The Mills of Aycliffe

Vivien Ellis delves deep into the archives to piece together the history of a few of the corn mills in and around Aycliffe village.  

The 1828 Parson and White directory describes Great Aycliffe as:
A considerable village in the township and parish to which it gives name, pleasantly situated on the great north road, and on the west bank of the Skerne; 5 miles N. of Darlington. About 100 of the inhabitants are employed in weaving linen for the Darlington manufacturers; and on the east side of the village a paper mill and a corn mill are put in motion by the streams of the Skerne, which frequently overflow their low banks and inundate the adjoining meadows.

The directory goes on to note some of the alternative spellings for the place, Aclif, Aicliffe, Accliffe and Aykley, or, as some of the older records show, Akley or Acley.

Many of the old entries are in Latin, most translations are mine, though some sections were translated in the source (shown in [ ]). The oldest reference to a mill at Aycliffe found so far comes from 1358 and translated from the Latin reads:
AKLEY. It was presented through the mill leaseholders that tenants as freely as others pastured their draught animals in a certain place called the milndam (mill dam?), which the leaseholders themselves declare belongs to them and is separate from the Lord’s. So these same leaseholders were ordered to distrain the free tenants that were pasturing it (there?). At also it was ordered that the other tenants should not pasture under penalty of 13s. 4d.   {Ref: 1358. Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis: 22-23}

A few years later, in 1365, the same source gives us the oldest known reference to millers at Aycliffe:
The discharge of the mill of ACLEY. William Usscher, Thomas Perkynson and William Hibbus (Hibbi) took the mill of Acley from the festival of St. Martin. A.D. etc 65 (1365) till the end of 3 years. They are to pay annually 8 pounds. {Ref: 1365. Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis. 41-42}

In 1368 we also get a reference to a fulling mill in the village:
The jury was ordered to see to how much the corn mill and the fulling mill had deteriorated. There was a discourse between Thomas Wright of Preston, mill leaseholder and the mill leaseholders of the Lord namely Robert Carles, William Ussher and Thomas Perkynson, about whichever of them holds 1 home and mills without payment for grinding such of the Lord’s when they themselves all ought to mill, with respect to 1 leaseholder used to mill, it was placed in respect until the next. [Tho. de Preston, Nicholas de Bewyk and Henry Milner of Skolacleff take the mill of Acley for three years at £9.] {Ref: 1368. Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis. 73}

A couple of years later another reference considers theft from the mill:
About Peter Snart’ [or Suart] the miller for 1 sack and 1 bushel. 1 pt of corn at the price 2s 4d. In the default of Peter himself thief/theft from the mill as had been ascertained through the jury, from which half will be relaxed by the fact that the walls [error for “portae” ?] of the aforesaid mill had been open, with the knowledge of William Pouer [not before mentioned in this entry] 6d. {Ref: 1370 Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis. 96}

The first reference to the river Skerne as such comes from 1378 with odd goings on and diversions in place:
ACLEY. It was ordered to arrest William Warand to be present at the next free court to reply about the common water course which ought to run through the middle of the street (strati) as far as the Skirn, and now it is turned away/diverted by the aforesaid William and now runs through the home of John Fermourson and below the manor at serious loss/damage. {Ref: 1378 Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis 147}

Then a few years later a new tenant takes on the mill:
ACLEY. William Pouer came to court and took the water mill of Acley – till the end of 3 years. To be paid annually to the exchequer of the Lord Prior of Durham £6 13s 4d. [with usual condition for upholding the mill and leaving in repair] {Ref: 1382 Halmota Prioratus Dunelmensis. 172}

A William Power was mentioned in the same set of records in 1378 having taken on the lease of a cottage next to the mill.Aycliffe mills

Millers and their Mills

Ricknall Mill

Ricknall Mill as it is today

Ricknall Mill as it is today

A set of records for Aycliffe St Andrew lists some details of the Walker family at Ricknall Mill at the turn of the 19th century.

  • Walker, John, bur. 1 Jul 1775, of Ricknell Mill
  • Walker, John, bur. 19 Mar 1797, of Rickland Mill, s/o John Walker
  • Walker, John, d. 29 Mar 1800, Miller, bur. 22 Mar 1800, of Rickland Mill, age: 51yr
  • Walker, Abraham, of Rickland Mill, burial 11 Mar 1818, s/o John and Jane Walker, age: 30yr

In 1828 Willis Cuthbert was listed as a corn miller (Parson & White) and is still there in the 1841 census. In 1858 William Bagley is miller and his death is recorded in the burial register of St Andrew’s church in 1869. It is thought that this mill may also have gone under the name of Woodham Mill.

Aycliffe Mills

The 1828 Parson and White directory lists Robert Playfair as corn miller in Aycliffe but also lists Nicholas and William Phillips at the paper mill in the village. Some confusion may arise, however, as some entries for corn millers may also refer to Holme Mill, a short distance downstream. Henry Atkinson and Thomas Blair get separate entries as corn millers in 1851 and an 1856 directory makes specific reference to there being 2 corn mills with a J Gill and a C Stonehouse listed as millers and also mentions “Hadrick Henry, miller (John & H Hadrick)” . By 1858 Richard Carr Stonehouse is shown as the miller. However, as can be seen below, the J Gill is definitely miller at Holm Mill not Aycliffe Mill. In 1864 John and Henry Hadrick are listed as millers at Brafferton and Aycliffe along with Richard Robinson and John Bagley.

Holme Mill

Holme Mill, as it stands after many years out of use

Holme Mill, as it stands after many years out of use

Jonathan Gill, listed as a miller in Aycliffe in 1856 was at Holme Mill. A grave stone from 1859 records the death of his wife Alice but specifies, Jonathan Gill of Holme Mill. He is listed in the 1861 census as a retired corn miller with George Marriner now listed as miller there. George Marriner is still there in the 1871 census and a directory from 1879 but a gravestone shows him as having died on September 21 of that same year. The 1881 census now lists Henry Mariner as the Head Miller and James Palmerley as a servant ‘grinder miller’.

The 1841 census also lists an entry for Spring Garden Mill with William Tweddle as the miller, while it is not certain as to the identity of this mill it is thought that it may refer to Holme Mill.

Brafferton Mill

The 1828 directory lists John Bentham as corn miller. In 1856 J & H Haddrick are listed as millers there though also appear in the Aycliffe lists. In 1858 the directory lists Henry and John Hadrich as millers there, giving them separate lines but introducing a new spelling. As shown above the duo were still listed in 1864 and by the 1881 and 1891 censuses a John Hadrick is still listed but at the age of 28 in 1881 is presumably not the original John from 1856. A Robert Bagley is also listed as a miller living in Brafferton Village.

Saw Mill

A directory from 1879 lists a Peter Scott at the saw mills. This saw mill was at Monk’s end in the village. There is no evidence to suggest whether this was any other type of mill before. Mr Scott used to be the village undertaker.

Windmill

To date I have not found out anything about this mill at all. It may fit with some of the corn millers listed for Aycliffe but it is hard to decipher which link to which site in detail. Also, it is perfectly possible that it was managed as a mill linked to one of the watermill businesses.

Following the history of mills and millers is particularly difficult, particularly where there are a number of mills and where names may change or references at least may alter. This is work in progress and further information to help fill in the gaps or correct mistakes would be very gratefully received.

Acknowledgements

The Walker family records for Ricknall Mill came from Dave Ollerton via ‘Cemetery Records Online’. Also thanks to Mrs Ida Hadrick and Mr Peter Brown for information, photographs, newspaper cuttings and maps and to Mr Barnfather for access to the Wind Mill.

From: Northumbrian Mills No 41. January 2007

 

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