Nearly every manor had its own corn mill and to the north-east of Blennerhasset, by the River Ellen one remains to this day. Dating from the 17th century (exact date unknown) this three storey, red sandstone building with kiln and mill house had a vertical 12 foot diameter low breast shot water wheel*. Known as a manorial or estate mill it has features of particular interest such as lay-shafts and a deeter (hand turned thrash mill). The style of build reveals the mills’ history, by having a distinct hipped roof with walls two foot three inches (69cm) thick (Davies-Shiel 1978).
A conservative estimate shows about 736 mill sites throughout the region or one every 3.2 sq.mile, many occupy the more fertile lowlands of Cumbria (Davies-Shiel 1969). From the 13th century record keeping became the norm, matters of ownership, tenure, function and repairs were documented in some cases. For example a pair of French Burrs (the grinding wheels) cost in 1793, £19.5s.6d (£19.27p) to replace, with the miller earning 9s (45p) per week, the mill boy receiving a whole 1s (5p) per week (Hughes 1978). Unfortunately many mills fell into poor condition and lost their internal and external mechanisms (English Heritage 2011).
Blennerhasset Mill suffered neglect and vandalism until the present owner Andy Curle purchased the property (1990) with a view to restoration, the mill has seen many owners and tenants over the years and records show various transactions. A solicitor’s record of 1756 contains a letter from Mrs Salkeld who purchased several properties in Blennerhasset with its mill, for a total price of £2100. (CRO Carlisle D HUD/9/5/29)
One document, a fire insurance certificate from 1885 states that the mill operated between the hours of 9pm and 5am! For the tendering process, suitable tenants offered £80 to £105 per annum for the privilege, but stated that the mill be “in full working order” before they took on the task. Incidentally the premium for the insurance was £13.17s.10d (£13.90p) per annum, but that included Blennerhasset Farm and several other properties within the Manor; the mill was covered for £300. The tenant had also to pay the Lord’s Rent and, although the reason is not fully stated, a Mrs Barnes in 1879 owed 2 years rent at 2/3d (12p) and the stewards comment was ‘Not Paid’, possibly the beginning of the end! (CRO Carlisle DLAW/2/14 & CRO Whitehaven DBM/24/28/44/2)
Landowner Mr Jennings c1843 mentioned in the investigation for the transfer of Manorial Rights in 1859, that “parts of Manor and parcels of land go back to 1693”. In another document the Corn Mill and two parcels of land were purchased direct from a Mr N J Charlton by John Fell prior to the sale of the Manor to George Dawson (pre- Sir W Lawson) and put the size of this land as 120 acres 1 rood and 2 perches. The extent these documents run to are often contradictory and vague as owners and tenants become blurred and obscure, also the handwriting leaves a lot to be desired!
However, the mill itself survives and although not yet operational, work is in progress, the dam and mill race have been dug out and restored. The mill has many features for those with an interest in engineering, archaeology, photography and alternative power. Thanks are due to Andy Curle for his co-operation and time spent in allowing access to his property.
N.B. This property is on Private Land and there is no public right of way.
Alexander, Magnus. (2011) Introductions to Heritage Assets: Mills. (English Heritage, London).
Bremner, Geoffrey. (2006) Two Centuries of a Cumberland Village: Blennerhasset. (Bookcase, Carlisle).
CRO: Cumbria Record Office (records as referenced)
Davies-Shiel, Michael. (1969) Industrial Archaeology of the Lake Counties. (David & Charles, Newton Abbot).
Davies-Shiel, Michael. (1978) Watermills of Cumbria. (Dalesman Books, Clapham).
Hughes, J. (1978) In:Transactions of Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society, LXXVIII.
www.hydrology.org.uk (accessed 28/04/2013)
* The water hits the breast shot waterwheel much higher than on the undershot wheel and is more efficient.
Further reading: You could do no better than read the Michael Davies-Shiel books listed.