ESKDALE MILL

In the heart of the Lake District

History

It is not known when milling began at this place but it may be as long as 3000 years ago when the forests were cleared and cereal crops were first grown. The mills recorded history starts in 1294 with an entry in estate records "...all the mill of Easkdale which renders 19s 6d yearly". The mill stones found around the site and even laid in the floor of the mill are estimated to represent at least 700 years worth of milling. The internal workings of Eskdale mill follow the Roman design described by Vitruvius in 79 BC and found in mills of that period operated along Hadrians Wall.

The central structure of the present mill is thought to date back to around 1547 when the tennet was Robert Vycars, at that time wool was also processed at the mill. Most of the Eskdale tenant farmers would be obliged to take there grain for milling at the mill, and it is recorded that the miller took one sixteenth of the grain as payment.

Edward Hartley ~ yeoman ~ purchased the mill in 1737, and within 3 years had installed a second waterwheel to drive a set of German millstones - Cologne or Cullin stones - still to be stepped on as you leave the lower door. The installation of these stones shows wheat was then being grown in the valley and the miller had to improve milling techniques to produce a finer quality flour. However the main cereal crops here continued to be oats with barley.
Each farmer would send enough grain to be ground so the womenfolk could have a baking session to feed the family and farm workers for up to two months. The local names for this un leavened oat cake were 'Haverbread', from a Viking word. or Clap bread. Ground oats were also used in other dishes of the region like the porridge 'Poddish' and 'Chowdy' - a meaty soup. 17th century West Cumberland estate accounts show three times the acreage put to oats as to barley, while wheat bread was still considered a 'Sunday treat' within the living memory of the valley.

18/19th Century

The Mill's busiest period was over the next 150 years and within the present buildings is much evidence of this prosperity. In 1752 Edward Hartley died and the Mill passed to his brother Henry. who in 1756 was granted permission by the Manor to take four small oak trees 'for Bilding a dweling How, and a Steeble at Mill.' Sold to John Tyson in 1772. the Mill was in continual use. as people largely ate what farmers could grow close by and the cereals processed by these millstones.

The Mill now stands much as it did when peace followed the Napoleonic War. 1818 saw the installation of 7ft diameter cast iron internal gear wheels. replacing wooden gears apart from the applewood gear teeth. The German stones were replaced by French burrs, probably during this modification. The lower waterwheel's cast iron shroud plates, the spokes being part of the cast, will also date from that time, although the corresponding plates in the upper wheel are considerably earlier.
The drying kiln was refurbished in 1819, cast iron tiles replacing the old clay ones. However the bearings used within the mill were still made of stone - volcanic Andesite Porphyry.

In the late 1830s the mill was leased to John Hartley, son of the yeoman farmer at nearby Bridge End Farm. The mill account book for 1842 still survives, giving a detailed insight into the daily dealings of a busy concern.
John had married and moved into the mill cottage by 1851 and purchased both mill and cottage in 1867. The Hartleys had two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth. By 1880 John could no longer manage the mill on his own and took on a young Edward Bibby, the son of the miller at Muncaster, as an assistant. In 1885 'Ned' Bibby married Jane Hartley and by this time was the miller. Hard times were just around the corner as huge steel roller mills were already being built. often in the larger ports as much grain was now being imported. Railways and steam ships transformed the world, making it cheaper to carry goods across countries and oceans. right up to Boot itself after the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway opened in 1875. By the early 1905 Ned was feeling the effect of this; the need to replace the worn French stones was beyond his meagre resources and the waterwheels fell into disrepair.

More recent times

The First World War saw an upturn in trade as grain imports suffered and the valley once again relied on the mill for flour and for animal feed. as rationing was in operation Ned was milling on the quiet.
by the 1920's however he was reduced to milling animal feed and soon the farmers were installing their own small roller mills.
Eskdale mill finally ground to a halt in the 1930's while Ned Bibby died in 1937 age 78.

Ned's daughter Hannah Dawson installed a small generator for electricity powered by the mill wheel then closed the doors to the mill leaving everything intact. This act of modernisation probably helped preserve the mill as a piece of working history. After Hannah died in 1971 the Mill was bought by the County Council, conserved and opened to the public in 1976.
30 years later it has passed into the custody of a registered charity- The Eskdale Mill and Heritage Trust - dedicated to its continued operation.