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 oatcakes and bread that formed a major part of their diet. There is evidence to suggest that the earliest corn mill was somewhere on Heaning Gill. It is documented in 1298, when it was worth 120 shillings a year. An inquisition of the lands and property left by Robert Tateshale to his wife, Johanna, on his death in 1298 listed all his property in the manors of Thoralby, West Witton, Well and Crakehall and elsewhere. This included a water corn mill in Thoralby generating a total annual income of £6 and a fulling mill in the same village, used for finishing woollen cloth, worth 26s 6d. per year. There was alos a corn mill at Newbiggin in Bishopdale worth 26s. 8d. per year, see below.

The Ordnance Survey map from 1856, below shows Heaning Gill, at the east end of Thoralby. I have highlighted the stream in blue and underlined the bridge crossing the gill on Spickles lane named Millbeck Bridge, further adding to the evidence of a mill in the vicinity. 

A change in the climate meant a regular supply of water from this small tributary stream, probably led to the mill moving onto Bishopdale Beck.

Since 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 Norse mills like the one shown below were common in the Dales during the Middle Ages. No confirmed sites have been found, but the suggests that a mill operating at Newbiggin in Bishopdale and one at Heaning Gill, Thoralby  during the 13th and 14th centuries may have been Norse Mills.

The above diagram shows a simple horizontal water wheel (tirl), that didn't need a great force of water to turn it and had a shaft that extended through a hole in the lower millstone, called the bedstone, and 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 two stones and then expelled as meal from the periphery of the stones. A stone of about 30” diameter fed by a 4’ fall of water would turn at about 50rpm, generating just under 1hp and having an average output of 40-50lb of meal per hour.


The 1301 Lay Subsidy for Thoralby, shows, Richard Molinarious (the miller) paying  a tax of 7 s. 3 d.


In the fourteenth century there was also a fulling mill, where cloth was scoured and beaten in the finishing process. This explains the existence in Thoralby of a Tenter Garth (the field alongside the present mill), where cloth was stretched to dry on a frame of tenterhooks. Fulling was a process in the woollen industry. After weaving, the cloth was pounded in water to shrink it and to increase 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 location of the fulling mill at Thoralby was probably close to Bishopdale Beck, because of the field name Tenter Garth.

The Ordnance Survey map from 1891, below shows the location of Tenter Garth field in relation to Thoralby Mill and Bishopdale Beck. Also highlighted are the stable and stores located at the foot of the mill, the mill race and Hallgarth, the home of the miller.

Survey of the Lordship of Middleham, 1605.  A survey was carried out for King James I in 1605 of the property in the lordship of Middleham, which was then crown property. Unfortunately, it did not include all the people living in each village, just those who were prosperous enough to pay rent. However, it did list all the mills in the lordship.


Among the observations at the end of the survey, it 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…"

Below is pages 1-2 of the Survey, courtesy of the DCM, Hawes.





The Survey in 1605, for the township of Thoralby, shows at the time there was only one mill in Thoralby. The survey shows that Geo: Dodsworth, was the mill owner, with a  yearly value worth £10  making him one of the wealthiest people in Thoralby. What type of mill this was is not known, but it is most likely to have been a ? mill.


The next evidence of a mill situated at Thoralby is the will of William Sadler, of Hallgarth, Thoralby, dated, 1726. His  son John Sadler was executor, see the transcript and image referring to the mill, below, his signature shows he was able to sign his name. It is not possible to ascertain where in Thoralby this mill was, but his dwelling Hallgarth, can be seen on the O.S. map above, suggesting the mill may be close by.


"I give to my son John Sadler all my Messuages Lands Grounds Cattle gates & my part of ye Water Corn Mill  & premises with all ye Rights privileges and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging Standing Lying & being within in the Township of Thoralbie afforsaid ..."  This means William only partly owned Thoralby mill.

Transcription of will courtesy of Ian Spensley.

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 into 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 courtesy of Ian Spensley.

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:


Below is a transcription advertising the mill for sale in March 1867.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – 2nd March, 1867



in the County of York.

TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, by Mr RICHARD HOLMES, at the house of Mr Joseph Lambert, Innkeeper [George Inn], in Thoralby, in the County of York, on WEDNESDAY the 6th day of March next, at seven o'clock in the evening, subject to such conditions as will be then produced and read,

ALL that Well and Substantially Built WATER CORN MILL, situate at Thoralby aforesaid, and commonly called "Thoralby Mill," with the drying kilns, gear and machinery therein, and the pieces or parcels of land, weirs, dams, and mill-race, together with the outbuildings and appurtenances thereto adjoining and belonging. And also all that CLOSE, Piece, or Parcel of PASTURE LAND near thereto, and separated therefrom by the road from Thoralby to Kettlewell, and known by the name of "Batts," and containing by admeasurement half-an-acre or thereabouts, be the same more or less.

The mill and premises are in good repair and condition, well situated, and abundantly supplied with water.

The business has long been established, an is very lucrative.

Mr John Sarginson, the tenant, will show the property and further particulars may be had on application at the offices of 

                  Messrs ROBIBNSON & CHAPMAN, Solicitors, Leyburn.

                  Leyburn, 8th February, 1867. 

[Joseph Lambert and  John Sarginson can be viewed in the 1861 census for Thoralby].    

John Sayer (1814-1901), aged 53 of Newbiggin bought the mill in 1867 and he and his family ran the business until its closure in 1919. In 1876 John Sayer (1814-1901) is recorded as Corn Miller (Slater), a situation confirmed by the Census of 1881 when John’s sons Francis (1857-1933), aged 24 and Thomas (1861-1834), aged 20 were also millers. The 1891 census also shows Francis and Thomas as corn miller's. Kelly's trade directory of 1893, also lists them as  corn miller's. The 1901 census shows that whilst brother Francis was farming, brother George Sayer (1855-1934), aged 45, living at Newbiggin, lists his occupation as corn miller. The notification of the ending of the Sayer partnership in January 1881, see below is somewhat misleading, as George and Francis were still involved. Kellys trade directory of 1905, lists Thomas Sayer on his own as the miller and this was the case until the mill's closure.


The Sayer family continued to grind corn at the well-built three storey mill until 1919 when Thomas Sayer finally gave up aged 58. His son, John Redman Sayer (1889-1965), aged 30 continued to supply customers on a factoring basis using the old stables and store house on the beckside near the bottom of Mill Hill until 1936, then aged 47.

Below is a copy of an Invoice from Thoralby Mill, dated October 14 1897. From F. & T. Sayer to: Mr. A. Horner, courtesy of Ian Spensley. The invoice covers the time period November 1892- April 1896.

Transcription of the above invoices: 


As well all the prices for goods sold by the mill, the invoice also shows that by 1897 Francis Sayer (1857-1933), aged 40 had left the family business and was farming at Myres Garth, Bishopdale, where he remained until his death in 1933, aged 76.   


Prices: Flour: ?s. per stone, Oat meal: ?s. per pack, India Meal: ?s. per stone, Wheat Meal:  ?s. per stone and Sharps:  ?s. per stone. The flour would be used in the kitchen for making bread and pasties etc., the Oat Meal would be used for making porridge and oat cakes. India meal, Wheat Meal and Sharps would be used for ?

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 miller.

The last carter’s to lead for Sayer’s business were Thomas Dinsdale (1878-1960), and Jack Sayer. From about 1882, until the mills closure in 1919, Stephen Dinsdale (1866-1942), who lived at Low Green House and Hallgarth Cottage, was the miller's clerk. The above invoice is most likely written by him. 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, aged 65 in 1931.

The Sayer family owned a number of houses in the village, including Hallgarth Farm, Holmeside Farm, Thoral Cottage and Low Green House, which John Sayer (1814-1901) had built for him to live in. 

Pupils at Cross Lanes School remember their teacher Miss Haw, in the early 1900s, on being informed of the impending visit of the doctor, sending all the children down to the mill to be weighed by Tommy Sayer. See sack label for Thoralby Mill, when Thomas Sayer was miller, below.

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

When milling finally ceased in 1919 the mill was converted into a dairy by Middlesbrough Cooperative Society and commenced as such in 1922. Later in the 1920s, Rowntrees of Coverham Dairy took over and ran it until 1934 when Thomas Heseltine of Newbiggin took over the buildings, ceased the dairy business, but continued with the pig business [located on the site of Mill Bridge House, workshop], which Rowntrees had introduced. Kit Calvert and Richard Guy purchased the mill in 1938 and carried on with rearing the pigs.

The mill building was used as a store for drying cheese from Coverham Dairy during the war but shortly after it became unused and remained so until Jack Lunn converted it into three self-contained flats in the late 1960s. He lived in one of them until 1977.

There remains little evidence of equipment or machinery from the days of corn milling but one mill stone lies, with a tree growing through the middle of it, in the orchard on the east side of Low Green Lane, previous home of John Sayer. Parts of another millstone have been built into the walls of the old stable and store house which was converted into a cottage.

Thanks to Norah Drake, Heather Percival and George Beckwith for supplying some of the above information.

Dam Stakes and Mill Race

The Ordnance Survey map from 1856, below shows the sluice gate 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.

Below is a photograph of the dam and weir across Bishopdale Beck, sadly the dam was destroyed in the floods of 1994.

As children we used to walk across the top from one side to the other and Heather Percival recalled using it as a short cut on her long walk to school from Gayle Ing Farm to Cross Lanes School.

Thoralby Corn Mill and Electricity Generating Station

The gearing in the mill was probably similar to this diagram of a mill at Bainbridge. There were probably four pairs of millstones. Two would have been for grinding fine floor and two for grinding oatmeal. Those for grinding oatmeal were made in one piece, like this one photographed 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. 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 1919. 


In 1923, Alfred Rowntree, who owned Coverham Dairy, 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.


The turbine was powered by water from the mill race. The dairy ceased operation in 1934, but we believe that electricity generation continued until at least 1948, after which it was taken over by the national grid. The mill then remained empty until the late 1960s, when Jack Lunn converted it into apartments, as it is today.

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 first entry 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 othe second entry for Thoralby is: given below:

"Nov 22 

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

The Farm Survey of 1942 asked what elecricity 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). 

A transcription of the final entry for Thoralby is: given below:

"Dec 17

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.

In May 1948 the mill was put up for sale by auction at the Bolton Arms Hotel, Leyburn "LOT 3, FREEHOLD COMMERCIAL PREMISES, THORALBY MILL, THORALBY (Bishopdale), nr. AYSGARTH, with land, piggeries, and subsidiary buildings. Site area 7 acres 2 roods 17 perches or thereabouts. VACANT POSSESSION available. Includes also a Water Turbine GENERATING PLANT supplying Thoralby and Newbiggin. ..." See the Advertisement below which appeared in the 'Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 01 May 1948.

On the 8th May 1948 the mill was re-advertised for sale at a price of £945, rather than by auction. "LEYBURN - ... Thoralby Mill, electric plant and over seven acres, £945." See the second part of the Advertisement below which appeared in the 'Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 08 May 1948.

The mill and land were bought by? Piggeries Jim Percival, 1st floor rented by Frank Snaith? Land Charles Lancaster.

Below is a table listing the names all the millers at Thoralby, from 1301-1930s.

Below is an Article in the Yorkshire Post dated 1970, listing all the conversions of old buildings Jack Lunn undertook in the area. Courtesy of  The Jack Lunn Group.


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