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.

[1605 Tenants yearly value worth £10 - Geo: Dodsworth, mill owner one of wealthiest people in Thoralby.]

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.

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 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! 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. Wheel imposed on outside of the building to show its position, photograph below).

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 raid 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].

During the 1820s-1840s the mill was owned and run by George Calvert (1773-1840). John Sayer (1814-1901), 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 and Thomas were also Millers. The Sayer family continued to grind corn at the well-built three storey mill until 1919 when Thomas Sayer finally gave up. His son, John Redman Sayer, 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. The last carter’s to lead for Sayer’s business were Thomas Dinsdale and Jack Sayer. 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.

[Annotated 1891 O.S. map showing tenter garth field and the Sayer family's homes: Hallgarth Farm, Holmeside Farm, Thoral Cottage and Low Green House and the TheMill and old stable and store house.]

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.

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 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.

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. 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.

The main Mill Building, clearly showing the position of the water wheel (the blocked up arch) below the lowest windows on the left side of the building. Courtesy of Ann Holubecki, 1987.

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.

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.

Below is a photograph of a sack label for Thoralby Mill, when Thomas Sayer (1861-1934) was the Miller (1900-1919). Courtesy of Neil & Heather Sutcliffe.

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

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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