Up the Blaydon Burn

Massey’s forge dam (c) Duncan Hutt

For a small insignificant tributary of the Tyne The Blaydon Burn has an amazing industrial past.  The wildlife may have returned to this valley but hidden amongst the trees are a multitude of remains of mills, mining, bricks, coke, and even benzol (petrol made from coal).  A guided walk of the Burn by Sue Lynn was given to Mills Group members prior to the 2012 AGM.

Hobby’s Mill pond (c) Duncan Hutt

Group members learning about Blaydon Burn industry (c) Duncan Hutt

We were shown the sites of 8 former water mills over a length of about 1½miles.  Many of these were later subsumed into other industries but some survived through a multitude of uses.  Today very little remains apart from a few dams and weirs and small relics of old mill walls.  Many started life as corn mills but also ground flint, crushed and mixed clay and operated forges.  This valley must have started off as a busy but rural place with corn mills dotted down its length but this changed significantly in the 19th century to become a valley of heavy industry, with a railway linking the drift mines to the brickworks, huge cokeworks and the range of ancillary industries.

The Blaydon Burn walk was followed by lunch and the AGM at Path Head Mill.

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Dukesfield and Dilston

Dukesfield Smelt Mill arches (c) Duncan Hutt

Yesterday’s NEMG meeting took us to Dukesfield Smelt Mill in the morning and down to Dilston Mill after a lunch at Dukesfield Hall.  The Smelt mill is a bit of a confusing site with two impressive arches and little else particularly obvious.  The arches were to carry the flues from the smelter up to chimneys beyond and have nothing to do with the use of water power on the site.  For that a bit more investigation is needed which reveals the line of the old mill-race, and about half a mile up the main Devil’s Water the traces of a weir.  There was an older weir too but this was obliterated by the unseasonably high water.  There is a Heritage Lottery Fund bid in to undertake consolidation work on the site and provide interpretation for those walking past but that is something for the future.

The newer dam for the smelt mill (c) Duncan Hutt

NEMG members at Dukesfield (c) Duncan Hutt

Dilston Mill and tailrace (c) Duncan Hutt

After lunch we dropped down the Devil’s Water to Dilston Mill.  This is now a house but the wheelpits of the two water wheels still remain with scratches on one showing the size of the overshot wheel.  Originally the water, when not needed by the corn mill, could continue on a wooden aqueduct across the river to a farm mill on the opposite bank, thus the same water could have been used to power one of three wheels.  The water supply upstream is also traceable as far as the 1808 weir but we didn’t get that far yesterday.

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Heatherslaw Mill Visit

The Stone Floor of the working mill

Yesterday some NEMG members attended a visit to Heatherslaw Mill in North Northumberland.  It was an interesting visit including not just an opportunity to look around the mill but also the chance to learn a bit more about the running of the mill and, in particular, the operation of the charitable trust.  It was a fascinating insight into more than just the flour milling side of the ‘business’.

Group members learn more about the mill

Heatherslaw Mill is essentially two mills in one building, one works producing flour, which is for sale, the other is static and thus very valuable to be able get close to the machinery and understand a bit more about it.  There was plenty of water available yesterday, April’s rain has made a big change on the March levels of the river.

Knitted breakfast

The top floor of the mill contains areas of displays including life in Victorian times and information and artefacts from the Second World War period and its local effects.  The Home Guard here was far from the ‘Dad’s Army’ type setup and more a resistance movement in the making.  The great thing about the ‘museum’ area is that much of it can be touched and indeed played with, something that helps provide more entertainment for families with younger children.  Even the knitted fried breakfast is there to play with and has to be re-found having been scattered around the area most evenings.

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Mills under the Cathedral

The Mills from the cathedral tower

There is a lot of river in Durham as it twists through the city.  High above the river are the Castle and Cathedral.  Even on a gloomy day the view from the top of the Cathedral is impressive.  Look down to the river below and you can see a weir with a mill at each end;  this weir has been there since at least the 12th century.  On the near bank is the Old Fulling Mill, now an archaeology museum.  The fulling mill was for the carding and cleaning of woollen cloth and was in operation until 1833.  There is currently an exhibition of felting upstairs in the museum.

The tailrace of the Old Fulling Mill

Mills and weir below the Cathedral

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Bamburgh and Spindlestone Windmills

Spindlestone Ducket, almost certainly an old farm windmill

The windmill at Spindlestone is a controversial one.  The sign at the entrance to the recently converted holiday cottage in the stone tower discounts this option for the building but perhaps misses the point that this was probably just a farm windmill in the former Outchester Farm.  It may not have lasted long but the building design is unlikely to have been anything else and it probably only housed a few bits of farm machinery.  Most local farms had a water wheel but a few opted for a windmill instead.

Bamburgh Windmill

A few miles down the road is Bamburgh, famous for Grace Darling and its castle.  At the northern end of the castle is the old windmill tower.  There was a way up the crag at this end of the outcrop of whin sill allowing access for the miller and his customers without having to go via the main castle entrance.  There is a small interpretation panel below the mill which has a 19th century picture of the four sailed windmill when it was working.

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Rothley Mill

The remains of Rothley Mill

Possibly the kiln at Rothley Mill

Rothley Mill may well remain as a name on maps but on the ground it is a different matter.  The mill was situated about half a mile east of the village of Scot’s Gap in Northumberland down by a ford on the Hart Burn.  Today there is a little group of houses going by the name of Rothley Mill but the mill itself is harder to find.  A terrace above the river gives a hint of the location of the old mill-race and some ruined walls remain. The mill itself was on the upstream side of the track and there was a small building that may have housed a kiln across the road.  This smaller building has more remaining but is still just a ruin.

The 1865 Ordnance Survey map of the area shows the mill buildings and marks it as a corn mill, with a mill-race taken from the river about 400m upstream.  By 1897 the mill buildings have gone, all except the little building across the track.

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2011 AGM, talk and visit

Path Head Watermill

Windpump remains on Salt Cay

The annual general meeting of the group was held today at Path Head Watermill in Blaydon.  There was a reasonable turn out to hear the chairman, Duncan Hutt, talk about the wind powered pumps used in the salt industry of the Turks and Caicos Islands.  It was a little outside the usual scope of the organisation but we were reminded that salt was once an industry of the region though not, to our knowledge, using wind or water power.

Members are shown around the mill grounds

The AGM followed and while the problems of producing newsletters and the magazine were recognised the membership was generally happy that the group was able to do what it manages to do while being entirely run by volunteers.

Those attending were given the opportunity to have a guided tour of Path Head Mill; a wonderful spot, particularly in the beautiful autumn sunshine.

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