Simonsbath Sawmill is a rare surviving example of a once-common type of estate sawmill and workshops. It lies in an outstanding landscape setting and is of national importance.
The sawmill dates from the 19th centuary. It was never just, or even primarily, a sawmill, but was the base and power-house for a wide range of activities linked to the management of a large country estate. As well as a sawmill there was a carpenters' workshop, engine room, generator room, mortar mill, and granary - which had a threshing machine, chaff cutter, maize kibbler and storage for animal feedstuffs. Nearby buildings were used as stables, grooms' accommodation, kennils, linhay, cartshed, wool store and offices.
The buildings were built here to make use of water-power. The water was brought by a water-carriage, or leat. Originally the water mainly came from from Ashcombe and was stored in a mill pond near what is now Boevey's Resturant. In 1898 a new water power system was constructed to use water from the main river - the River Barle. The activities that took place at the sawmill had a central role in the history and reclamation of the former Royal Forest of Exmoor and the development of today's landscape.
The mill retains evidence of all the systems of power used – waterwheel, water turbine and associated leat systems and mid C20th diesel engine. There are rare contemporary sawbenches still in situ.
The land on which the sawmill now stands, and much of the surrounding moorland, has only had five owners in the last 1000 years.
From the time of the Saxon kings in perhaps the 9th century until 15 March 1820 it was owned by the Crown. In the mid 17the century, after the tyrant Charles I was executed (30 January 1649), the land was bought by James Boevey - who built the first house in Simonsbath. When the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, died in 1658 and Charles II came to the thrown, the Crown took back the land and James Boevey became tenant.
The Crown sold its Exmoor land on 15 March 1820 to John Knight and when he died in 1850 it passed to his son, Frederic. The earlier parts of the sawmill date from this time.
Frederic Knight sold the land to Viscount Ebrington/Lord Fortescue in 1886 but retained a life interest so the estate was only transferred on Frederic Knight's death in 1897. The Fortescue Estate carried out a major refurbishment of the mill in 1898/99.
The Fortescue Estate sold much of the moorland surrounding Simonsbath to Exmoor National Park Authority in 1991 and the Authority bouight the sawmill and the associated riverside meadows in 1996. The Authority restored the mill in 2002/03 thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Authority stopped sawing at the mill on a regular basis in 2010 but the mill is maintained in working condition and is used for demonstration purposes and as the venue for educational events and activities. It is cared for by a small team of volunteers who help with maintenance, lead tours and are researching the history of the mill.