The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership column with Iain Mann

Wath Mills incredible milling machinery will soon be on show. Photo courtesy of John Wallis.
Wath Mills incredible milling machinery will soon be on show. Photo courtesy of John Wallis.

Yorkshire was once dotted with dozens of water mills. A beautifully preserved example will open its doors to the public in an Upper Nidderdale village on Saturday 9 September – providing an unmissable chance to see inside.

Wath Mill is tucked away between the Sportsman’s Arms and the hillside cottages behind. It’s a handsome two-storey building with a steep stone-slate roof, a ridge-top cupola and a bell cote, but it’s what’s inside that is truly arresting.

The machinery that harnessed the energy of Dauber Gill Beck and used it to grind countless tons of corn is more or less intact. Huge cogs, still since the 1930s, stand cobwebbed but undiminished.

Early next month, the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership will be helping to introduce Wath Mill to the public.

After the Landscape Partnership got underway in 2014, we made Wath Mill one of our Flagship Heritage Sites and began working with the owners to save the building for future generations and make its story heard.

And what a story it is. There’s been a mill on this site since the 16th Century.

A document from 1527 records an agreement between Fountains Abbey and a miller called Miles Smith to establish a cornmill at Wath.

The business passed through various hands for the next two hundred years.

When the industrial revolution reached full stride in the late 18th Century, Wath Mill, like a number of other cornmills in Nidderdale, was adapted to the manufacture of linen.

It reverted to corn in Victorian times.

The mill burned down in 1878 and was rebuilt in its present form in 1880. It ground on until about 1936 when it closed for good.

Aside from a brief afterlife during the Second World War, when it was requisitioned as a workshop for farm machinery, it has languished in retirement ever since – until now.

Rob Light, the Landscape Partnership’s Historic Nidderdale Project Officer, remembers the first time he went into the building.

He said: “You go inside and you just think, wow. It’s a real hidden gem. It seems amazing to find something like it in a quiet village in Nidderdale. Not many people know it’s there.

“The building has huge timber joists which were imported from the Baltic.

“Despite their great size, damp had got into them and that and the colossal weight of the millstones meant the floor was in danger of collapsing so it was imperative to get it fixed.”

The contractors were given a detailed brief to restore the building and some of the milling machinery, using only traditional methods and materials so that the end result is as close to authentic as possible.

The open days are also an opportunity for historic mill enthusiasts to view one of Wath Mill’s more unusual features: a rare graduated rolling machine still in situ.

For others of a less technical inclination, a visit to the mill will be a chance to experience the sights and smells of a vanished way of life.

As Rob Light points out, the long history of milling in Nidderdale is only just passing out of living memory.

We hope you can join us at Wath Mill on Saturday 9 September.

Keep an eye on our website for further details about the open days – there’s more information about the mill as well as about our other Flagship Heritage Sites.