Thoralby Mill Dairy & 
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 that was taken to Aysgarth railway station for onward transportation to Middlesbrough. 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 Dairy and Electricity Generating Station

Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham Dairy, purchased the mill building. He continued operating the dairy and set up a piggery alongside the mill building, feeding whey from the cheese-making process to the pigs. Notice the cheeses on the table in front of the building. 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.

In 1923, Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham and Masham Dairies, purchased Thoralby mill, removed the waterwheel and milling machinery and converted it into a dairy. He also installed a turbine to generate electricity to supply lighting to Thoralby and Newbiggin. See the transcription from the Darlington & Stockton Newspaper, 1923 below: 

 

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.

Early Milk Production, Thoralby

The top photo shows High Green Farm with a cart for a horse on the green and a lady in a long white dress. A herd of milk cows are just entering the photograph from the right.


The photograph below shows two people delivering milk from a churn to people in Thoralby. The milk churn is carried on a two-wheel cart that also has a small jug for measuring out the milk and pouring it into housewives’ jugs. The photo was taken in front of High Green Farm looking across the village towards Low Green Farm. Notice the space, across to Low Green where ‘Gamecroft’ now is.


The photograph on the right shows Joe Heseltine of Thoralby riding his horse and cart through Bishopdale. He sits on a large Express Dairies milk churn. Milk from Bishopdale went to a Express Dairies processing plant at Appleby until 1937, when Express Dairies opened a nearer depot alongside Leyburn Station.

Heaning Farm, Thoralby Milk Production

The postcard top left shows Heaning Hall Farm around the 1930s. In the 1941 MAFF Farm Survey, Christopher (Kit) Heseltine had a total of 32 cattle and calves, of which 20 were in milk. Kit took his milk by horse and cart from Heaning to Aysgarth Station. In one year in the early 1930s he received £856 for his milk.


Kit’s milk went to London via Aysgarth Station, one of several stations on the Wensleydale line that transported milk up until the 1930s when milk lorries began to take over. In the photograph below, Kit can be seen hand-milking, whilst sitting on a 3-legged stool (good for uneven floors).


Edith Pratt found her grandfather’s milk records from the 1930s which showed that he was supplying milk wholesale to the Finsbury Park depot of United Dairies of Bayswater, London. The company was a great rival of Express Dairies.

The Influence of the Railway on Milk Production

Perhaps the most significant change brought about by the railways did not happen immediately, but took off in the early years of the 20th century. This was the refocusing of dairy farming in Wensleydale and Bishopdale away from the production of butter and cheese and into the supply of fresh milk to the growing industrial regions. Until the late 19th century, large-scale milk production was impractical because it would have had to be transported long distances by horse and cart on unmetalled roads and therefore would not have reached its customers before it had begun to go off.


However, the railway changed this because fresh milk that left a farm in Bishopdale could arrive on doorsteps in Leeds, Newcastle and even London in good condition the following morning. The figures shown on this slide show how sudden and dramatic the increase in milk production was. Only 2,247 cans of milk left Hawes, Askrigg, Aysgarth and Redmire stations in 1899, but this had grown to over 28,150 cans by 1904 and 50,000 cans by 1907. The growth continued, reaching 2 million gallons per year in the late 1920s. In 1937, Express Dairies opened a milk processing plant at Leyburn station that by 1939 was dispatching 3.2 million gallons of milk per year to London, some of which was collected by lorries from Bishopdale. This was in addition to the milk that was sent to a dairy at Northallerton opened in 1904, which processed more than 1 million gallons a year for delivery to the industrial areas of Yorkshire and the North-East. Most of this milk came from upper Wensleydale and Bishopdale.

Thoralby Cheese Factory

I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy. Cheese making Rowntrees - Dairy Days - 1921 census coop and dairy farmers - 1942 farm survey.

Quote from 1950 Dalesman.

Thoralby Mill  Electricity Generating Station

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Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham Dairy, purchased the mill building. He continued operating the dairy and set up a piggery alongside the mill building, feeding whey from the cheese-making process to the pigs. Notice the cheeses on the table in front of the building. 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.

In 1923, Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham and Masham Dairies, purchased Thoralby mill, removed the waterwheel and milling machinery and converted it into a dairy. He also installed a turbine to generate electricity to supply lighting to Thoralby and Newbiggin. See the transcription from the Darlington & Stockton Newspaper, 1923 below: 

 

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.

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."

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. 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. 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.

Transcription of newspaper article below:

HOW WENSLEYDALE GOT ITS

FIRST ELECTRICITY

A PIONEER WHO HARNESSED MILL

GILL FORCE

 

A week ago a townsman visiting Wensleydale looked at the shining copper power which has crept across the 13 miles separating Hawes from West Witton during the past five months and wondered what the villagers would think when they got electricity for the first time.

He was a little late with his question. For an answer he would have to go back 40 years for when nearly every home on Tees-side was lit by flickering gas jets Askrigg, on the north bank of the Yore was a sparkling jewel against the back cloth of the dark hills as the bright new lights were switched on in the houses.

The National Electricity Board is only re-doing a job a Dalesman undertook four decades before Nationalisation was heard of.

Italian Inspiration

At the beginning of this century Mr. William Handley Burton [1853-1937], an Askrigg Millwright, joiner and general builder, had a casual conversation with some Lancashire electrical engineers, who told him how in Italy the mountain torrents were to be made to drive electrical generators.

Mr. Burton went back to Askrigg and looked at Mill Gill Force, a mile west of the village, where a tributary of the Yore plunges over a 70-foot limestone cliff. Again and again he looked at the water rushing past his home. Mill Gill House, half a mile below the falls.

In 1908, on a day which nobody thought to record, his son Ernest Burton [1877-1959], was with him when Mill Gill House became the first house in Wensleydale to be lit by electricity.

Now Mr. Ernest Burton, aged 72 is seeing the disappearance of the local electricity supply companies which came into being on that day. His father died six years ago but his work will never be forgotten.

Machine still working

“He had noting much to go on at the start,” said Mr. Ernest Burton. “Nobody in England knew much about water power for electricity, and the biggest difficulty was a speed governor. English firms were not used to the fine control needed, and in the end we had to get permission to make an Italian governor, under license from affirm in Milan. It’s still working” he added.

He told me how the water power which had 300 years before had turned the mill and had won local fame for Askrigg oatmeal, was harnessed to turn generators. There were three attempts before success came and the light went on at Mill Gill House.