Mill Dam, Mewith

Brian Smith

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 
Mill Dam is a small area (grid ref. 685675) within Mewith, and is approximately one and a half miles south east of Bentham, the nearest sizeable village. Mewith is a well spread out area on the south slope of the River Wenning, which runs roughly east to west. The Wenning rises on the high pastures of Clapham and Keasden and then gathers from the becks on the Mewith side which rise on Burnmoor, Mewith’s southerly boundary. Mewith’s widely spread dwellings and farms are accessed from Mewith Lane, which also runs east to west along the south side of the River Wenning.


In Peter Metcalfe’s The Placenames of North Craven the derivation of Mewith (Norse) is given as ME WITH Mjor (small) and Vithr (wood). Some evidence of the wooded areas remain mostly oak, beech, holly, hazel, etc, all trees which are associated with ancient woods, and remain clinging to the steeply sloping sides of the numerous becks which feed the Wenning River.

The Old Corn Mill

My purpose within this assessment is to locate the exact position of the old corn mill, whose feeder dam gave the area its name, and to try to find out when the mill was originally built. Working back from today, the only obvious remains are a small stone footbridge over Gill beck and the mill dam itself (this being a pear shaped structure mostly visible above ground level and partly lined with stone setts, with a stone culvert feeder at one end and a wood and metal sluice gate at the other). The dam, because of its dominant location visible on pasture land some quarter of a mile off Mewith Lane, would seem the reason for the name Mill Dam being given to the area. A building, not obviously tied to the mill at first glance is located to the side of the access track to the mill, this is the millers cottage, now named Millers Green, but shown on present day O.S. maps as Mill Dam Cottage. This is where I live. Millers Green cottage is now a much extended stone cottage, but was originally a small double-fronted three up and three down cottage. Mr Reg Harrison, who lived in the cottage from 1950 to 1980, said one ground floor room was used as an office for the mill and had a separate entrance door with stone steps up to and located on the beck gable front corner. There was possibly also a small single storey rear attached outhouse with coal cellar below. The cottage was probably built when the corn mill was renovated in about 1840-50 but does not appear on the 1850 O.S. map which was surveyed in 1847. Another reference to the corn mill’s existence is in a book entitled Industrial Architecture of the Lune Valley dated 1983, under Mewith Mill map ref. 683676, and reads “a water powered corn mill recorded on a map of Bentham by John Watson in 1839. Later destroyed by fire; only the millpond with a sluice and evidence of the headrace remain.” I have been unable at this time to trace John Watson’s map.

The Baynes

Other dwellings associated with the mill dam area are Mill Dam Farm East, presently owned by John Whitfield and Betty Lund and its attached cottage, Mill Dam cottage, all originally one dwelling and the main house of Mill Dam estate. Verbal evidence, yet to be confirmed by sight of written research by Edward Huddleston of Bath (late of Mewith), states that a member of the Baynes family, owners of the Manor of Mewith in the past, lived in Mill Dam. They were mainly associated with nearby Mewith Head, one of the finest and oldest houses within the area which has an early 1700s front facade and outbuildings. The original house probably dates back to the early 1300s, according to Mr Dobson, the present occupier. It was at that time possibly a monastery farm of some size, sheep being the main income. When View of ‘Millers Green’ Cottage - Old Mill Cottage is at the right hand end - from The Mill Dam Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the Manor of Mewith was given to Baynes, his standard bearer. It is shown in a survey of the 1680s, which can be found in the archives at Preston, that a member of the Baynes family lived in Mill Dam at that time, thereby indicating that the corn mill was in existence — confirmation of Edward Huddleston’s (late of Mewith) research. Mill Dam Farm West, now owned by Mr and Mrs T. Bentham, was by its appearance built mainly in the 1700s, and would seem to have no association with the corn mill.

Tracing the corn mill’s original actual position has been interesting, in so far as local knowledge has been very limited with numerous contradicting sites and theories by near neighbours. Therefore, using the mill dam’s location and its sluice outflow as a starting point, first indications were that the outflow followed a path to the southerly side of the small stone footbridge over Gill beck but no sign of a building at the beck side could be found. I then traced the likely path of the track from the Mill Cottage (Millers Green), down to an area on the north side of the small bridge where a flat area at the side of the beck showed signs of foundations of walls under the grass, this can be seen at drought times as pale in colour (fig 3) — the 1850s O.S. map also confirms this as the site of the mill.

The Watsons

Another source of information is the autobiography of John Cameron Watson One Man’s Furrow. He was married to a member of the Procter family who came to Mill Dam Farm East in 1813. These ancestors of John Cameron Watson had three sons, John, who later took over the farm at Mill Dam; Thomas, a mathematician; and James, who renovated the old corn mill and ran it as a business until it burned down in 1883. He then built a larger mill near the Railway Station in Bentham, and later purchased a mill in Liverpool where he manufactured cattle feed and breakfast cereal. He became wealthy and very well known in Liverpool. He married Annie Whinray and had five children (more about these later in association with my cottage Millers Green).

The Whinray Sisters and Kittie

John at 23 married another of the Whinray sisters, Catherine, but they had no children so they adopted her sister Alice’s youngest child, Kittie, when she was two. When Kittie was seventeen she fell in love with a local boy and they got engaged. This was a long engagement, some seven years, until in 1915 he became ill and died, so did her adopted mother Aunty Catherine. A few years later, her adopted father now 70 with whom she was still living, gave up farming and rented the farm to his cousin, Willie Whitfield. Mill Dam was split into two dwellings at this time, Uncle John and Kittie living in the smaller five roomed Mill Dam Cottage end. John Watson came into Kittie’s life when she was about 40 years of age, he quotes “whilst he was visiting Mill Dam at that time meeting Uncle James Procter of Liverpool and two of his married daughters, who were staying in their summer cottage (Millers Green).” He then refers to spending time the following year with Kittie at the cottage where he proposed marriage in, as he quotes “the thick walls of that cottage which was the Miller’s cottage in those far off days when Uncle James’ mill ground corn eighty yards away.” This positioning the mill yet again. Though not finding any more information about the mill, my deeds for Millers Green do confirm the close association of the Procters, that 27th Jan. 1891 — James Procter (the father of John, Thomas and James) willed the cottage to James his son (aged 35 at the time). 22nd Dec. 1895 — James Procter died. 30th Nov. 1935 — James Procter junior, aged 80, wills the cottage to his daughters Edith Isabel Dickinson and Hylda Mary Starkey in equal shares, but if neither are living in the cottage any other member of family can use for holidays. 4th May 1939 — James, aged 84, died.

Conclusion To Date

The original mill was built at some time unknown, but was in existence in the 1680s. By its location it would have been for local use only, the grinding of grain for subsistence farms for bread making and animal feed etc. Its later renovation in the 1840s shows that the area was still very backward, as there would still seem to be a call for local milling. Access to the mill was by a narrow track and final steep slope up and down from the mill itself, thereby indicating that only horses and small carts were able to gain access. It seems fortuitous that the mill should burn down in 1883 enabling the milling business to be relocated in a new premises adjacent to the railway in Bentham, thereby opening up great possibilities for the transporting in of raw materials to be processed and mixed for resale and distribution along substantially better roads and therefore enlarging the business. As the raw materials were increasingly imported from abroad, the business moved yet closer to the point of importation at Liverpool enabling the finished products to be distributed from that point by a much improved transport system and to a greater catchment area, rather than importing raw materials to Bentham then distributing to only a small catchment area. This one business alone shows the speed at which the country developed within the 1900s compared with the previous 500 years.

Further work yet to be carried out on this project will be the checking of Mr Edward Huddleston’s information; gaining sight of John Watson’s map, 1839, of approximately checking Jeffery’s map of 1772/75 and the excavation of the site of the mill to try and date the earlier construction by its foundations and possibly reveal any traces of machinery bases etc. But at this time more questions than answers seem to have arisen from this assessment. To be continued .......


One Man’s Furrow, by John Cameron Watson. Published by Hirst & Blackett. Printed in G.B. by Purnell & Sons Ltd, Paulton (Somerset) and London. Industrial Archaeology of Lune Valley, 1983. Published by Lancaster University. The Place Names of North Craven, 1985. Peter Metcalfe.

Brian Smith wrote this text as his project for the Local History, Open College North West, Stage A assignment and kindly allowed its publication in the journal.

Map showing probable location of Mewith Mill
View of ‘Millers Green’ Cottage - Old Mill Cottage is at the right hand end - from The Mill Dam
The Mill Dam outflow sluice hidden by trees
Fig 3 - * Marks the pale outline of probable mill wall foundation
Fig 4 - Remains of outflow ditch from The Mill Dam

Map showing probable location of Mewith Mill

Fig 3 - * Marks the pale outline of probable mill wall foundation

Fig 4 - Remains of outflow ditch from The Mill Dam