Wylam Mill

This article was originally published in The Wylam Globe (Newsletter of Wylam Parish Council) in Spring 1983.  It is assumed to be  by the editor, Philip R. B. Brooks.  The article is reproduced with permission of Wylam Parish Council.

Closure of the Mill marks the end of an era

Last month’s closure by Laws of their shop and bakery in the village was a sad blow, resulting in the loss of 14 local jobs, and marking the end of a long history of milling and baking in Wylam.

The local employment and the competition which Laws provided will be greatly missed, and we thank Mr. Limer and his staff at the bakery and in the shop, for the service they have provided to local residents over many years.

Following my letter to the ‘Hexham Courant’ regarding the mill closure several people have expressed interest in further information on the history of the mill, so I have expended the details given in that letter.

The very origins of the name of Wylam itself may relate to the presence of a water mill. The Oxford Dictionary of Place Names defines ‘Wylam’ as being derived from the old English ‘Wil’ meaning a trick or contrivance indicating the existence of something mechanical such as a watermill or fish trap. Wylam = ‘the village with a wile’.

From the 11th or early 12th century Wylam belonged to the Priors of Tynemouth and there are various references to the mill in the records of the Priory.

As well as paying rents the villagers had various duties and responsibilities to the Prior and amongst the entries for 1295 are the following, ‘Robert Long holds 8 acres, rent 3s. He shall reap in the Autumn as much as shall be necessary for the Prior’s food once a day. He shall hoe once in the Summer. He shall make hay. He shall do days work at the mill when necessary.’

‘Dolfin pays for his house 12d yearly and 5 work days in Autumn. He shall make the hay and shall be with his neighbours at the mill for one work day’.

During this period the village suffered severely from Scottish raids but the Scots could not be blamed for the following problems of 1378;

‘The (water) mill is totally dry and built twice at great expense, and again the water is dry, nor till now has it been rebuilt, and it pays nothing. The coal mine is destroyed on account of the abundance of water…’ (lt seems the water was in the wrong place-in the mine instead of at the mill!)

Little is known about local mills or millers in the years following the Priors of Tynemouth ownership of the village until the mid l9th century, except for the names of two or three corn millers (e.g. W. Oliver 1762, George Tweddell 1832 and 1836, John Hall 1848). Whether these were millers at Wylam Mill or Bradley Mill is not definitely known.

At the 1851 census John Brown (44) was miller at Wylam Mill, with his wife Ann (32) a young son and three servants Edward Milburn, John Burn and Mary Ann Laws. Within a few months John Brown was dead. His widow, Ann, took over the running of the mill and in May 1859 she and Margaret Hunter, ‘spinster of Wylam’, leased the mill from E. A. Blackett for 21 years at £105 per year It was described then as a water corn mill with three pairs of grindstones.

Mill owner, Edward Young (in overcoat) with his employees outside Wylam Mill in about 1903. A fine photograph kindly lent by Mr. Harry Shipley

Part of the water necessary to drive the mill came from the Oakwood Burn but the lessee of Wylam Colliery was also required to conduct the water pumped out of the pit to the mill. The mill tenant was allowed whatever coal he required for the mill and house, at no cost, and he was also entitled to cross Wylam Bridge free.

Ann Brown died in 1865 at the age of 46 and Edward Milburn subsequently leased the mill from Blackett in 1871.

One condition was that he must convert it from a water mill to a steam driven mill within one year. It was presumably then that the chimney was built. This served as a local landmark but was demolished after the fire of 1931.

The mill clearly prospered, and when lngham Row was built in 1891, many of the new houses were occupied by mill employees. In 1889 the whole of the mill was reroofed at a cost of £37.10.0.-how prices have changed!

Milburn’s nephew Edward Young took over the business at the turn of the century. He leased the mill together with the separate stable block (now used by Alan Conley’s garage) for an initial rent of £85 per year, the same as his uncle had paid thirty years earlier (inflation was scarcely a problem then).

Young had plans for a new house (where Dr. and Mrs. Spriggs now live) approved in July 1901, with additional plans for a coach-house and stable the following year. The old mill house stood facing east and next to No. 1 Tyne View, (the houses in Tyne View were built in 1888). It was later used as offices for the mill.

‘Ned’ Young was one of the early Institute trustees, and is remembered today by several of our older residents.  C. Dyke and Son, a well known firm of millers and grocers with premises in Horsley and Throckley, acquired the business in the early 1920’s and it was during their ownership, on the night of August 9th 1931 that the mill was totally destroyed in a spectacular fire, still recalled by those who lived in the vicinity of the mill.

The mill manager at that time was Edward Weightman. His nephew, Harry Shipley, who now lives at Horsley lent us the fine photograph of Edward Young and his employees outside the old mill, as well as several other interesting early photos of Wylam.

Dykes rebuilt the mill after the fire and continued to use it for milling until the death of Mr. Dyke in 1948. For two years the premises were used by Messrs. Rodford and Peel as a bottling factory

but after they went into liquidation in 1950, it was purchased by a former Wylam resident, Mr. J. M. Wallace. It was at that time that the bakery was established under Mr. Limer. Laws acquired the business in 1953.

At the time of going to press the main mill building and the former stable block are being offered for sale at £60,000 (how much would they cost to build now?) and their future is still uncertain.

As far as we know. no relics of the days when the building was actually used for milling survive, but Mr. Limer has kindly donated a small selection of items used by the bakery, which will be preserved as a reminder of part of the village’s history.