Brothertoft woad mill was ahead of its time. Locally known as ‘Isatica’. After the woad plant Isatis tinctoria. It was the brain child of Major John Cartwright and was one of the first industries in the United Kingdom to run as a continual process.

The actual process and running of the mill is described in considerable detail at the bottom of the page

prelim-bldg Brothertoft-racks5
Brothertoft--10A end-elv

The normal method of collecting the woad was in large carts which once delivered to the grinding area was just tipped onto the ground consequently much dirt and other impurities contaminated the product. Major Cartwright developed smaller one horse carts where the body which was fitted with wheels could be lifted off of its truck by a hoist and positioned on a trolley designed to run on tracks above the grinding floor below. On the lower level there was a circular smooth granite floor where there were eight grinding wheels each 7’ diameter and 3’ wide tapering to 6’ on the inside. Each of these was fitted with iron bars across them and each pulled by a horse around the track. There were two teams of horses which were  changed twice, sometimes more but always two sets when the work is very heavy  three or twenty four in all.

The runways on the first floor were positioned above the track and had hatchways set into the floor. The bins had folding doors on their underside that allowed the fresh woad to be discharged directly onto the circular track below. Each of the grinding wheels had two sweeps tapering inward to ensure the product stayed in the middle of the track. The angle of these sweeps could be altered to face obliquely outwards so when the rollers were moved the ground up leaves were ploughed over the side of the kerb into the four areas in the corners where they could then be shoveled through openings into the two rooms beyond. The mashed leaves were then left to drain the juice until where they were in the proper state to be rolled into balls about 6" in diameter. These balls were placed onto trays laid on a sloping framework where men could position themselves at where there was a V shaped cut out at one end so the trays could be slid onto their heads where they would carried to the wooden drying ranges. There were eight ranges each with 384 grates. Each bay had four levels. On the ground below the lowest level the area was used for storage of barrels etc. It appears from the illustrations there were six or seven grates above each other in each bay on each of the four levels and were set either side of a six foot walkway. Each range was seven bays long. If the trays were say 14" wide and 6’ long so could hold 24 balls? The bays appear to be almost square, so maybe each grate would hold six trays? Say 7' wide, plus the framework 6" between each bay so possibly about 55' long. If this was the case there is the capacity for 384 x 144 = 55,296 balls in each range. After about a week the balls can be relocated into the storage areas above the rooms in which the balls were prepared where they remain until the end of the cropping season. Beyond this point the workers could devote their time to manufacture the product.

The crop is gathered twice and in good years a third is either wholly or partially collected. This third makes inferior woad the first and second only going into that of the prime quality.  His buildings and machinery are all calculated for cropping 200 acres every year; thus a tract of 980 acres would (without supposing woad for four years in any part) yield 210 acres annually; consequently having more than 1100 acres, has a power of leaving the grass much longer. The mill requiring twenty-four horses, but not till the cropping begins in July, of course these animals are free for tillage, etc. all winter, spring, and the beginning of summer, and would be ample for the cultivation of the above acreage, with any addition of grazing that might be convenient or profitable.

The plan that was conceived for each 200 acre plot to rest the land was, year 1- Woad,  year 2- Woad, year 3 (on the best land)-Woad,  year 4 -Oats, year 5 -Oats, Year 6 -Cole (broccoli, kale, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower etc)  year 6 - Grasses white clover

In order to make the woad suitable for the dyers use it has to go through a process called Couching which is fermentation taking seven to eight weeks. The dry balls were taken from the storage areas and discharged through the hatchways onto the track below to be crushed in the same manner as the woad leaves were under the wheels of the cutting drums, where it is crushed to form a fine powder. Again it is collected in the corners and then shoveled through the openings and into the adjacent rooms where it had been made into balls the previous summer. Here it is spread three or four feet deep, moistened with water and turned with shovels which is repeated daily with more water added if required. It needs to be kept in this condition to allow the correct temperature for proper fermentation and had to be carried out by very experienced woad men, although the physical work was carried out by less skilled workers.  If the fermentation was too hot the product became what they called 'Foxy' or to little heat 'Heavy'  which affected the final quality of the dye. Apparently if the correct temperature has not been maintained it does not allow the woad to 'Beaver' well. A descriptive term used to describe the fineness of the capillary filaments in to which it draws out when broken between the finger and thumb. Finally the processed woad was packed into casks and dispatched by boat from the mill directly to the manufacturers in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

It was not unusual to sow the greatest part of a crop twice or three times  They began to weed about old May-day ; this is a business that is executed with much attention by men, women, and children, on their knees, using short spuds with one hand, and drawing away the weeds with the other. It is done by contract per acre, for weeding and cropping in one bargain. It is weeded twice before the first cropping, and once after ; which second weeding is given immediately after cropping, which for the first, commonly begins the first week in July. The second crop is usually six weeks after the first. Generally every day’s cropping is weeded the night before. Cropping is performed by the same people: it is gathered by hand, grasping the leaves of the plants, and taking them off with a twist. On a rich soil and in a favourable season, it will be eight inches high; in bad seasons shorter. The night before the picking 60 or 70 dozen of baskets are spread in the field, ready to receive it, and for this consumption there is a plantation of osiers ( willow which grows mostly in wet habitats), for occasionally providing these baskets