Water Rights and Water Disputes

Water Rights

Indenture between Gamaliel and Richard Sutcliffe containing agreements and privileges affecting the Upper and Lower Lumb Mills, 1818.
Hebden Bridge Local History Society Archive, Collection V, item 12.

An example of the Sutcliffe family’s careful attention to water rights is shown in this agreement dated 3rd April 1818. 

Richard was to have the right to draw water from the dams at Little Scar Ings (Hebble Hole) but relinquished the right to use the dam above Upper Lumb, so that Gamaliel Sutcliffe might have ‘the whole use of the same’.  The exception was if Upper Lumb Mill was not working for ‘ a day a week a month or longer’ in which case Richard had the right of ‘collecting the water nightly and drawing it off daily’ so that Lower Lumb could continue working.

Richard was also to have the sole use of water from a spring that rose in Slater Ing Wood between the tail goit of Upper Lumb and the head goit of Lower Lumb.
(see also the section on the Lumb Mills)

Disputes over Water Rights

Dispute at Luddenden Foot, 1599
Access to water was a perennial problem, and there were often disputes about who had the right of access to water from rivers or streams, and therefore the right to build and operate mills.

Feud at Luddenden Foot, 1599
The following story shows how much was involved in securing water rights, in this case for the fulling of cloth. Two fulling mills stood on opposite banks of the brook at Luddenden Foot, but for two weeks in 1599, the local people were involved in an armed feud. The miller at one of these mills, Michael Foxcroft, accused Henry Farrer of destroying his mill dam and filling the goit feeding his mill with stones. Henry Farrer and his friends came with swords, daggers, rapiers, staves, pitchforks, gavelocks and picks and diverse other weapons’ and cast down the dam and filled up the goit with stones.

The feud lasted several weeks and Foxcrofts’ friends kept an armed guard on the area around the mill; two people were killed so perhaps the brook ran red with blood that day.   

Dispute over Nutclough Water, 1776
Of course, not all disputes over water involved mills - one 18th century dispute involved a farmer and an innkeeper. A complaint was made in 1767 by William Wadsworth of Kings Farm (the White Lion) in Hebden Bridge, about having the water to his premises cut off by a farmer, William Cockcroft, at Birchcliffe. The case was heard at the York Assizes, and a number of older people testified that within their memory, the tenant of King’s Farm had the right to the water except in the hay season, and that the water could be diverted at hay time, but it was customary for the occupiers of the White Lion to give presents to speed up the harvest.
According to some of these witnesses the presents were ‘a quart of ale and a plate of gooseberries’.

The making of the Rochdale Canal, 1794
During the planning of the Rochdale Canal in 1794 there were long debates involving the owners and occupiers of the mills that stood on the route of the proposed canal. A list of mills was made to show who would be affected by the making of the Canal and this list was presented to the House of |Lords in 1794.
Sources: R.L. Binns, Waterwheels in the Upper Calder Valley,
Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, 1972;
Barber Gledhill; Birchcliffe Water, Hebden Bridge, HAST., 1962



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