If you’ve read To The Dark (and if you haven’t what are you waiting for? It’s out everywhere in ebook now, and in the UK in hardback – the American hardback publication is on March 2), then you’ll know that the trigger for everything is a body emerging as the snow melts around Flay Crow Mill.
Flat Crow Mill. It really existed.
It was the name that drew me first. After all, who could resist something as intriguing as that? It was a fulling mill, pounding woollen cloth on the equally wonderfully-named Cynder Island, on the River Aire. It was by the King’s Mill, which for centuries ground Leeds’ corn by law. Both harness the power of the river to do the work. No trace of either remains above ground now, but it’s more or less where the park and car park around Sovereign Street stands.
Where did the name originate? There’s no record of that, sadly. But historian Ralph Thoreseby stated that as far back as 1638, merchant and philanthropist John Harrison donated the “undivided moiety” of rent from Flay Crow Mill for the upkeep of his almshouses behind St. John’s Church. At that point, the mill was described as being in the Tenters – where cloth would be staked out on tenterhooks so the fabric could stretch and dry after fulling.
In those days, of course, the area wasn’t build up, and the entire ground surround the mills was tenter fields, as seen here on this 1726 map of Leeds, where the area’s called Low Tenter.
In later years, the mill’s address would be Tenter Lane. This 1890 photo shows Fly Crow Mill on the right and Concordia Mills on the left. Note the bridge linking them. The street – Tenter Lane – continues behind Flay Crow Mill.
When did it fall out of use? Very likely, as Leeds shifted its emphasis from producing cloth to making garments, fulling mills largely became irrelevant here. Even before that, it was likely outdated and uneconomic. In To The Dark, I portray it as a ruin, although that’s doubtful in 1823. It would still have been working them; I took some artistic licence.
In 1904 the building remained, although everything around it was rubble, as this picture shows.
By 2014, as it was about to be turned into a park and car park, CFA Archaeology excavated the site, and a monitor from the West Yorkshire Historical Environmental Record documented it with a few images. It was solid, it was built to last. But time and technology passed it by.
There is, by the way, no recorded of a body being found by Flay Cross Mill. Except in To The Dark, of course.
Images from Leodis and West Yorkshire Historical Environmental Record