The north of England, windier, wetter and hillier than the south, is ideal mill country.
Today the Lake District and much of Cumbria is associated with Romantic poets and tourism, but, in the 18th century it was a largely industrial landscape, with watermills playing a major role in the development of bobbin making, snuff production, saw-milling, gunpowder manufacturing, as well as oatmeal and flour milling.
Over the Pennines, Northumberland’s agricultural economy was given a huge boost when many of its large farms (effectively small villages) installed their own mills, saving on transport and supporting a much larger population of people and animals.
Watermills enabled Yorkshire and Lancashire to flex their industrial muscle and to lead the country in the field of textile production. All northern cities depended on their watermills and windmills for flour. Sadly few remain, more vulnerable to destruction by the elements, less easily adaptable, and put out of business by new-fangled steam driven roller mills.
Today a handful of Guild Mills give a glimpse into times past, as well as showing how our milling heritage can contribute to sustainable, low carbon food processing in a time of climate change. Click on the following links to take you to Little Salkeld Watermill, in Cumbria’s Eden Valley; Hetherslaw Watermill, on the Ford and Etal Estate in the north of Northumberland; Worsborough Watermill, near Barnsley in Yorkshire; and Holgate Windmill, on the edge of York.