Boltsburn Mill at Rookhope was a corn mill, the map, above, from the 19th century indicates this quite clearly and one of the few artefacts left on site were two millstones in the yard. Beyond this the evidence is rather thin on the ground
We were invited to look around the mill by the owner who was in the process of converting the building complex into accommodation. He wanted to see whether we could shed any more light on the former mill before any evidence was lost in the progression of the work.
Geoff Stephenson reported on the mill in Northumbrian Mills No 47 (see below) and was able to talk to the previous owner but he had struggled to make any sense of the buildings and, in particular, the numerous filled in openings. This time the visiting party included Geoff along with Alastair Yule and Duncan Hutt. Now that work had been started and the building cleared out then perhaps everything would fit into place. Sadly it was not to be!
The search started in the south-western building with two millstones in the yard outside the door. It was clear that there had been additional parts to this building and that what remained had been much altered. So much altered in fact that we couldn’t be certain whether this was indeed the mill and if it had been then the location we has proposed for the waterwheel, from outside, seemed to be impossible.
Our efforts moved to the north-eastern building and the eastern end of this where the floor had been dug away to reveal nothing of interest. No sign of a mill, no sign of water courses, nothing.
So to the northern part of this building which was so completely gutted that there was still no sign of anything that would lead to there having been a mill. Externally a small filled in opening on the end of the building may, just may, have been relating to a waterwheel axle. This would mean that the wheel would have been external on the north-west end of the building. It would have been a logical location but not entirely fitting with the lie of the land or the presumed mill dam set above the mill and to its north-east. Excavation of the ground would be needed to find out whether there was indeed an in-filled wheelpit here.
The dam itself is also a bit of a puzzle. The second edition Ordnance Survey map shows an enlarged dam to that shown on the first edition. There are lines leading from the dam towards the eastern end of the buildings but this could be a wall and other boundary rather than a headrace, the gap is certainly not shaded to indicate water.
Overall it was a frustrating visit, no conclusions, more questions than answers but just a hint of hope as the possible wheel locations are cleared in due course. What was clear was that the conversion process is going to cause no harm to remaining mill artefacts. Indeed without this work the building would have continued to decay further and would have been lost completely.
Meanwhile we await news of any discoveries that are made. Perhaps we will have to be content with two millstones and a name on a map!
From Northumbrian Mills No 53 (2011) by Duncan Hutt
This is taken from Northumbrian Mills No 47 (as referred to above)
This mill has recently been advertised for sale by George F White. The site is described as “a versatile range of traditional mill buildings which occupy a picturesque village location and have residential consent for three dwellings, set within a site of 0.22 ha (0.54 Acres) within which to landscape gardens and grounds. Equally the buildings have potential subject to consent for development of a larger family home.”
Intrigued by the location I visited and met the owner, Gilbert Graham, who was clearing out the buildings ready for the sale. He has lived in the house across the road for over 40 years and he explained that the water from the Bolts burn was taken in a leat to a small dam, marked and shown on the 1903 map. A high level launder supported on timber trestles carried the water to the wheel, exposed on the end gable , I was told, which is now part of the tarmac road through the village. I think it more likely that the wheel was inside, the gable wall has a closed in arched opening on the roadside.
Mr Graham thought it was a ‘hobby mill’ for the owners use only to feed horses and cattle on the grain brought in. Rookhope was hardly a corn growing area, he said, for a commercial mill. He was certain it had only been a corn mill.