Thoralby Water Corn Mill 

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 havercakes and bread that formed a major part of their diet.


An illustration see below from George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire, published in 1814 shows a woman making havercakes, sometimes called haverbread, which was an unleavened oatbread rather like a thick pancake. Havercakes were the staple diet of most dales folk until the late 19th century.


This image is used to show what the inside of a Bishopdale house might have looked like in the early 19th century. Tuke described the homes of ordinary dales labouring folk as “generally small and low, consisting only of one room, and very rarely of two, both of which are level with the ground. This situation renders them damp, and frequently very unwholesome, and contributes with the smallness of the apartments, to injure the health both of parents and children.” The houses were heated with peat fires and the inhabitants of Thoralby and other local villages had the right of turbary, which was the right, free of charge, to cut, dry and carry home peat for their fires from the communal peat grounds.

A Daleswoman Making Havercakes in her Home

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© Macfie-Calvert Collection., Hawes              

A Daleswoman Making Havercakes in her Home from

George Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire, published 1814,

courtesy of Macfie-Calvert Collection., Hawes

The earliest corn mill in Thoralby


There is evidence to suggest that the earliest corn mill in Thoralby was somewhere on Heaning Gill in the 13th century. It is not known when it 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 left-hand picture below shows the course of the mill race in yellow. It is an optical illusion that the water appears to run uphill! The right-hand picture shows the mill building, inside which the waterwheel was in the position shown by the superimposed diagram.

© Thoralby Through Time

© Ann Houlbecki

© Ann Houlbecki

Thoralby Water Corn Mill, waterwheel superimposed. Courtesy of Ann Holubecki

Dam Stakes and Mill Race (1)

This Ordnance Survey map below from 1856 shows the sluice gate at the bottom left and the mill race. The water to power the wheel was drawn from Bishopdale Beck about a third of a mile upstream from the mill at a weir known as Dam Stakes until floods washed it away in 1994. This picture shows part of the weir, the first part of the mill race and the remains of the sluice gate to control the flow of water into it.

© Thoralby Through Time

Dam Stakes and Mill Race , Thoralby  and location on O.S. map 1856.

The weir at Dam Stakes and Mill Race (2)

The weir at Dam Stakes below survived until 1994, when it was washed away in a flood.

School children crossed the dam on their journeys to and from school from the outlying farms of Gayle Ing, Blind Syke, Swinacote and Littleburn. It was a short-cut when not in flood. As children we played at walking across the dam, and I cannot recall anyone falling in!

© Thoralby Through Time

Thoralby weir at Dam Stakes and Mill Race, c.1980s

Gearing System and Mill Stones

The gearing in the mill was probably similar to this diagram, below of a mill at Bainbridge. There were four pairs of millstones. Two were used for grinding fine floor and two for grinding oatmeal. Those for grinding oatmeal were made in one piece, like this one photographed, below in a wall on Low Green Lane, and those for grinding fine flour were a jigsaw of several pieces bound together with an iron hoop, like this one, below on the green outside Bainbridge Mill. During the first half of the 19th century, Thoralby mill was in the hands of George Calvert, who was also the licensee of The George Inn; John Sarginson was the miller in the 1860s and 1870s, after which members of the Sayer family ran it until it closed in April 1919.

Thomas Sayer (1861-1934) was the last miller from 1897 to 1919. When he retired, the mill had a change of use, becoming a dairy. Thomas' son John Redmayne Sayer (1889-1965) traded as a corn dealer, living in Thoralby and using a warehouse opposite his father's home to store sacks of flour that he sold locally until 1935.

© Thoralby Through Time
© Thoralby Through Time

 Thoralby Mill Gearing System and Mill Stones

Miller’s carters

The image below of a horse and cart passing the Reading Room, at Thoralby is most likely transporting a sack of flour or animal grain from Thoralby Mill. The sack would most likely have a label on it, see example below from Thoralby Mill, when Thomas Sayer was the miller.

The last carter’s to lead for Sayer’s business were Thomas Dinsdale (1878-1960), and Jack Sayer. Meal was bought from Rank in Liverpool and brought to Aysgarth Station by rail. They gave up when everything became motorised.

© Thoralby Through Time

Thoralby miller’s carters

Miller's clerk

From about 1882, until the mills closure in 1919, Stephen Dinsdale (1866-1942), who lived at Low Green Farm and later at Hallgarth Cottage, was the miller's clerk.  When the mill closed in 1919, Stephen Dinsdale, aged 53 became the miller's clerk at Yore Mills, Aysgarth and although very lame, he then walked to Yore Mills, Aysgarth each day until his retirement,  in the 1930s.

Below is a photograph of a sack label for Thoralby Mill, when Thomas Sayer (1861-1934) was the last miller (1897-1919). Courtesy of Neil & Heather Sutcliffe.

© Thoralby Through Time

A sack label for Thoralby Mill, when Thomas Sayer (1861-1934) was the last miller (1897-1919).

Courtesy of Neil & Heather Sutcliffe.

Middlesbrough Cooperative Society’s Dairy at Thoralby (1919-1923)

In 1919, the Middlesbrough Cooperative Society purchased the mill building and replaced the waterwheel with a water turbine fitted by  Gilbert Gilkes & Co., Kendal, 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 the advert below.

© Thoralby Through Time

Thoralby Dairy for Sale by the Middlesbrough Cooperative Society, April 1922 

Alfred Rowntree’s Thoralby Dairy (1923-1948)

Alfred Rowntree, who owned Masham and Coverham Dairies, 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. The dairy had ceased operation by 1948 when electricity generation was taken over by the national grid.


© Charles Rowntree

Alfred Rowntree’s Thoralby Dairy (1923-1948)

Courtesy of Charles Rowntree.

Thoralby's Ancient Buildings, 1950 The Dalesman Vol.12 p.269

... "Thoralby has its utility buildings too. In the last century the mill at the foot of the steep hill at the south end of the village was used as a flour mill. Later cheese was made there. Even now, although it has long ceased to be used for such a purpose, it is known locally as the "Cheese Factory". Today it is Thoralby's electric power house. Strangest of all this sleepy little village is its hydro-electrification. For several years (1923) the mill stream has supplied the motivating power to light the centuries old cottages of the Wensleydale village."


The Piggery in the former Mill and Dairy (1948-1968)

Alfred Rowntree sold the mill building in 1948 to Thomas Heseltine of Newbiggin, who used it for storage but continued to operate the piggery in the adjacent building. Kit Calvert and Richard Guy bought the mill building and the piggery from Thomas Heseltine in 1950 and four years later Kit Calvert bought out Richard Guy and continued the piggery business on his own. In 1968, he closed the piggery and sold the former mill to Jack Lunn who converted it into apartments. It was known locally as 'Thoralby Piggeries'.

The image below is from the 1970s, when the Mill had already been converted into residential accommodation. The former piggery was now being used as agricultural storage by farmer, Jim Percival (1930-1980) of Lime Tree House, Thoralby.


© Ann Houlbecki

The Piggeries in the former Mill and Dairy (1948-1968). Courtesy of Ann Houlbecki.

Thoralby Mill converted to accommodation


The images below of the mill shows the conversion to accommodation, the position of the water wheel can be seen at the left gable end  where the 3 garages are and the buttress to the right shows the position of the kiln a separate two storey building to the height of the top of the ground floor windows.

© Thoralby Through Time
© Thoralby Through Time

© Ann Houlbecki


© Ann Houlbecki

Thoralby Mill converted to accommodation, c.1980s.

Courtesy of Ann Houlbecki

If you have any family recollections of the mill, or its time as a dairy and later piggery. Please contact me.

Many thanks to the people who have already given me information and images.