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Water power was the main source of energy for many years and streams powered all sorts of machinery. Mills were used for wool (washing, spinning and weaving), the manufacture of paper, snuff and gunpowder, sawing timber and the generating of electricity. Many mills lasted into the industrial revolution but subsequently went into decline.

Recently, there has been renewed interest in water mills and enthusiasts have saved many from total decay. A few mills have been restored to working order and enjoy a new lease of life. For many years the site of Path Head was neglected. Considerable time was spent on excavating the derelict site before restoration work could commence.

History of Path Head Water Mill

Started in 1730 by the Townley family, the Path Head Mill worked as a corn mill until 1828. During its working life it changed owners to the Cowen family.

Around 1974 the farm buildings became derelict, of which the later 1930's farmhouse is the only survivor. The area was then surrounded by extensive gravel extraction and only poultry survived. Evidence of vehicles was found during the excavations around the mill building.

The mill pond was choked with fallen willow trees and these were removed to clear access to the building and the pond. The old corn stack terraces had their dry stone walls repaired and a pole barn was erected to cover some of our engineering artefacts.

Joseph Cowen

Born: Blaydon, July 9th 1829
Died: February18th 1900

Joseph Cowen was a radical MP and journalist who helped to promote revolution throughout Europe during the 19th century. He was the eldest son of Sir Joseph Cowen, a coal owner and firebrick manufacturer, who himself became an MP.

The younger Cowen was educated, first at a private school in Ryton, and then at the University of Edinburgh, where he was renowned for his debating skills. While a student, he became interested in the revolutionary movements on the Continent in 1848. After leaving university, Cowen joined his father in business.

Cowen wrote a lot for the public press, and was a contributor, from boyhood, to the Newcastle Chronicle, of which, in later life, he became proprietor and editor. He also established a monthly, The Northern Tribune.

On his father’s death in 1873, he succeeded him as Liberal member for Newcastle. His stance against party discipline and mass organisation saw him fall out with the Durham Miners’ Association, just as previously it had spoiled his long and close friendship with Thomas Burt, leader of the Northumberland miners. When entering a public meeting in Newcastle in 1880, Cowen was crushed and injured internally and he never wholly recovered from the effects. He was re-elected in 1880, but retired at the general election in 1886. He continued in charge of the Newcastle Chronicle until his sudden death on 18th February 1900.

Quote/fact: Cowen’s movements were watched by foreign spies trying to find out how documents were imported. They were smuggled in shipments of firebricks from Blaydon Burn.
(From The Sunday Sun – 100 North East Heroes)

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