From the 16th century this estate was in the ownership of the Sutcliffe family who lived at Upper Lee and had two fulling mills at Lee. One of these mills, the lower one, was destroyed in the Civil War.
On the night of November 1st 1643 royalist horse set out from Halifax intending to get to Heptonstall at dawn. They aimed to cross the river ‘near a fulling mill belonging to Matthew Sutcliffe, a noted kersey maker’. The Heptonstall garrison had been harrying the royalists, and General Mackworth decided on reprisal. But there was a storm that night and the river flooded. The attack was discovered, and many were killed falling down a scar and others drowned in the rush across the river. The lower mill, which was sited near the existing bowling green, was destroyed in the confusion.
In 1700 two fulling mills a corn and a malt mill at Lee were mortgaged to John Greenwood of Hippins. The lower mill went out of use, but the upper mill carried on as a fulling mill throughout the 18th century. In the 1770s and 80s, John Holmes, a stone mason from Heptonstall, was employed by John Sutcliffe and John Greenwood in repairing and rebuilding Lee Mill and in repairing the wheel race, tail goit and call (weir).
By 1804 the mill was used for cotton spinning. This was by the Bancrofts, who were producing cotton dimities for the Manchester market, using handloom weavers. But in 1831 the firm of Hodgson and Gill rebuilt Lee Mill and installed 38 power looms for weaving heavy fustian cloth. The mill had a 5 hp water wheel, and the firm reported that there was not much shortage of water.
In the 1870s and 80s the Gibsons were running Lee Mill and were using water and steam power. Accidents were still common and sometimes fatal, as in 1884 when a 12 year old boy, James Bowe, was killed working at the throstle (a spinning machine which twisted and wound the fibres continuously. The following year, the firm were summoned and fined for employing two women overtime - from 5.30am – 6.00pm.
By 1904 Lee Mill was run by the Moss Brothers, and used for fustian cutting, dyeing and weaving. The ground floor was used for dyeing, the second and third floors for warehousing and the top floor for weaving. At times, the walls could vibrate 3-4’’ and this went on until Mrs Moss, wife of the owner, read the novel the ‘Crowthers of Bankdam’, in which a mill collapses because the heavy looms on the top floor made it unsafe. So a weaving shed was built on the south side of the mill and the looms transferred to that.
The waterwheel was removed between the two world wars. In the 1960s the mill was used as a corn mill supplying Thornbers of Mytholmroyd with poultry food, and was demolished in the 1970s.
From Fulling to Fustianopolis