Keeping the mills of old Lancashire turning

Watermill Freckleton
Watermill Freckleton

Author Allen Clarke famously described the Fylde as “Windmill Land,” and waxed lyrical on the “two or three dozen” once working in the area.

In 1916, when he wrote his book of that name, he could still name 10 working mills, at Staining, Little Marton, Thornton, Singleton, 
Weeton, Lytham, Treales, Clifton, Pilling and Preesall, and was often moved to verse:

King's Corn Mill, Burnley. Copyright: Red Rose Collection

King's Corn Mill, Burnley. Copyright: Red Rose Collection

O, the Fylde’s a bonny country, of flowery lane and lea,

With mountains on the morning side, and on the west, the sea;

And a shining river winding through the Windmill Land between –

Farms, orchards, cornfields, villages, and woodland sweet and green.

Water-Powered Corn Mill, Duxbury, Chorley Copyright: Red Rose Collection

Water-Powered Corn Mill, Duxbury, Chorley Copyright: Red Rose Collection

Clarke does mention a water-driven corn mill, the one at Freckleton, describing it rather unromantically as a “square, brick building” with a bricked-in wheel.

So in Clarke’s eyes, water mills are the ugly sisters of the windmill’s Cinderella. To be fair to him, he did write a pamphlet, “The Water Mills of the Fylde,” in the same year as “Windmill Land”, but the very landscape shows windmills can be lovingly preserved, while water mills were allowed to fall into 
dilapidation. There were 
water mills north of Preston at Myerscough, Goosnargh and Barton, and Woodplumpton was greedy, there were two mills there, one at Hollowforth and one in the village close to the site of the old Woodplumpton Hall.

Both are now nothing but ruins, but both have stories to tell. Both were small, powered by a stream flowing under the mill wheel rather than over, and for both the mill race was a tributary of a larger brook and the water was controlled by sluice gates rather than a mill pond. There are records of a mill at Hollowforth going back to the late 13th century, and Richard Cookson in “Goosnargh Past and Present,” published in 1888, found a William de Hollande, who “held a messuage, lands, and a watermill in Newsom, in Amounderness” in 1324, and noted the mill at the time he was writing had an inscription: I.W. JOHN WARREN. E.W. ELIZABETH WARREN. 1702.

Thomas Tyldesley, early 18th century diarist, sportsman, landowner, bon vivant, valetudinarian, gout sufferer and eccentric speller, may be referring to Hollowforth Mill in the following extract from his diary. Certainly the Reverend George Jackson, historian of the village, thought so, as he included it in one of his books:

Hollowforth Mill foundations uncovered by Wyre Archaeology near Woodplumpton

Hollowforth Mill foundations uncovered by Wyre Archaeology near Woodplumpton

August 28 – Went an otter hunting; killed an otter, near New Mill which Cuddy Threlfall and I dressed; wee were a great many good company – Cuddy Threlfall, off Barton, Tho. Barton and all the nigbrwhood, and wee eatte the whole otter; I paid pro Wilding, Cuddy Threlfall, and selfe, 8s.; soe to bed; we dranke the house drye.

In 1768, during the anti-Jacobite and “No-Popery” riots in Preston, a mob destroyed St Mary’s Chapel in Friargate, then set off into the country on a rampage, burning the chapel at Cottam and heading off to Newhouse Chapel in what is now Station Lane.

Before they reached their target they were met by a man named Hankinson at Hollowforth Mill, who gave them food and drink (“bread, cheese and ale”), and persuaded them to leave the chapel alone, and they thankfully filed quietly back to Preston.

Though Hollowforth mill was physically quite small, the estate maps for the Warren family, on whose land both mills stood, show its 
significant influence through the surrounding field names: Mill Hill, Mill Bank, Dam Head Meadow, Kiln Field and Kiln Croft.

Water Mill, Freckleton. Copyright: Red Rose Collection

Water Mill, Freckleton. Copyright: Red Rose Collection

There is also in the Lancashire Archives a map of the canal from around the 1820s which seems to have been used as a working document and which notes the agreements the canal company made with the local landowners.

The mill is seen as a rectangular structure hunkering over the mill race like a prospector panning for gold. The mill race was created 
deliberately by diverting part of Barton Brook. Nearby is the mill cottage, and possibly a stable block.

Sale details provide further clues as to what was in the mill. It was up for sale in 1859 and listed as containing grinding stones, “going machinery,” stables and drying kilns. It was tenanted by the Helm family, who pendulumed between the two mills of Woodplumpton over the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The drying kilns were to dry the corn before grinding, and had featured in the news earlier, in 1845, when a cow had wandered in and “being a large cow, and fat,” had fallen through the floor into a place called the “Hell Hole.”

Part of the kiln wall had to be knocked down to release the animal, and it was considered rather lucky, as had the kiln been in use the poor beast would have been roasted alive.

The last person to run the mill was John Rigby, who was declared bankrupt on September 28, 1898, and though he continued to live at the mill into his 80s, the mill itself gradually fell into disrepair, finally collapsing, possibly in May 1920, when there was a major flood in the area.

Warton Peg Mill

Warton Peg Mill

Recently, amateur 
archaeologists from a group called Wyre Archaeology have excavated the site, but it has been difficult to gather hard evidence as material has been used and reused as the building was revised and repaired over the years. Their website is well worth a look, though.

Wyre Archaeology has a number of ongoing projects and are always on the look-out for volunteers to join them: you don’t need to be an expert, just someone with an interest in the past of our region.

They can be contacted through their website: www.wyrearchaeology.org.uk

l Next week we will have a look at Woodplumpton’s other water mill, long known as The Bone Mill. Thanks to Lancashire Archives, 
Chester Archives and Wyre Archaeology.

Artist's impression of Hollowforth Mill, in Woodplumpton

Artist's impression of Hollowforth Mill, in Woodplumpton