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 Thoralby Water Corn Mill
Over 1,000 Years of Milling at Thoralby
Present Site 


It is not known when Thoralby mill moved to an unidentified site alongside Bishopdale Beck, but it was probably in the late Middle Ages, when climate change reduced the water in Heaning Beck to a level insufficient to power a mill. The new mill on Bishopdale Beck was probably powered by an undershot waterwheel (see image opposite), because the fall of water in the beck was insufficient to install an overshot or backshot wheel (see below). Undershot waterwheels were not very efficient because they relied on the power of the water hitting the paddles at the bottom of the waterwheel to turn it. In times of drought when the water level in Bishopdale Beck was low, the mill would not have been able to operate. 

© Thoralby Through Time

A Survey of the Lordship of Middleham was undertaken for King James I, who owned the Lordship. The Survey was dated 1605, although some 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).

© Thoralby Through Time

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 likely that this did not reflect the true size of Aysgarth, part of which probably belonged to other landowners who may have had their 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 Dixon 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. This included a water corn mill at Thoralby with an annual rent of £5 13s. 4d. and a fulling mill with an annual rent of 30 shillings. The City of London sold the Lordship of Middleham in parcels to various purchasers between 1652 and 1663.


Thoralby Mill was purchased on 26 December 1656 by "George Dodsworth the younger of Langrig[Longrigg], Peter Metcalfe of Medstones and Edward Fawcett of Kedstones[Kidstones], yeomen". The mill, or at least part of it, remained in the hands of the Dodsworth family for most of the 17th century.


In a will dated 12 February 1681, "George Dodsworth ye elder of Newhouses in Bishopdale" stated "I give & bequeath unto Elizabeth Dodsworth my wife ye Moiety or one halfe of ye Water Corne Mill & Kilne lyeing at Thorolby to have & receive ye yearly profits & benefit Issueing & arising out of ye same during ye tearme of her Naturall life and after her decease to fall & descend to my sonn George Dodsworth his heires for ever." There appear to have been at least three George Dodsworths who held Thoralby Mill during the 17th century: the one mentioned in the 1605 survey as living in Thoralby, George Dodsworth the younger who lived at Langrig (Longrigg) in 1656 and may have been the same person who was referred to as George Dodsworth the elder of Newhouses in 1680, and died in 1681, and his son, the George Dodsworth who stood to inherit after the death of his mother Elizabeth. The 1680 document is also the first to record a kiln at Thoralby Mill for drying the corn before it was ground.

Sometime before or during the early 18th century, the Thoralby mill moved from alongside Bishopdale Beck, where it would have been at risk of flooding, to a safer position higher up the hillside. This move took the mill onto its present site. A weir was built a third of a mile upstream at Dam Stakes to dam up the water and divert it into a long leat or mill race that was constructed to bring the water to the top side of the mill. This was done so that the new mill could have a more powerful overshot or backshot waterwheel (see diagrams below) whereby the weight of the water falling into buckets from above the waterwheel powered the mill machinery.

© Thoralby Through Time


The will of William Sadler (c.1660-1725) of Hallgarth, written in 1726, provides evidence that he lived at Hallgarth, close to the new site of the mill, and that he owned a part share in the mill.  His son John Sadler (1700-1745) was executor (see the transcript and image below referring to the mill).


"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 theireunto belonging Standing Lying & being within the Townshipp & Libertie of Thoralbie afforesaid" (Copy of the will courtesy of Ian Spensley.)

William Sadler - Will, 1726
William Sadler, signature


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

"I give and devise unto my oldest Son William Sadler all my Messuages Lands & Tenements Closes Inclosures pasture gates and Premisses whatsoever with all my share or moiety in the Water Cornd Milne situate in the Townshipp of Thoralby with the Barnes Buildings Kilnes Grannaries and other out Buildings to the said Messuages Lands Milne & Premisses belonging To Have & To Hold the same with their and  every  of their appurtances unto my said son William his Heirs & Assigns for ever."


(Copy of will courtesy of Adrian Sadler, descendant of John and William Sadler.)

© Thoralby Through Time
John Sadler share of mill 1745
John Sadler - signature 1745
© Thoralby Through Time


The will shows that the corn mill complex now included, kilns, granaries and other buildings, suggesting it had increased in size and importance. The mention of a kiln for drying the grain and various granaries, barns and outbuildings is clear evidence that by 1745 the mill was on its final site, because the remains of some of these buildings still exist, whereas there is no trace of any buildings closer to the river. Sadly, William Sadler died before he was of an age to inherit his share in the mill and it went instead 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 the mill in his estate.

The Ordnance Survey map from 1856 (below) shows the final position of the mill and the proximity to it of Hallgarth, where the Sadlers lived, and Tenter Garth, the probable site of the earlier fulling mill.

Thoralby Mill O.S. 1856 - Annotated - Hallgarth
© Thoralby Through Time

In 1807 a poster advertised for sale various farms, land and property in Thoralby, including "LOT 9.  Half share of the Corn Mill at Thoralby in full work and good repair.” Text near the bottom of the poster names the people who were then occupying the various properties, including George Calvert, who was the miller at that time. He was referred to as a 'corn factor' in the register of electors for 1807.