Plus Code: 9C2RPF2W+X8

Entry Name: Countess Wear Paper Mill

Listing Date: 23 June 2000

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1380691

English Heritage Legacy ID: 481015

ID on this website: 101380691

Location: Countess Wear, Exeter, Devon, EX2

County: Devon

District: Exeter

Electoral Ward/Division: Priory

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Exeter

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Countess Wear St Luke

Church of England Diocese: Exeter

Tagged with: Watermill Paper mill

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Countess Wear Paper Mill


Paper mill. Disused and in poor condition at time of survey. Probably early C19. Brick laid English bond; natural slate roof, gabled at ends (partly roofless); cast-iron windows.
Plan: Sited on an island formed from the division of a leat off the River Exe and surrounded by controlled water. The existing building is all that survives above ground, apart from some low walls, of what was a large industrial complex by the 1880s. Rectangular 13-bay building, on a NW/SE axis, which once extended further at both ends. The NW five bays, divided from the rest of the building by a full-height brick wall, are now roofless and were evidently partly or wholly 2 storey at one time with two tiers of windows in the rear (W) wall and evidence for joist sockets on the NW end wall. The rest of the building is single storey and divided into two by a timber-framed crosswall. The three SE bays contain a small office and the remains of a pit parallel to the end wall.
Exterior: Single storey, partly 2 storey at the NW end at one time. Asymmetrical 13-bay E front with segmental-headed windows with brick arches and small-pane cast iron fixed windows (glass missing) that may have had an opening pane in the centre, judging by the pattern of the glazing bars. 2 round-headed doorways, the right-hand (N) doorway taller with surviving timber frame, door missing. The next doorway to the left (S) is also round-headed with a vertical plank door with strap hinges and simple metal latch. The third doorway, which is segmental-headed with a ledged and braced vertical plank door is probably a conversion from a window, judging from a c.1880 model of the site. The rear (W) elevation also has cast iron windows with 2 tiers of windows in the N five bays. The building evidently extended further to the N at one time, evident in the stump of a longer front wall and the model indicates that there was a tall lean-to attached to this end. The building also extended further to the S - the SE end wall cuts one of the rear windows in half and the rear wall here survives for another two window bays.
INTERIOR: The S wall of the roofless section contains one metal-framed slot and another with a metal sill, relating to circular marks on the wall and presumably for drive shafts with wheels. There are no joist sockets in this wall suggesting that it is secondary or that this portion of the building was not floored throughout. The central cell has three king-post and strut trusses with a ridgeboard and two tiers of trenched purlins. A vertical slot on the front wall with a neat bullseye opening accommodated a clock. Two of the trusses have metal plates fixed to them, probably for fixing machinery of some sort. The timber-framed partition with slender scantling is built up below the tie beam of a truss and has two slim vertical braces. The S end cell incorporates a roofed room made of partitions of vertical planks and retains some shafting (not in situ) and gear wheels. There is a pit parallel with the end wall, towards the front. The end wall, although evidently not the external wall at the time when the model was made, incorporates two blocked round-headed openings.
Special Features. A C19 sluice gate with later restoration survives about 5m N of the building. It controls the leat that passes round the W side of the mill. A shaft to the S turns a cogged iron wheel which turns a bar ratchet fixed to the gate.
Historical Note: According to documentation collected by the Exeter Archaeological Field Unit there was a paper mill on this site from at least the late C18 and possibly far earlier. This was Higher Mills at Countess Weir. Newspaper accounts describe it as being "entirely destroyed" in 1816 and the rag house burnt in another fire of 1856, although it is not clear where this was sited. In 1869 Messrs Harris and Martin were described as having "built a new set of mills". Production is said to have ceased in 1884 and the 1905 OS map shows that most of the buildings had been demolished by then. The paper mills seem to have transferred from using rags for paper-making to esparto grass from N Africa. A scale model of considerable local interest survives, probably dating from c.1880 or perhaps a little earlier. This is said to have been made by an apprentice at the mills and shows this building in its setting. There is also a late C19 photograph showing the extent of the complex at that date and a boiler attached to the exterior of this building.
Although the building is in poor condition it is a significant survival from the C19 mill and of interest in a national context. It is of historic interest as evidence of an industry that was once important to the economy of Devon, which had 41 paper mills in 1820, and to the industrial archaeology of the Exe.

Listing NGR: SX9387090281

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