Old drawing of the mill from 1947

History of Howsham Mill

The origin of the building which we see today dates back to around 1755 and is attributed to John Carr of York, more famous for designing Fairfax House in York and an extension to Castle Howard stables. In 1965, a Royal Commission for Historic Monuments inspector, James Williams, described the mill as ‘a building of the maximum historical interest as a very early example of Gothic Revival style’ and ‘of great architectural interest as it is a very rare example of the Gothic Revival style as applied to a functional building’.

Nathaniel Cholmley commissioned the building as an eye catcher or folly when he inherited Howsham Hall and estate. During his period of ownership he also opened up the parkland between the Hall and the mill and removed a row of cottages in Howsham Village to give better views from the Hall.

However, there was a mill on this site long before 1755. In 1086, the Domesday Survey shows a mill in Howsham. In 1121, the owner of the Manor of Howsham, Walter l’Espec, founded Kirkham Priory further upstream, giving the Priory the fishing rights on the river at Kirkham and Howsham and the tithes of Howsham Mill as well as many other assets. The ownership of the mill site as part of the Manor of Howsham was remarkably stable from then right through to 1948. It was only sold once in that time in 1572 when it was bought by Thomas Bamburgh from the 3rd Earl of Rutland, a descendant of Walter l’Espec. It was Bamburgh’s grandson who built Howsham Hall in 1610, possibly using stones from Kirkham Priory and thereby leading to a rumour of a curse that no son would inherit – and indeed the estate frequently passed down the female line through the Wentworths, Cholmleys, Hopkins Fanes, Grimes, Stricklands and Willoughbys.

The mill ceased operating only in 1947, by which time it was producing animal feed rather than flour, and the Hall was sold in 1948. The Hall was turned into a school which has since closed and the mill and its island passed through various hands, with the mill falling into disrepair until being rescued by the Renewable Heritage Trust and restored to the building seen today.

When in operation, the mill had two stories and a loft. The wheel was an undershot one, the same as today. The water wheel, its main axle and much of the other workings were made of iron. There were two pairs of millstones in operation and there may have been a third pair of stones. Some of the machinery and stones have survived and can be seen around the site. The iron machinery is thought to have replaced earlier wooden machinery in the mid-1800s.

Much is known about the millers from the mid-1700s onwards. Sometimes the miller was paid a salary (£20 a year in 1800) and at other times he rented the mill. The miller also earned two guineas a year from 1808 to 1854 for operating the lock to bypass the mill weir and the wooden swing bridge to allow carts onto the island. The mill site only became an island in 1721 when the Derwent Navigation was created to allow boats to pass up to Malton from the River Ouse. In the heyday of the navigation, before the York to Scarborough railway was built in 1845, about 20 boats a week would pass by the mill. The miller could also earn around £11 a year in the mid-1800s from the fish he caught in salmon and eel traps set into the weir.