Set in the rich landscape of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Gayle Mill is Wensleydale's latest heritage attraction and first opened its doors to visitors at Easter 2008.
Gayle Mill was built in 1784-5 by two entrepreneurial brothers, Oswald and Thomas Routh, who saw the business opportunities opened up by the building of a turnpike road from the west and the end of the American War of Independence which allowed a greater flow of raw material from the United States.
It started life as a cotton-spinning mill, powered by a 22' diameter overshot waterwheel, and over the next century, as economic conditions in the Dales changed, was also used for spinning flax (briefly) and then wool for the local knitting cottage industry in the valley. For 30 years in the middle of the 19th century, it was used for domestic accommodation (and it also housed military engineers during World War II).
In 1878 the Mill took on a new lease of industrial life when, due to advances in technology, the then owner, John C C Routh, converted it into a sawmill. Whatever remained of the waterwheel was removed and replaced with a Thomson double-vortex turbine, built by Williamsons (now Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon Ltd) of Kendal. The 11.2kW created by the turbine drove a range of woodworking machinery (planer, lathes, circular saw, bandsaw, morticer) by a series of belts and pulleys off a central line-shaft.
In the early years of the 20th century, Routh installed an electric generator to light the Mill, his house and several streets in Gayle village. In 1915 the Hawes Electric Company was founded and leased part of the Mill and turbine for their own generator, and in 1925 a secondary turbine was put in to create greater capacity. A gas engine (now removed) was also installed to be able to drive the generator when there was insufficient water to run the turbine.
In 1959 all electricity supplies from the Mill to the outside world ceased, leaving the 1925 generator to supply all electrical requirements for just the Mill. The Williamson turbine continued to supply the motive power for the woodworking machinery until the business closed down in 1988.
Gayle Mill is owned by the North of England Civic Trust (NECT) and operated by Gayle Mill Trust (GMT), which became the leaseholder in 2008. After coming third in the national final of the BBC "Restoration" series in 2004, capital funds were raised by NECT to stabilise the building and restore all the water-power systems and Victorian machinery.