WHEN Abbot Ethelwold and the monks of Abingdon Abbey diverted the Thames in the 10th century to remove sewage, and to power their corn and fulling mills, they would not have foreseen that the island they created would become a small hive of industry centuries later.

In the early 19th century hemp-dressing, matting, sackcloth and carpet–weaving were among the main occupations of the Abingdon working man.

In 1830 the town boasted 22 sacking manufacturers and 3 matting manufacturers.

Joseph Hadley also produced waterproof canvas for wagon, rick and boat cloths; William Prince made rope and twine in addition to tarpaulin and wool sheeting.

Abingdon’s position as a market town enjoying both agricultural and river trade created a ready market for their products.

Ock Street and the Vineyard were the main areas of production but the small island close to riverside wharves proved an attractive location.

It is not generally known that Abingdon manufacturers produced the first satisfactory yarn and cloth from jute.

In 1830 a downturn in the local hemp trade prompted the town’s MP, John Maberly, to offer to finance local men to visit Scotland to train in new machine production techniques introduced there.

This generous offer does not appear to have been taken up. Abingdon’s loss was Dundee’s gain.

George Shepherd, a member of an old Abingdon family, succeeded his father at the Abingdon Carpet Factory in 1879.

The business had been established on the island in a former hemp and twine works, across the river from the Nag’s Head.

George became principal director, expanding the business by constructing new buildings with distinctive Dutch gables.

This riverside location led to the adoption of ‘REVIREDIS’ as its registered trademark.

Run by George and his brother, it had a reputation for value and quality. Among its notable brands were ‘Isis’ matting made from locally sourced rushes, ‘Roysse’ hand-loomed wool carpets, and ‘arts and crafts’ rugs for the discerning homeowner.

The company was still using the same handlooms for weaving in the early 1900s as in 1825 when jute was first introduced. The factory closed in the early 1930s.

Access to supplies of cheaper coal, courtesy of the expanding canal system, was undoubtedly a factor in the siting of the town’s first gasworks on the island.

In September 1834 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that the new gasometer erected by Mr Stears had been 'turned on'.

Customers and proprietors enjoyed a celebratory roast beef dinner cooked with gas at the New Inn on the Market Place.

The small three-arched bridge across the millstream was for many years known as the ‘gasworks bridge’. In the late 1880s the gas works moved to a site in the Vineyard close to the Abingdon branch railway line.

In the 1950s the area was purchased by the borough council as a site for swimming baths but in 1953 a new tenant was found for the old carpet factory, the Longworth Scientific Instrument Company Ltd.

Founded in 1943 by members of the Oxford University Department of Anaesthetics, this business is better known today as Penlon Ltd.

After Penlon relocated to the Vineyard, a fire in the old factory premises resulted in its demolition.

In 1964 the Berkshire County Planning Officer presented a development plan to retain the old mill as a restaurant. This entailed negotiations with the occupiers, Langford & Sons, who were still milling flour and storing animal foodstuffs there.

Their name is carved on their former shop front in Stert Street: ‘LANGFORD & SONS CORN & COAL MERCHANTS’.

Langfords made full use of the railways with depots at Steventon and Challow as a 1930s advertisement for their premises shows. Since 2006 the shop has been occupied by Oxfam.

The new development, initially the Restaurant of the Upper Reaches, became the Upper Reaches Hotel owned by Trust House Hotels Ltd.

The 20-bedroomed hotel and conference centre was opened in January 1971 by Mrs Claire Spurgin whose father, Thomas Skurray, had been chairman of the group in the1920s.

Mrs Spurgin used the same pair of scissors that her sister had used in 1929 at the official opening of the reconstruction work on Abingdon Bridge.

The hotel closed in 2015, but can the mill survive another millennium?