BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK, Derbyshire

This is one of a series of articles published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th November 1995 (p.7), and reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The series is now available as a fully-illustrated paperback, published in 2006 by Wildtrack Publishing of Sheffield (ISBN 1-904098-01-0)

BYGONE INDUSTRIES OF THE PEAK: CORN MILLING

For thousands of years we have been eating bread, so for thousands of years we have been making flour, or at least meal. Today’s bread flour is primarily made from wheat. Only wheat and rye yield a flour which forms a dough capable of aeration by using a leavening agent such as yeast, to give a spongy, light bread.

Neolithic farmers grew wheat and barley. Their meal or flour was produced by grinding the grain between two ‘quern’ stones. A number of prehistoric querns have been found in the Peak. Prehistoric flour was unrefined and gritty, contributing to the dental wear seen on skeletons and on a large number of teeth found in burial mounds at Stoney Low and Harborough.

Hand milling became a little easier with the development of the grist-mill, where grain was spread onto a large flat stone to be crushed by a stone roller. By medieval times, the work was carried out on a commercial scale, using two circular millstones turned by oxen.

Further progress came with water or wind power. Windmills were recorded in Britain from the 12th century onwards. Only an occasional ruin survives in the Peak. A windmill at the west end of Eyam was demolished some time prior to 1877, its stones re-used in building a school. An entry of July 1915 in The Diaries of Maria Gyte gives a rare reference to a windmill near Ashford: ‘Three women and a man came in horse and trap and had refreshment here... They said they were the daughters and son of the late Wm. Gregory who between fifty and sixty years ago had a windmill at the top of Sheldon village.’

The reason for the naming of Windmill, a hamlet near Great Hucklow, can only be an inspired guess since there are no known records relating to a mill here.

Water mills, in evidence since the latter part of the Roman occupation, were far more numerous. Even a fairly insignificant stream could power a corn mill. The Domesday Survey recorded many mills in the area now covered by the Peak National Park, including Bakewell, Ashford, Hope, Tissington and Youlgreave. This latter may have been the forerunner of the surviving and picturesque Alport Mill. Maria Gyte gives regular accounts of oats being taken to Alport (Johnson’s) Mill, for re-collection as oatmeal, a typical routine all around the Peak.

Frith Mill, on the Manifold near Longnor, was recorded as early as 1404 and replaced 200 years later by Longnor Mill. Out of use at various periods, it came back into service in 1831 and continued milling corn for another 40 years. A complete restoration is in hand.

Millers were entitled to keep a portion of flour in payment for their services but gained a general reputation for being dishonest and greedy. It gradually became more common for a farmer to sell his corn to the miller then buy back the processed flour.

FINE AND WHITE

As larger mills were built, occasionally up to 10 storeys high, the milling process became more complicated, with machinery keeping many men in work. Public taste was all in favour of progress: people liked their flour fine and they preferred it white. For this reason flour began to be bleached, at one time by chemical means but later by other processes such as the application of heat. Unfortunately, fine grinding and bleaching leave the end product less beneficial to our diet, but advice from nutritionists seems unable to reverse the trend.

Grinding by millstones has been described as the ‘sudden death’ method, subjecting the grain to shorter but rougher processing. The manufacture of millstones was an important industry in itself and great quantities were dispatched from Peakland gritstone quarries.

An improvement to flour quality came with the introduction of roller mills, better suited to the hard varieties of wheat. A fine working roller mill stands on the Wye at Rowsley, where John Caudwell built his first mill in 1874 on a site leased from the Duke of Rutland. The mill was originally powered by two water wheels but in 1885 they were retired in favour of a revolutionary new roller system. The water wheels were replaced by turbines and the millstones by steel rollers. Caudwell's Mill remained with the family for over 100 years. Commercial production ceased in 1978 but the mill operates as a working museum and still produces strong flour for sale.

Further upstream, the Wye drove corn mills at Blackwell and Wormhill. This latter stood in Miller’s Dale, to which it gave name, and was of ancient origin: in the early 13th century King John gave a mill at Wormhill to Daniel Pincerna. Flewitt’s Mill at Ashford and Victoria Mill at Bakewell, both on the Wye, ground corn for local farmers within living memory.

Cromford’s manorial corn mill was replaced by one built by cotton magnate Richard Arkwright to provide ‘his’ village with flour. Fed by a mill pond on Bonsall Brook, it remained in use until about 1930. At a higher point the tumbling brook once powered Bonsall corn mill, now just a scattering of ruins in private grounds on Clatterway. Until around 1900, the neighbouring hamlet of Ible boasted a working corn mill near the former Lilies Inn in the Via Gellia. The ruins lie beside an overgrown section of the stream.

Far more impressive is the ruined mill on the Derwent in Chatsworth Park. Designed by James Paine and built in 1761, it remained in use until about 1950 but was wrecked when two beech trees fell on it during a storm of 1962.

The River Dove was put to good use on its way through villages including Glutton Bridge, Hartington and Thorpe. The Dove still feeds a leat beside a converted mill at Hartington, now a dwelling with the attractive addition of a preserved undershot water wheel.

QUIET BACKWATERS

Almost every sizeable flow of water was put to use grinding corn. A leat from Peakshole Water drove Castleton corn mill until the 1920s, apparently a different building to that referred to in a deed of 1615, granting two acres of waste ground near Castleton to Thomas Dixon and John Williams, Serjeants at Arms, to erect a corn mill on the River Ashop. Castleton had three corn mills by the late 18th century. A mill at Curbar relied on the Barbrook, and one at Highlow on Bretton Brook. The unassuming River Noe was the force behind Brough corn mill, where two water wheels worked five sets of grindstones. Threshing was carried out on site and the grain was dried in a kiln ready for grinding.

Middleton Mill near Youlgreave lay on the River Bradford, its exact position uncertain. What may have been the original corn mill burned down in 1733. It was obviously rebuilt, for in 1807 an inquest was held into the death of the miller, William Fletcher, who had become fatally entangled in the machinery. A large new mill was built on the site in 1822 and dismantled some time before 1914. The stone was used to build Castle Cottages in Middleton.

A number of corn mills were superseded by ambitious larger buildings for industrial uses such as cotton spinning, as at Calver, Bamford and the Brund Mill at Sheen. Carter’s corn mill at Stoney Middleton became a footwear factory and Wetton mill, a farm. Peak Forest, Hope, Padley and Leadmill at Hathersage are just a few places where former mill buildings have been converted to residential use, while traces of old abandoned corn mills are evident in mill pools, weirs, leats and tumbledown stonework in quiet backwaters all around the Peak.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 27th November 1995;
Updated 18th January 2005.

POSTSCRIPT

There was a follow-up to the above article in the edition of The Peak Advertiser published on 20th June 2005, following its second publication, relating to Julie's comment about the hamlet named 'Windmill' near Great Hucklow.

A resident of the village kindly wrote to the Advertiser, saying that he'd been told that Windmill actually got its name from an old 'winding' engine that was used in the lead mining industry to haul trucks up an incline (perhaps) from inside one of the many lead mines which were worked in the area.

So it was actually a 'Wind' (pronounced with a long 'i', as in a 'long and winding road') Mill, and the 'mystery' about this name is thus resolved!
(Added 6 Jul 2005)

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page: http://texts.wishful-thinking.org.uk/BygoneIndustries/CornMilling.html
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library