The history of Wellbrook Beetling Mill
In a peaceful, wooded glen beside the Ballinderry River stands Wellbrook Beetling Mill, now a lone reminder of the linen industry that once flourished in Corkhill, near Cookstown, County Tyrone.
What is linen beetling?
Beetling is the final process in the manufacture of linen. The cloth is pounded by wooden hammers called beetles, tightening the weave and creating the fabric’s characteristic sheen.
At Wellbrook, water from the Ballinderry River turns the water wheel, powering the cogs that send the wooden beetles crashing down on the linen.
Opened as a bleaching works
Opened in 1764 by Hugh Faulkner and his brother, Wellbrook began life as a linen bleaching works. But as the price of linen tumbled, Faulkner fell on hard times. He died in 1805, leaving the business to a son-in-law who subsequently sold it.
Demand for beetling grew
Wellbrook’s future as a beetling mill was set during the 1830s, after James Irwin bought the dilapidated building and replaced it with the mill that still stands today. There were several rapidly expanding weaving mills in the local area and beetling was in high demand.
Sold to new owners
After being bought by the Leeper family in 1864, Wellbrook became an important link in the supply chain of Ulster’s booming linen industry.
Sourcing from nearby Cookstown
The Leepers applied the beetling process to finish raw linen sourced from Gunning and Moore’s Milburn Factory in nearby Cookstown and took advantage of a large export market to New Zealand and Australia.
During the First World War, Wellbrook turned out flax and linen on a large scale for the war effort.
Demand for linen falls
The mill continued to produce finished linen well into the 1930s, but as cheaper materials such as rayon and polyester entered the market, demand for linen fell.
Wellbrook’s partners Gunning and Moore closed their doors in 1957, and Wellbrook Beetling Mill itself followed suit in 1961.
A fundraising appeal
The National Trust took over the mill in 1967 following a generous gift by Mr SJ Henderson along with an acre of land.
The building, machinery and watercourses required extensive restoration work, carried out with the help of the Landmark Trust and a fundraising appeal.
Mill opens to the public
On Friday 19 June 1970, Wellbrook was officially opened to the public by the Chairman of the Irish Linen Industry.
Since then, thousands of people have visited this important piece of Ulster’s industrial heritage and enjoyed guided tours of the mill and the surrounding demesne.
Today, Wellbrook is the only accessible beetling mill in the UK*.
*Clarks of Upperlands is open for group visits only.