THE future of a significant piece of Kendal’s history is uncertain after the merger of two of the town’s oldest businesses.

The iconic Kendal Brown House mill at Canal Head – home to the world’s oldest surviving industrial hardware – closed its doors earlier this year after more than 130 years manufacturing snuff and tobacco.

The closure came after a merger between historic tobacconists and snuff makers Samuel Gawith – based at Canal Head since 1881- and Gawith Hoggarth in March.

Both companies are continuing production at a factory on the Lake District Business Park, at Mint Bridge.

But managing director Bob Gregory has refused to confirm reports that the Brown House is to become a museum, leaving its future unclear.

It is also not known whether any jobs had been lost as a result of the move.

The merger reunites two companies who started as one, 137 years after they split.

In 1878 brothers Samuel and John Gawith decided to go their separate ways and split the family snuff business.

Samuel took over the mill at Mealbank and John stayed on in Lowther Street – home to the famous ‘pipe-smoking Turk’ sign.

Samuel's business thrived and, in 1881 he built a new factory near Canal Head, calling it Kendal Brown House.

The machinery used there has been dated to around 1750 - it was shipped down from Scotland by horse and cart and was originally made to grind gunpowder during the reign of George II.

The firm in Lowther Street went through some troubled times but, in 1887, a new partnership was founded between Samuel's youngest brother, William Henry, and Henry Hoggarth junior, to be known as Gawith Hoggarth Company.

It continued to manufacture at the Lowther Street works until 2009, when it moved to new premises off Shap Road, which now houses both companies.

Patricia Hovey, of Kendal Civic Society, said the Canal Head site was ‘second only to mintcake’ in its importance to Kendal’s history.

“I’d like to see it become a museum but it would need a lot of changes – it’s never been open to the public before,” she said.

The merger has been welcomed on tobacco forums, with one user saying: “I really wouldn't want either company to sell out to a bigger tobacco producer.”

Another said: “I take this merger as a good sign and a reasonable way to keep both companies thriving.”

However one user commented: “It'll be a shame if Samuel Gawith change their processes. I do wonder if the quality of their snuff comes from the old fashioned technology.”