Thoralby Mill - 
Hydro-electricity Station

In 1919, the Middlesbrough Cooperative Society purchased the mill building and replaced the waterwheel with a water turbine that provided electric light and power. The turbine was powered by water from the mill race. The Cooperative Society converted the mill into a milk processing plant that could pasteurise up to 500 gallons of milk a day and turn it into cheese. The machinery used to pasteurise and cool the milk was 'electrically driven'. The mill had eclectic power and light.  However, the operation must have been uneconomic because Middlesbrough Cooperative Society’s ownership of Thoralby dairy was short-lived: in April 1922 the Society offered the mill building for sale, as shown in this advert.

Thoralby Mill -
Electricity Generating Station

Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham Dairy, purchased the mill building in 1923.  He continued operating the dairy and set up a piggery alongside the mill building, feeding whey from the cheese-making process to the pigs. Rowntree used the turbine to generate electricity that powered the dairy machinery and supplied lighting to Thoralby and Newbiggin. The water to power the turbine entered the mill via the launder that had previously fed the waterwheel. The dairy had ceased operation by 1948 when electricity generation was taken over by the national grid.


Darlington & Stockton, 1923

THORALBY MILL, which a few weeks ago was purchased by Mr. A. Rowntree, of Coverham, is already in the hands of the builders. The old wheel which has done duty for so many years, has been taken out, and also the millstones, the latter going to their old owner, Mr. Sayer, who hopes to use them again in a new home. The water power is to be used for an up to-to-date electric plant. It is hoped that both Thoralby and Newbiggin will be able to have electric light by autumn next. The dairy, it is hoped, will be ready to start in the early spring. Mr. Rowntree is putting down an efficient sewage plant, so that the Beck may be kept pure.

Below is a photograph of Thoralby Mill c.1924 when Alfred Rowntree & Son, operated the Dairy and also the provision of electric light to a number of households in Thoralby and Newbiggin. The area in yellow shows the electric pylon?.

Photograph courtesy of Charles Rowntree.

Alfred Rowntree used the turbine to generate electricity that powered the dairy machinery and supplied lighting to Thoralby and Newbiggin. The water to power the turbine entered the mill via the launder that had previously fed the waterwheel.

The photograph opposite is inside Thoralby Mill, showing the electric light and Gilkes turbines, from Kendal.

Photograph courtesy of Charles Rowntree.

The company installing the electric light to the householders of Thoralby and Newbiggin was an Askrigg Millwright, joiner and general builder, Mr. William Handley Burton.


Askrigg Mill Electricity Account Book 1923, courtesy of Andrew Craske.

I have copied all the pages referring to Thoralby and pasted them together in date order, see below:

The above account book was compiled by John S. Banks of Reeth, who was employed by Askrigg Mill, and covers the time period October 1923 - December 1923.

​A transcription of the 1st collection of entries for Thoralby is given below:

​"Oct 17: Connecting mains up to Blacksmiths shop & Mr. M. Willis + Mr J. Willis & renewing switch wire on a light at Mr T Heseltines. Hours: 8½.

​Oct 18: (Omitted from Oct 18th) supplied lamps for new Instalation at Mr J Willis 2 lamps.

​Nov 7: Connected mains to Mr. W. Percivals House ran lead cable from outhouse to D & S Board soldered 4 joints fixed D & S Board & meter & fixed meters for following Houses. Mr M. Willis: - Thoralby Blacksmiths Shop :- Mr Kendall:- Newbiggin Mr J W Heseltine Newbiggin.

​Nov 21: Started to wire P.M. Chapel layed conduct & wire 5 lights with J Bell."

One of the earliest properties in Thoralby was the blacksmiths forge, owned by Matthew Willis, see image below, courtesy of G.V. & A. Sadler.

Another early property to have five electric lights installed was the Primitive Methodist Chapel, see image below, courtesy of P. & C. Mason.

A view of the second entry for Thoralby is given below:

A transcription of the 2nd collection of entries is given below:

​"Nov 22: (at Thoralby) Fixing fittings etc. on ? PM Chapel with M W Banks and helping fix D&S Bound outside mains etc. Hours: 8½.

​Nov 23: (at Thoralby) Wired additional lights at M W Wills fixed asses etc. and helped with outside ??. Hours: 9½.

​Dec 12: Went to Thoralby with Tools etc. to start wiring Mr. Atkinsons House. Hours: 1½.

​Dec 13: (at Thoralby) Started to wire at Mr. Atkinsons House. Taking floor boards up and started laying casing in attic no. of lights: - 6. Hours: 8.

Dec 14: (at Thoralby) laying casing etc. at Atkinson's and also layed 1½ lengths of 5/8 conduit Conduit and casing laid for 5 lights. Hours: 8.

Dec 15: Pluging walls at Atkinsons for switches etc and helping M Burton with outside chimney bracket and ??. Hours: 5½. Paid."

A view of the third entry for Thoralby is given below:

A transcription of the 3rd and final collection of entries is given below:

​"Dec 17: (at Thoralby) Fixing outside mains from Pole to Atkinsons chimney and mains to Dis Board soldered joints etc and wiring in 4 lights. Hours: 8.

​Dec 18: Finished wiring in Atkinsons laid floor boards etc and fixed accessories Dis ? et. (House completed) 6 Lights. Hours: 8.

​Dec 19: Cleared tools from Mr Atkinsons house to Dairy repaired. Hours: 1. Piggery lights and took tools to Mr Bells house taking floor boards up etc. I went to Askrigg for ? and cable. Hours: 8.

​Dec 20: Laying conduit at Mr Bells. 2½ lengths used and wires in 2 lights laid floor boards also helping Mr W Burton to connect outside mains and help. Hours: 8."

Low Green House, the former home of John Sayer (1814-1901), corm miller from 1909 took  paying guests and from 1924 advertised the fact the property had electric light.

 The advertisement from 'The Woman's Leader and The Common Cause' in March 1924, can be seen below.

The Primitive Methodist pamphlet below from 1915, shows that hydro electric village lighting schemes were a specialism of the pioneering and originators of the Yorkshire Dales' Electric Lighting Company of Askrigg.

As the above pamphlet shows 'The Askrigg Electric Lighting Co.' were advertising their services in the Primitive Methodist Annual Synod pamphlet of 1915, saying you could have light both in the morning and evening, a fact which must have changed people's working lives enormously.


Pamphlet courtesy of Andy Souter.

Thoralby Farms with electric light in 1942

The Farm Survey of 1942 asked what electricity supply there was to the  farm house and farm. The entry below is an extract from the original form completed by my grandfather, Frank Snaith of Holmeside Farm, Thoralby.


Reproduced courtesy of the National Archives, Reference: MAF  32/1106/421/20.

Below is a table extracted from the Farm Survey, 1942 - Thoralby. The data is in alphabetical order by Surname of the owner or tenant. 

​It shows that the majority of the 23 farm houses did have public light, provided by Thoralby mill, which was used for household purposes only and not on the farm. However, all the farm houses a distance outside the village did not have public light. 

"How Wensleydale  Got Its First Electricity" - Darlington & Stockton Times, December 25th 1948. Courtesy of Andrew Craske. The article highlights the fact that Wensleydale had electric light as early as 1908, some forty years before the National Grid.