Preston Plucknett Flax Works

Preston Plucknett Flax Works

An almost-forgotten industry once essential to the local economy

 

The cultivation of flax and hemp was once widespread and common to a considerable area in and around Yeovil, at least from the fourteenth century. In 1692 it was recorded that "great quantities of flax were sown in this year about Yeovil and a considerable quantity of good flax hath been sown last year for making cloth, ticking and sewing thread."

In 1795 it was recorded that ".... in the rich fertile country extending from Wincanton, through Yeovil to Crewkerne, flax and hemp are cultivated in great abundance." and in 1791 Collinson wrote about Yeovil "The market.... is very large for corn, cattle and pigs; for bacon, cheese, butter, flax and hemp" and in 1856, Daniel Vickery paraphrased "The market day is Friday, every alternate Friday being what is called 'The Great Market'. Corn, cattle, butter, cheese, hemp and flax, are also sold in great quantities."

The Preston Plucknett Flax Works was, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, where the flax grown in the surrounding district was sent. It was located in a field called Higher Sleight (Parcel 81) and was accessed by Eighteen Acre Lane, a field access track which is now a footpath running through the Abbey Manor housing estate.

Flax was such a big business locally that there was an Annual Flax Show held in conjunction with the Yeovil Agricultural Society in the Flax Room adjoining the Corn Exchange in Yeovil during the 1880s and 1890s.

During the First World War the demand for the increased production of flax led to the breaking up in 1917-18 of much land which was under pasture. Women and girls who were not employed on munitions found work at the flax factory, some of course regularly took over work previously carried out by men.

In 1920 it was noted that the annual crop capacity of the factory was 1,000 tons.

At the end of the war the Preston Plucknett Flax Works gradually decreased in profitability and the works finally closed and auctioned off in October 1931. The following description is taken from the sale details.

The factory and associated land was sold as being potentially suitable for development as a building estate and was extolled as "occupying a high, healthy situation with extensive and interesting views, and has a specially constructed artesian well capable of giving a considerable and constant supply of water."

The buildings "chiefly with cement floors" were listed as follows -

  • An excellent brick-built Store, 26ft by 32ft in two divisions with WC and with 4 rooms above, formerly used as Offices, which could, with but little alteration, be converted into a pleasant Dwelling House.

  • The adjoining substantial wood-framed and galvanised-covered Workshop, 61ft by 26ft.

  • A Dutch Barn, 25ft by 60ft, by Dorman Long & Co Ltd.

  • The brick-built Machine Rooms, 48ft by 130ft, with various Stores and Tool Sheds adjoining.

  • The Lavatory Accommodation

  • The brick and concrete-built Oil Stores.

  • A large wood-built Shed, approximately 100ft by 26ft on brick foundations,
    now used as a Piggery with 11 divisions, Meal Store and furnace.

  • A galvanised Pump House with pump and compressor.

  • In addition to the Artesian Well there is an excellent Pond of Water.

Vacant Possession of the Piggery and a portion of the Workshops will be given on completion of the Purchase. The remainder is let as follows -

  • The Pasture Land to Mr J Hilborne on a yearly Lady-Day tenancy at £75 per annum.

  • The Machine Rooms to Mr Stanford on a yearly Xmas Tenancy at £67 10s 0d per annum.

  • The Oil Store and Premises to the Anglo-Dutch Oil Co. at £60 per annum, on Lease.

  • In Addition Mr Stanford and the Anglo-Dutch Oil Company pay a proportion of the maintenance of the Party Rates.

  • The whole yielding an estimated Annual Income of £275 [about £65,000 at 2017's value]and forming a most Attractive Investment.

 

Some of the Flax Works buildings still survive as small industrial units on the Abbey Trading Estate (see Gallery) and the local flax industry is recalled in Flax Way, off Malmesbury Way.

 

See also the Bunford Flax Factory.

 

map


The 1849 Tithe Map of Preston Plucknett (north), showing the location of Higher Sleight (Parcel 81), the premises of the Flax Works, at centre.

 

This map, based on the 1903 Ordnance Survey map, shows the Preston Plucknett Flax Works at left in relationship to Eighteen Acre Lane (which is now just a footpath) and Larkhill Lane (today's Larkhill Road).

 

GALLERY

Collecting flax from Yeovil fields in 1915.

 

The Flax Works photographed in the 1946 aerial survey.

 

Some of the Flax Works buildings still survive as small industrial units on the Abbey Trading Estate.