Ulster Folk Museum

Gortiscashel Flax Mill

Rural Area - Discovery Farm 41

This is an original building. The small flax mill was built in 1850 and came from the townland of Gortiscashel in the Sperrin Mountains of County Tyrone. Scutch mills were sited on suitable rivers in flax growing areas. The mill was dismantled and moved to the Folk Museum in the 1960s.

The lower floor of the mill housed the machinery and above was a flax store. The simple machinery and layout of the mill is typical of earlier flax mills dating from the late 1780s.

The scutching of flax involves the pounding of the flax to extract the fibres from the flax stem. This process was originally done by hand but was later mechanised. First the flax crop would be pulled by hand, (cutting would result in shorter fibres) retted (softened and partially rotted by immersion in still water) then dried. The dried flax would be taken to the scutch mill and passed through rollers and spinning blades to break up the outer layer and the woody core of the flax until all unwanted material was removed and a bundle of fibres was left.

Working in a flax scutching mill could be a dangerous business. There was a constant danger of fire as both the dusty waste master of the scutching process (tow) and the flax itself were highly combustible.

The Gortiscashel mill originally had a thatched roof. The mill is known to have gone on fire on at least two occasions. After the first large fire the thatched roof was replaced with a timber roof covered by tarred felt. This was replaced by a corrugated metal roof after a second fire.

The mill was built and operated by the McSwiggan family who were local farmers. Many of the scutching mills were owned and operated by farmers. Scutching was a winter occupation, especially in smaller mills.

Look at the water wheel which operates the mill and the lay out of the building. The flax store was in the upper floor and the machinery in the lower floor.