A rare opportunity to take a step back in time and see industrial history at first hand is being offered by Somerset Council.
Special, limited-numbers tours of the nationally important Toneworks in Wellington, are being offered for the first time to give ticketholders the chance to see the extraordinary interior of the more than 200-year-old Grade II* listed premises.
Toneworks was at the centre of Wellington’s cloth industry, and the building housed the textile dying and “wet finishing” – washing and drying – processes. The cloth was woven at the nearby Tonedale Mill. The factory used water, and later steam, to power production and some of the machinery is still intact, along with evidence of electrical power which adds to the significance.
Both the mill and Toneworks were owned by the Fox family who employed generations of Wellington families, producing woollen cloth, including fabric used for British Army uniforms.
The premises fell into disrepair – but the machinery and relics of the water and steam power remained, and their survival is recognised for its importance and historical significance.
The former Somerset West and Taunton Council took on the premises in 2020 and undertook a phased programme of works to start bringing the derelict site into better condition.
The focus of the three phases of repair so far has been to tackle the most structurally complex and urgent problems in the site as well as a large decontamination phase that was required before any works could take place.
Now Somerset Council, the unitary council that came into being in April, is offering the chance for small groups to see what has been achieved – and what still needs to be done.
The Unravelling Toneworks Tours will be available throughout the summer until October, led by the council’s Heritage at Risk team, supported by the South West Heritage Trust, with some special sessions led by professionals who have worked on the site.
Cllr Ros Wyke, Executive Lead Member for Economic Development, Planning and Assets, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to see behind the scenes of an iconic part of Wellington’s history. It is a national treasure that we are trying to secure for future generations, and I hope people will seize this rare chance to see a precious part of the nation’s industrial history.
“I would like to thank Historic England, Wellington Town Council and South West Heritage Trust for the funding and support over recent years, as well as the council’s Heritage at Risk team.”
Tour guests will be invited to share their ideas on Toneworks while getting a far greater understanding of the historic site. Future uses for Toneworks are likely to be community-focused but depend on what funding becomes available.
“We are so pleased to be able to welcome visitors and take a look back at the history of the site, while looking ahead to what the future might hold for this nationally significant part of our shared past,” said Cllr Wyke.
Tickets are free but advance booking is essential via Unravelling Toneworks | Eventbrite. Hard hats will be provided.