Hexham’s Two Windmills

Duncan Hutt looks at the two lost windmills of Hexham

Windmill Hill in 1776: Drawing by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm

Windmill Hill in 1776: Drawing by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm

Hexham is an interesting town as far as mills are concerned; for its size there seem to be very few obvious references to mills. Hexham had an important tanning industry and I had always assumed that there must have been significant use of water power to run these tanneries and in particular crush bark. However, while this may have occurred, it seems that windmills were employed for this purpose. It seems that there were two windmills in Hexham and this has given rise to some confusion as to their uses as most assume that the references all refer to the one.

One mill stood on Tyne Green, not to be confused with Tyne Mills, the watermill by the Tyne. The windmill stood upstream of this mill. A second mill stood on Windmill Hill. This lower mill is shown on some of the old maps of the town such as Armstrong’s 1769 map of Northumberland and Wood’s plan of 1826. No map seems to show a mill on the top of Windmill Hill.

A drawing of the windmill hill mill by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm is dated 1778 and captioned on the British Library Online Gallery: “A view of a windmill at Hexham, Northumberland. Linked to Hexham’s burgeoning 17th century leather ware trade, it was eventually demolished in 1826”. This drawing has come to me in two separate ways, via Roy Gregory (citing British Library reference Add MS 15543) and from Mrs Joan Smith from Hexham who had the picture on her wall at home.

In his 1823 book “An essay towards a History of Hexham [etc.]” Andrew Biggs Wright writes:
“A water Corn-mill of complicated machinery and extensive power is situated on the bank of the river, beneath the bridge. It is conducted by Mr. Dixon, and called Tyne Mills. A little higher up the river on Tyne Green, stands a Wind-mill still in use, and the ruins of a similar erection, but of earlier date, crown the Windmill Hill, on the west side of the Seal.”

Extract from Wood’s Plan  of Hexham, 1826.  A “Wind Mill” in the top right corner of this extract.  Windmill Hill is at the bottom.

Extract from Wood’s Plan of Hexham, 1826. A “Wind Mill” in the top right corner of this extract. Windmill Hill is at the bottom.

In additional notes associated with the above is:
“On Tyne Green stands a wind-mill, &c.”—These mills were used in grinding bark for tanners; but the introduction of steel mills on the principle of the coffee mill has superseded them. The low mill, one of those mentioned in note 3, has been lately taken down.”

Roy Gregory points out the cylindrical shape of the mill, an unusual design but one used locally quite often, such as at Plessey, Heaton and Great Whittington mills (all corn mills). He also noted that the sails are shuttered, first noted in 1772 thus this mill has either been refurbished or built shortly before the picture was drawn. While it is pure speculation its prominent location might suggest that the mill was built as a corn mill and converted around this time as a bark mill.

From: Northumbrian Mills No 50, October 2009.

 

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