Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teachers Notes

Resource created by: Leeds Museums & Galleries, Thwaite Watermill.

Written by Chloe Fowler.

This Learning Story takes readers through the history of Thwaite Watermill, a council run museum in Leeds, from the construction of the site’s first mill in 1641 up until the present day.

A Global View

Thwaite's first watermill was built in 1641 after the construction of a weir on the site. At this time elsewhere, China began a period of terrible famine and plague which lasted several years and killed huge portions of the population. The Dutch East India Company captured the state of Malacca, Malaysia, from the Portuguese after a bloody assault, reducing Portuguese power in the east. In America, Massachusetts became the first colony in New England to recognise slavery through legislation.


Curriculum Links

  • KS2 and KS3 History: Local History Study
  • KS3 History: Industry 1745 - 1901 | Chronology beyond 1066 | Challenges for Britain 1901-present day: World War Two
  • KS2 and KS3 Design Technology: Exploring mechanisms such as wheels and axles, understanding mechanical systems | Characteristics of materials and their possible uses 
  • KS3 Design Technology: Technological developments and their impact on individuals, society and the environment
  • KS2 and KS3 Geography: Interpreting and using maps and aerial photos
  • KS3 Geography: How interaction of human and physical processes causes change in landscapes | How human activity relies on effective natural systems 
  • KS2 Science: Materials (Types of rock and their different appearances and physical properties)
  • KS2 Science: Processes: changing states, mixtures.


Discussion Ideas


  • What was the worst/best job working at/for Thwaite Mill throughout history? Why?
    - Consider workers in drying sheds/bagging area/Putty Packing Room, engineers, domestic servants in house, urine collectors for fulling mill, manager, pennyman
  • How did the development of canals and waterways contribute to the Industrial Revolution in Britain?
  • How typical was Thwaite Watermill of a factory during the Industrial Revolution?
    - Consider working conditions, production methods, environmental impact etc.
  • How is your house today different from the houses on Dandy Row, built at the end of the Georgian period (1820s)?
  • Would you have enjoyed living at Dandy Row? Why/why not?
  • Was the island a good place to live during the Second World War? Why/why not?

Design and Technology

  • In what ways was Thwaite Watermill more environmentally friendly than other mills/factories during the Industrial Revolution?
  • What could places of industry do today to become more environmentally friendly
    - What could you do personally?
  • What are the benefits and limitations of using river water as a source of power
  • Why do you think the Horns made putty from chalk and linseed oil? What makes them suitable materials for creating a window sealant?
  • How do you think cloth manufacture has changed since the mid-1600s, when Thwaite Watermill was used for fulling?
  • The wooden buckets on the water wheels at Thwaite Watermill have to be replaced every few decades. Why is this?


  • What made this part of Leeds ideal for building a watermill?
  • Can you think of other geographical features which are particularly suited to certain buildings or types of human activity?
    - Consider hills, coast, forest, valleys, deltas, marshes...


  • Consider each stage of the putty production process. What is the state of matter during each stage? (Solid, liquid, gas, mixture?)
  • What processes are used to change the state of matter or separate mixtures during the putty production process? (e.g. evaporation to dry crushed chalk by removing water)

Activity Ideas


  • Download and complete the History of Thwaite Chronology Task to tell the story of Thwaite Watermill through time. (either as a card-sort or a human timeline)
  • Complete a research project on an inventor or engineer from the Industrial Revolution (e.g. Thomas Hewes or George Stephenson, both linked to Thwaite Mill). What did they do? Why was their work so important?
  • Write a diary entry for a mill worker living at Dandy Row. Do you enjoy your job? Why/why not? What was the best/worst part of your day?
  • Draw a picture of a Dandy Row cottage and label the key features, then draw a second picture of your own/a modern day house and label the differences. Alternatively, draw two pictures without labels and get a partner to list or circle the differences.
  • Write a diary entry for somebody living on the mill island during the Second World War. How did your daily life change? What was good or bad about living on the island at this time?

Design and Technology

  • Download and complete the Labelling a Mill Diagram activity.
  • Download and complete the Naming Types of Waterwheel activity.
  • Download and complete the Putty-making Chronology Task to explain how putty was made at Thwaite Watermill. (either as a card-sort or human timeline)
  • Build your own water wheel using materials such as paper cups, plastic bottles, straws, string, a hole punch etc. There are lots of methods suggested online for this – see Supporting Links for an example.
  • Use kits such as those by K’nex to build systems with turning cogs, pulleys and levers, similar to those operating in the mill.

Geography and History

  • Print out (or project onto a smartboard/whiteboard) a map of your local area from the 1940s. Circle the places which you think would have been key bombing targets for the German air force. Maps can be found online – see Supporting Links for useful website 'Old Maps Online'
    - Consider which places were important for supporting British fighting, which places were important for upholding morale, which places would have been easier to identify due to geographical features like rivers etc.


  • Look at/feel different samples of flint, chalk and chinastone. Can you work out which is which from a set of descriptions, and suggest what uses they have now or had in the past? (Download the Rocks, Descriptions and Uses Match-Up for a possible worksheet to accompany this activity, or to be completed as a stand-alone task)