Wall Mill

Duncan Hutt reports on a survey of Wall Mill

The Mill at Wall is a three storey stone mill built into the steep bank of the North Tyne. The mill served the small village of Wall and is situated close to the former station for the village.

Wall Mill (in 1999).  Drawing by John Buxton

Wall Mill (in 1999). Drawing by John Buxton

The steepness of the river bank means that the mill looks very small from above, you enter most directly into the third floor from where you plunge down two flights of stairs into the ever darker bowels of the building. Ivy, trees and aspect make each floor damper and more dingy than the last. Two floors down and you can emerge, blinking, into the daylight in a tiny yard with a narrow passage leading towards the enclosed waterwheel and a narrow track climbing up past a stone built cottage then bending back on itself as it climbs the river’s bluff.

The mill is a strangely large building only partly used now but showing signs of slightly jumbled machinery in its working days. Water was drawn from the North Tyne using a large, curved, stone built weir; the building lies at the eastern end. The weir is largely breached but still channels some water towards the building even when the river is low. The water entered the building where there is a large undershot waterwheel (about 11ft 8ins diameter and 6ft wide). The wheel had 8 wooden arms and about 30 paddles and ran on an octagonal iron shaft. There is a well constructed ashlar stone (squared and dressed stone) wall to the mill side. The exiting water then had to travel some considerable distance in a tailrace before rejoining the river, presumably in, what would appear to be a desperate attempt to reduce water backing up into the pit in time of flood. One oddity on the wheel, and indeed elsewhere in the mill, is the fact that repairs have been carried out using amazing feats of carpentry when a simple replacement part would probably have been cheaper and easier to install. Each of the waterwheel arms was repaired using a bolted, joint.

Inside, the hurst frame contained a large iron pitwheel (embedded in silt) meshing with an iron wallower on a wooden main shaft (itself showing signs of having been joined). The iron great spur wheel (with wooden teeth) drove two stone nuts and also provided power to a pearl barley machine. The lower floor had also contained a low, or roasting, kiln but little of this remains. The extensive use of iron on this level indicates machinery that is not particularly old, perhaps mid to late 19th century.

Moving onto the first floor is like stepping back a hundred years or so. There were two pairs of stones, both gritstones. Only the bedstone of the upstream pair remains and this has been soaked in oil, being a handy place to put an oil can down for use with a small stationary engine. This stone has 9 harps in its conventional pattern of dressing. The downstream set is slightly smaller but is complete and retains its furniture. Most interesting on this stone floor is a large (6ft diameter) wooden, clasp arm crown wheel with 48 wooden teeth. There is also a small iron gear above which drove a layshaft (in situ) which drove a second layshaft. The crown gear itself drove a large wooden layshaft (present but not in place) which probably drove the flour dresser (the screen and brushes of which are also present but not in place).

The third floor retains little of its machinery but does include a slightly mysterious wood and iron, hollow drum. This is free to rotate but is not substantial enough to have done much! Part of the sack hoist mechanism would have been in the roof space but little remains.

The Crown Gear in Wall Mill.  Drawing by John Buxton

The Crown Gear in Wall Mill. Drawing by John Buxton

Graffiti

Of particular interest in Wall Mill is the graffiti. Names and initials appear in various places in and around the mill – some of these are listed below uncertainties are given by [?], suggestions are in { }, unknowns ……………:

Beside top door (left hand side): E ROWELL

On top door back:  Maj [?] E Rowell at garden party at Chesters Aug 16th 1897
Edward Francis Ripley Wall Mill Feb 1937

On one beam:        JWH   TUE   WALL   IP28 {1928?}

By window:            1888 April 2nd E Mireaux [?] was …………………… Hexham

On hurst frame:     E ROWELL 1853 – 1921
WB RIPLEY 1921 – 1931
EF RIPLEY   1931 – 1947

RONALD W B HOCKING
“LOOSEDON”
WINKLEIGH
DEVON
MARCH 12th 1945
ALFA LAVAL CO LTD

Base of upstream stones: IN (or, of course, NI)

On bottom door
(left hand side):      E R 1906
(Right hand side):  George E ………….
E Rowell 1854

From: Northumbrian Mills No 13. January 2000

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