Reeth – NY 975005

Until 1975, when a second mill was recognised, it was thought that only one mill stood on this site. This is reflected in Bernard Jennings thesis which records that Pomfret and Denys’ new mill had four ore-hearths standing in line. He was clearly referring to the later Old Gang mill. In 1975, however, Dr Raistrick pointed out that an earlier mill had been incorporated into the flues of the later mill.

Nevertheless, despite this great advance in our understanding of the site, its chronology is still very confused. For example, Jennings, who only ever refers to one mill, wrote that it was in partial operation before 1801. Clough, again only referring to one mill, stated 1790, whilst Dr Raistrick dated the oldest mill to around 1770, and had the later one built “by 1805”.

The AD accounts for this period are not particularly clear, and often lump all the smelting capacity together as the AD mills. They do, however, refer to smelting at the New mill in December 1801. For example, in the following year:-

MILL Pcs Fthr Cwt Qr Lbs Smelting
New Mill 6600 416 20 2 21 January to March
Old Mills 5000 316 19 0 7 January to June
11600 = 807.19 tons

The Old mills included the: Old, Middle, Tail and West mills, but their locations are only surmise. For example, if Old and Tail were at Surrender, the Middle was the former High mill, and the West mill was probably Lownathwaite. The New mill was at Old Gang. By September 1806, the AD Company wished to engage all the old mills, which had 4 hearths and a calcining oven.

The propensity to name everything AD is another source of confusion, and a brief explanation is necessary. The above AD Company worked the Surrender mine from 1792, and was comprised of William Chaytor and his son; John Breare; and the lessors (Pomfret and Denys), who had a quarter share. Pomfret and Denys’ mills are called the AD mills throughout, and from 1873 to 1887 there was the AD Lead Mining Company Ltd, in which Sir George Denys had a share. There was also the Arkindale and Derwent Company which is sometimes called AD, but had no connection with the Swaledale mines. Instead, this worked in Arkengarthdale from 1812 to 1817.

By 1800, Chaytor’s Surender mine was prospering, and Pomfret and Denys were seeking to let more of their mines on lease. Apart from the Lownathwaite mill, however, all the AD mills dated from the seventeenth century and were becoming outdated. A new, more efficient, mill was needed to give extra capacity and to smelt ore from their other mines. This was the New mill, which started smelting in late 1801.

Examination of the site tells us much about this mill. For example, instead of building it on the ample space where the later Old Gang mill stands, it was cut into the hillside to accommodate a short flue which left the mill at roof height. The weight of the flue was supported on retaining walls and an arch. This innovatory arrangement was copied at many later mills. The flue, which probably ran to a chimney on the top of the ridge overlooking the mill, was not the first in Yorkshire, but it was the second. There was a shorter one at Grassington cupola from the 1790’s. Moreover, when the Octagon mill, in Arkengarthdale, began smelting in the spring of 1804, its hearths were served by a much longer flue. Developments at the Arkengarthdale mines probably forced the pace at the New mill, where the flue was extended by 100 metres in 1805; 55 metres in 1806; and 550 metres around 1829. This took it to the site of the present chimney on Healaugh Crag.

There is nothing in the accounts which indicates precisely when the New mill was replaced by the Old Gang mill, but it is possible to make a reasoned guess.

David Cranstone, who made an archæological examination of the two mills for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, made some useful comments on site details in the NMRS Newsletter which may be summarised as follows.

Structural evidence showed that the flue and its arch were an addition and the New Mill had “vented directly by a central chimney over the hearths” when working. The coving over the ore-hearths was, therefore, not original and was contemporary with the flues from the Old Gang Mill. The latter flues did not “unite”, but converged, remaining:

“separate as a “double-decker” structure of two pairs of superimposed flues, the lower pair passing through the site of the southern hearth to rise up over the site of the northern hearth”.

Cranstone also questioned whether the New Mill was really the Old Gang smelt mill, which I had dated to 1846. Apart from a record that the first lead from the New Mill was smelted at the end January 1797 and not late 1801, however, nothing has been found to change my broad interpretation of the two mills.16 It has been possible to discount the Old Gang Mill’s having been built before September 1806, when the mineral lords had a total of eight hearths. At that time, the Surrender partners wished to engage all the old mills (Surrender Low and New, and the High), which had four hearths and a calcining oven between them. This, and the subsequent grant of the three hearths at Surrender, gives us a clue as to their disposition.

For example, we can see that the New Mill, at Old Gang, had two hearths, and are told that the Low and New mills, at Surrender, had three. It follows, therefore, that the High and Lownathwaite mills had three between them, of which the former most probably had one (making the four hearths asked for in 1806). In the absence of evidence to the contrary, therefore, the following disposition is proposed:-

Lownathwaite 2
New(at Old Gang) 2
High (Raygill) 1
New(Surrender) 1
Low (Surrender) 2

If, as Cranstone suggests, the Old Gang Mill’s four hearths were available in 1806, the above model simply would not work. Moreover, while the New Mill may have been built without a flue, or with a butt-jointed arch carrying a flue onto the hillside, a flue was, nevertheless, extended by 100 metres in 1805, by 55 metres in 1806, and by 550 metres around 1829 – all long before the Old Gang Mill was built.

Further information and references can be found in:

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