Horton in Ribblesdale Water Mills

Horton mill

A water mill in Horton in Ribblesdale

The practice of harnessing water to drive water wheels has been in use in Upper Ribblesdale for over 1000 years. Recent field work and archive research by the writer has located quite a considerable number of these early sites and other later period sites. Sites that were not just used for corn milling, but fulling, iron forging, textile manufacture, timber cutting, slate quarrying and generating D.C. electricity.

In the higher reaches of the river Ribble, the first identifiable water powered site occurs at Horton in Ribblesdale where there was a manorial corn mill of ancient date. However, there is also a local tradition of an as yet unprovenanced mill site further upstream – reputedly at or near Selside, Gearstones or Thorns Gill!

The Horton manorial corn mill site is identified by place name, early maps, the surviving archaeological remains of the building, water supply and archive photographs.

The earliest document is a grant of 1150 Roger de Mowbray gave William the right to the mills in his lands of Lonsdale, Kendal and Horton in Ribblesdale.

In 1394 John de Pudsay was appointed by the monks of Jervaulx to farm the manor of Horton, paying £20 a year for the first 5 years and after that £23 a year; the deed makes clear that John is being appointed as successor to his father Henry, and lays down conditions that include keeping the tenants’ houses in repair, and building two mills, one for corn and one for fulling. The miller in Henry’s time was called John, recorded as deceased in the Poll Tax of 1379 – and his widow Matilda paid the tax of 4d.

Neither of these early sites have been positively identified but two watermill symbols appear on Jeffrey’s map of 1771, near to the present road bridge by the Crown Hotel (but Jeffreys’s map is often wrong in his placing of roadside features etc). The general opinion is that one, if not both, of these sites would be powered from Brants Gill Beck and built in the croft below Mill Dam, at SD 810 726 where the last known water wheel was set up to power a local electricity generator, and later a saw mill was in operation.

A document of 1569 describes ‘the Manor of Horton in Rybbelsdale with 50 messuages, 60 cottages and a mill with lands in the same… belonging to Matthew Earl of Lennox.’ At this time there is only the one mill mentioned, perhaps the fulling mill was now out of use. There is a mention of ‘Horton’ mill in the will of Richard Sommerscales, c1619 – he states his right to title, ‘ I am possessed of one water corn mill called Horton mill for the term of 50 and 2 years..’(ref Borthwick Wills Vol.34 fol.172). Later in 1690 Horton water‑corn mill was owned one‑third by John Tunstall and two‑thirds by John Armistead, who were charged with not paying 46s tithe on corn ground during the previous year.

In 1693 William Howson of ‘New Inne’, in consideration of 5/- paid to Ellin Clarke of Horton, assigns to her all right he has to ye said Kill of Horton agreement of owners of said kill: The reference to the ‘kill’ is to the corn-drying or malting kiln attached or nearby to the corn mill.

All this is sound evidence that a corn mill does appear to have been working right through from the 12th century until the late 18th c. when a miller was again recorded in the mid 18th c. The place name of part of the works is recorded in the late 18th c as a farm or house at ‘Mill Dam’ – a name that survives today.

Like the fulling mill the corn mill must have gone out of use and the mill site remained derelict until it was converted to another use, probably a saw mill, in the early 20th c.

The ancient and the modern mill sites in Horton were not run off the main river Ribble but powered by water taken off Brants Gill beck using a weir, headrace and a small holding dam. There are few remains to be seen of any ancient building works upstream on this long used site, but one account suggests that one of the older mill buildings was further up the water supply system than the last one to be used. It was probably built at the end of an old culverted headrace channel which was later renovated and extended to bring water down to the roadside site. (map**)

In the 20th.c the old dam and water system was repaired, extended, brought back into use and a water wheel installed. This was a redundant wheel brought onto the site from Sunny Bank Slate Quarry, Helwith Bridge by Jim Ward in 1935. He dismantled this old wheel, repaired it and converted it to an overshot system; he also renovated the old water supply system to fit it. This was before mains electricity was available in the village and the ‘newly installed’ wheel was used to run a generator producing power for Ward’s own house and the village and also recharging accumulators, with a local delivery service later provided by the Davidson’s.

Arch and Site Notes
SD 810 726
Dates; (Corn 1150 to 1693, 1935-1960s generating electricity; 1960s to recent sawmill.)
Archaeology on site: Slight remains of headrace, possible early foundations under present sawmill building.
Owners. L of M, Jim Ward
Rather faded, but very important, photographs of the undershot wheel in situ and the internal working area survive, and a later sketch.  This wheel was about 18ft dia and about six feet wide, undershot and constructed of cast iron spindles, rims and bearing housing. The bearings were bronze and it had 5ft. wooden paddles. This was the wheel Jim Ward took up to Horton Mill. (see above). Within the remains can be seen part of the rack and pinion drive from the water wheel to the saw benches above, where saw cut marks still survive where the benches were fitted. The culvert bringing the water onto the water wheel is still intact as is part of the head race, but nothing can be seen of the connection trough up to the point where the water was taken off the River Ribble by a weir, that is now just a relict feature.
Useful references from the Court Rolls and other legal documents;

1569-70 John Lennard Esq, Ralph Scrope Esq, Ralph Rokebie gent, gent, Sampson Lennard GENT William Forest, Robert Clough and Henry Dixon (Plaintiffs) Matthew Earl of Lynox and Dame Margaret his wife (Deforciants) Manor of Horton Rybbelsdale, 50 messuages, 60 cottages and a Mill with lands in the same.

1598 Ralph Bosvile jun Esq (P)
Samuel Lennard Esq and Margaret his wife, Henry Lennard Kt (Def) Manor of Horton in Ribblesdale and 50 Messuages 60 cottages and two mills with lands there; also a moiety of Nether Calcotts with lands in Calcotts and Ingleton.

1613 Richard Ridley gent and John Theobald Esq (Q) Ralph Bosvile Kt (Def), Manor of Horton with 50 mess, 60 cott, watermill, lands and rents in Horton

1619. Will of Richard Sommerscales of Horton.

1675 John Armitstead of Horton in R, yeoman a third part of Horton Mill being a water corne mill a third part of the millhouse and appurtenances.

1691 May 1. John Armitstead the elder John Armitstead his son, of Horton in R younger to pay £100 to elder for: all that dwelling house etc where elder now dwells closes at Outerber, Nether Close, Crookes a close being on Outbers meadow called Longlands Isleland or parcel of ground called Cragghill Holme Ings Close, Murray all other messuages etc Watermill, Mill Hill, gryst rights etc appurtenant rights.

1691 release of all claim in Horton Mill by Sir Thomas Grymes Bart of Awstwyk to William Tatham of Ireby, Lancs.
1693 William Tatham of Ireby Hall, Thornton-in-Lonsdale Co. Lancs has paid to John Armitstead the younger of Horton £100 for a house, mill etc.

1693 William Howson of New Inne, in consideration of 5/- paid to Ellin Clarke of Horton, assigns to her all right he has to ye said Kill of Horton agreement of owners of said kill.

1694 1. John Armitstead of Ingman Lodge
2. Christopher Wetherhead of Ingman Lodge
lease for one year of the house where Jane mother of John Armitstead lives and Mill.

1694 1. John Armitstead of Ingman Lodge
2. Christopher Wetherhead of Ingman Lodge 2. pays £120 to 1. for Jane Armitstead’s house and water corne mill etc, with 3 beastgates.
2. William Foster of Milldam, blacksmith
1. pays 2. the sum of 5/- for
2 acres close called Creefes abutting on the Gray bridge on the north, and Horton Mill on the west.
I peppercorn rent at Easter if asked.

1698 Isabell Armitstead of Nuby, widow, Christopher Wetherherd of Ingman Lodge, to Alice Blackbeard of York City – one Horton Mill.
(Looks like a conventional agreement in the sum of 5/- paid by Blackbeard. Repeats in 1698, followed by a mortgage of the Mill to Alice Blackbeard.)

1699 Tempest Husband, John Armistead
‘all that third part in three equal parts to be divided’ of Horton Mill.


Comments about this page

  • I used to own Hannam cottage as Ian Fleming will remember me, Hannam cottage was named after a previous owner Mr & Mrs Hannam and is next to Gary’s Bridge the deeds go back a long way as the cottage is 16th centuries. It was once’s one cottage with what was a work shop nearest the river. During renovation work on what is now the kitchen, corn must have been stored or milled there, on removing the wall plaster corn was in between the stones in the walls. Somebody told me that it used to be a mill with water wheel. The building has since been extended on the Settle side this is visible from the rear outside wall and then split into two cottages. Hannam cottage lounge was formally two rooms with a small kitchen at the rear. The end near the beck was an outhouse/ formerly the mill. My guess any way hope this help.

    By John slater (18/10/2017)
  • Thanks John. This is most interesting and the first tangible evidence of the location of a corn mill at Horton.


    By Ian Fleming (19/10/2017)

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