During the 18th century the Industrial Revolution swept through the Yorkshire Dales. Small Dales communities were transformed by the arrival of cotton and wool processing mills. Mineral resources such as lead and coal were exploited as never before. Even farming was affected as landlords began to ‘improve’ their land in the hopes of greater profits.
The primary textile industry of the Dales was the manufacture of woollen goods, either woven or knitted at home, often to supplement farming incomes. The very first industrial processes in the Dales involved the installation of carding machines such as the ones at Hebblethwaite Mill in Sedbergh. Spinning yarn and processing the finished textiles followed soon after. 1780 saw the first cotton spinning mills arriving in Yorkshire. Gayle Mill is an early purpose-built example in the Dales where in some villages, redundant water powered corn mills were converted to this new use.
Mills needed good transport routes to get their goods to market and the Dales saw several Turnpike Roads built during the 18th century. Travellers paid to use these improved routes and the dues were collected at tollhouses such as the one that can still be seen at Punchard Toll House, Arkengarthdale. The arrival of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Gargrave in 1777 provided even more opportunities for merchants and manufacturers to make profits.
Canals and better roads meant that farmers no longer needed to grow their own corn and during the 18th century more and more farmland was given over to grazing cattle and sheep. The numerous field barns of the dales (called laithes in the southern part of the park) mostly date to this period. Mantley Field Laithe, near Malham, is a fine example and dated 1755. Wealthy landowners saw to it that the latest innovations were taken up by their tenants and in particular the spreading of lime on upland pasture to improve the grazing. Hundreds of field kilns were built all over the Yorkshire Dales. Here limestone quarried from nearby scars was burnt with peat and coal to produce quicklime. Once slaked with water it could be spread on fields to reduce the acidity of the soil. An interesting dated lime kiln can be seen near to St Simon’s Chapel in Coverdale and there are several well preserved examples in Wharfedale including Conistone lime kiln and Long Ashes lime kiln. The need for coal to burn in these lime kilns led to the exploitation of quite poor quality seams such as those in the Cowgill-Garsdale coal field.
The end of the 18th century also saw the enclosure by Act of Parliament of most of the remaining common land in the Dales. The ruler straight walls laid out by surveyors can be seen in many places in the Dales, for example on the upper slopes of the south side of Swaledale between Keld and Low Whita.
The 18th century also saw increasingly commercialised exploitation of lead. At Yarnbury in Wharfedale, the remains of shallow shafts and horse whims began to give way to deep adits and shafts.
Owners of mineral rights and land in the Yorkshire Dales amassed great fortunes and many fine houses were built in the 18th century. Eshton Hall; Swinithwaite Hall; Marske Hall and Ellerton Abbey are all well preserved examples. Some money went to good causes and the almshouses at Fountaine’s Hospital and the Sedbergh School Library (originally a classroom) are both outstanding architecturally.