Thoralby Water Corn Mill - NEW RESEARCH

Until the late 19th century one of the most important places in the village would have been the corn mill because people would have needed to grind oatmeal and flour to make the oatcakes and bread that formed a major part of their diet. There is some evidence to suggest that the earliest corn mill was somewhere on Heaning Gill.

The Ordnance Survey map below, published in 1856, shows Heaning Gill, to the north-east of Thoralby. I have highlighted the stream in blue and underlined the bridge crossing the gill on Eastfield Lane, which was, and still is, named Millbeck Bridge, providing evidence that there was once a mill on Heaning Gill, which was previously known as Mill Beck. The tithe apportionment and map of Thoralby produced in 1840 named the field upstream of Millbeck Bridge on the north side of the beck as 'Mill Beck', which reinforces the probability that in earlier, probably medieval, times there was at least one mill on this beck.

The Dales saw a large influx of Norse farmers (Danes from the 9th century and Irish-Norse from the 10th century), it is likely that simple Norse mills like the one shown below were common in the Dales during the Middle Ages. No confirmed Norse Mill sites have been found locally, but evidence suggests that a mill operating on Heaning Gill during the 13th and 14th centuries and another at Newbiggin may have been Norse Mills.

The above diagrams of a typical Norse mill show a simple horizontal water wheel (tirl), that didn't need a great force of water to turn it. A shaft from the tirl through a hole in the lower millstone, called the bedstone, was embedded in the upper millstone, known as the runner stone because it turned while the bedstone did not. There was no gearing in this simple system, so the runner stone turned at the same speed as the tirl. ​Grain from a hopper was fed between the stones through a hole in the centre of the runner stone, where it was not crushed but cut repeatedly by a scissoring motion between the grooves cut in the two stones and then expelled as meal from the periphery of the stones. A stone of about 30 inches (76 cm) diameter would turn at about 50 rpm, generating just under 1 horsepower and having an average output of 40-50lb (18-23 kg) of meal per hour.

Mills were first documented in Thoralby in 1298 in a valuation of the lands and property left by Robert de Tateshale at his death to his wife, Johanna. The water corn mill, which was probably on Heaning Gill, had a rental value of 120 shillings (£6) per year and a fulling mill, used for finishing woollen cloth, was probably on Bishopdale Beck and paid 26s 8d. (£1.33) per year in rent. There was also a corn mill at Newbiggin in Bishopdale paying a rent of 26s. 8d. per year, (see below.) 

The 1301 Lay Subsidy (a tax on land and property) shows that in Thoralby 'Ricardo Molendinario' (the corn miller) paid 7s. 3d. (£0.36) in tax. The fulling mill used water-driven hammers to beat woven cloth in water, which had the effect of shrinking it and increasing the density of the material by causing the fibres to bind together. Fuller’s earth and human urine were added to the wash to remove the oil with which the wool had been impregnated for spinning. Originally, fulling was done by hand with clubs or by trampling the cloth underfoot, but using water power was more efficient. The cloth was then washed in the beck to remove the fuller's earth and urine.


The main reason for believing that the fulling mill was probably alongside Bishopdale Beck can be found in the field name, Tenter Garth. Tentering involved stretching out the cloth to dry on a frame of tenterhooks after the fulling process was complete. The field that is still called Tenter Garth would have been where this took place and it would have been alongside the fulling mill. ​The Tithe map from 1840, below shows the location of Tenter Garth field in relation to Bishopdale Beck.

The fulling mill was still in operation in the first half of the 15th century, when the annual rental was 30s (£1.50), but it had ceased production permanently by 1465.


A change from a wetter to a drier climate in the late Middle Ages meant that the supply of water from Heaning Gill became too unreliable to operate a water corn mill, which led to the mill moving onto Bishopdale Beck. The next documentary reference to a corn mill at Thoralby occurred in 1485, when Geoffrey Frank and Michael Wharton, both of whom were officials of the Lordship of Middleham, paid a rent of £4 per year for Thoralby mill. This may have been after the corn mill had been moved to a site alongside Bishopdale Beck


A Survey of the Lordship of Middleham was undertaken for King James I, who owned the Lordship. The Survey was dated 1605, although much of the material it contains dates from 1618. It listed three ‘corne mills’ in that part of the Lordship of Middleham known as ‘Bishops dale Chace’, which comprised the townships of West Burton, Walden, Thoralby, Bishopdale, Newbiggin and Aysgarth. The corn mills were at West Burton, Thoralby and Aysgarth, of which the most valuable was Thoralby Mill, where George Dodsworth was the tenant. It had an annual value of £10 and paid £4 per year to the Crown in rent. West Burton Mill, tenanted by Henry Hodgson, had an annual value of £8. 10s. 0d, (£8.50), which was not much lower than the value of Thoralby Mill, but for some unexplained reason Henry Hodgson only paid £1. 6s. 8d. (£1.33) per year in rent. Aysgarth Mill, tenanted by Robert Dixson, was a much smaller affair with an annual value of £1. 10s. 0d (£1.50) and paying only 3s. 4d. (17p) in rent each year.

An addendum to the survey in 1618 states: “The greatest part of these two Lordships [Middleham and Richmond] consists of Meadow and Pasture, & Out Commons, with a small quantity of arable land, it being not able to bear corn for the coldness of the soil and the length of winter there…" Since grain could not be grown locally, it would have been purchased at markets such as Richmond and Skipton, either by the miller or by local residents who took it to the mill to be ground.

Below are several extracts from the Survey (courtesy of the DCM, Hawes).

Although the Survey did not include every inhabitant of Bishopdale Chase, it did include all who held sufficient property to be liable to taxation, so a broad comparison can be made between the mills and the communities they served. While there will have been exceptions, Thoralby Mill will have ground grain for most of the 65 taxpayers in Thoralby, the 34 in Bishopdale and the 27 in Newbiggin. West Burton Mill served the 27 taxpayers in West Burton and the 21 in Walden, while Aysgarth Mill only served the inhabitants of Aysgarth, where there were 12 taxpayers. The local importance of Thoralby Mill is demonstrated not only by its value and the rent it paid, but also by the fact that it was serving a much larger community of taxpayers – 126 compared with 48 in West Burton Mill’s catchment area and only 12 in Aysgarth’s. It is possible that this may not reflect the true size of Aysgarth, part of which may have belonged to another landowner who may have had his own mill.


Not only was Thoralby Mill more significant than its neighbours, but its miller also had a higher standing in the community. In addition to being the miller at Thoralby, George Dodsworth had two other houses, 63 acres of meadowland and 89 pasture gates on the open grazing land surrounding the village. By comparison, Henry Hodgson at West Burton Mill and Robert Dixson at Aysgarth Mill were not recorded as having any property other than their mills. Only one mill in the Lordship of Middleham in 1605 was more prosperous than the one at Thoralby: Bainbridge Mill was recorded as worth £16 per year and paying £7. 13s. 4d (£7.67) a year in rent.

In 1628 the Crown sold the Lordship of Middleham to the aldermen and council of the City of London, who sold it in parcels to various purchasers between 1652 and 1663. One of the first parcels to be sold was Thoralby Manor, which may have been purchased by Malges Norton who was described as having been lord of the manor in or about 1663. By 1677 the manor was in the hands of Christopher Norton of Temple Dowscar, now known as Temple Bank, near Swinithwaite. It is not clear whether Thoralby Mill was included in the property purchased by Malges Norton or whether it was sold separately.



Who bought Thoralby Manor?

Documents Josie Hopper bought for DCM

The next evidence of a mill situated at Thoralby is in the will of William Sadler (1660-1725), of Hallgarth, Thoralby, dated, 1726. His son John Sadler was executor (see below for a transcript and image of the part of the will referring to the mill). It is not possible to ascertain with certainty where in Thoralby this mill was, but William Sadler's dwelling at Hallgarth was close to the site of the mill in the 19th century, so it is likely to have been on the same site during William Sadler's life. It is not known when the corn mill moved from Heaning Gill to its position near Bishopdale Beck, (see the O.S. map below, suggesting the mill may be close by.



"Ittem. I give to my son John Sadler all my Messuages Land's Ground's Cattle gates & my part of ye Water Corn Mill & premises with all ye Right's privileges and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging Standing Lying & being within the Townshipp & Libertie of Thoralbie afforesaid ..."  This means William was only part-owner of Thoralby mill and I have been unable to find who owned the remainder.

Transcription and will courtesy of Ian Spensley.

1891 OS - Thoralby Mill, tenter garth

In 1745 John Sadler (1700 -1745) of Hallgarth, Thoralby leaves his share of the Water Corm Mill at Thoralby to his eldest son, William Sadler (1736-1747). 

" ... unto my Eldest Son William Sadler all my Messuages Lands & Tenements Closes Inclousures pasturegates premises whatsoever with all my share or moiety in the Water Corn Mill situate in the township of Thoralby with the Barns buildings Kilnes Granaries and other out buildings to the said Messuages Lands Mills & premises belonging To Have & To hold the same with their and  every  of their appurtances unto my said son William his heirs & assigns for ever ..."

The will shows that corn mill now included, kilns, granaries and buildings, suggesting it has increased in size and importance. Sadly William Sadler died before he was of an age to inherit his share in the mill and it went to his brother, James Sadler (1723-1787), who must have sold his share of the mill, because at his death in 1787, there was no mention of it in his estate. Bought by John Sadler of High Green, Thoralby - Edwd. Brodericks Valuation of 1872 (1840 Tithe still John Sadler, Hallgarth, Thoralby, also buildings now owned by George Calvert Trustees of).

Copy of will and transcription courtesy of Adrian Sadler, gt uncle?.

It is not known when Thoralby mill moved to its site near Bishopdale Beck, but the architecture and layout of the surviving building and watercourse suggest that they were probably constructed in the second half of the 18th century.  The picture below shows the course of the mill race. It is likely that the waterwheel was overshot, meaning that the water was carried to the mill building in a trough called a launder high enough for the water to go over the top of the wheel and fill the buckets on the other side. It is an optical illusion that the water appears to run uphill! Wheel imposed on outside of the building to show its position, photograph below.

The second picture shows the mill building on the side of which you can still see the blocked-up aperture that enabled the miller to reach the axle of his mill wheel. The waterwheel would have been in this position, but inside the building.

The main Mill Building, clearly showing the position of the water wheel, the red arrow points to the blocked up arch below the lowest windows on the left side of the building. Courtesy of Ann Holubecki, 1987.

Below is a photograph of the back of the old stable and store house, before it's conversion into a house (The Barn), you can clearly see the chanel in Tenter Garth field, where the water from the mill wheel  would have entered Bishopdale Beck. Photograph 1987, courtesy of Ann Holubecki.

The following Trade Directories, Baines 1823 and White 1840, show that George Calvert of Thoralby was vict., of the George Inn and corn miller. During the 1820s-1840s the mill was owned and run by George Calvert (1773-1840). When George Calvert of miller of Thoralby died in 1840, his will shows that the mill was left in equal shares of a third: 

​"To my brothers Thomas Calvert (1778-1841) and William Calvert (1780-1847) and my niece Ellen Dinsdale (1809-1881) the wife of Bryan Dinsdale of Hawes I give and devise all that my water corn mill drying kiln pieces of ground adjoining and all the weirs dams rights members and appurtenances thereto belonging Also all the Gear and Machinery therein to make at Thoralby aforesaid"

Transcription and will courtesy of Ian Spensley.

​Unlike the Sadlers, George Calvert was not able to sign his name, marking his name with a cross. The will shows that corn mill now included, a drying kiln, weirs and dams, appurtenances, including gear and machinery. The running of the mill was undertaken by several different millers, whilst in the ownership of Thomas and William Calvert and  Ellen Dinsdale. During this time the millers were: John Rider, Charles Airey and John Sarginson. Ellen Calvert is recorded as a flour dealer.

In March 1867 Thoralby Mill was advertised for sale by Auction, see the advert on page two in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, dated 2nd March, 1867: