Photos and history of the Lesbury Mills

It can be assumed that this photograph of the milling complex at Lesbury was taken during the second half of the nineteenth century as it is known that the iron aquaduct which conveyed the water of the millrace across the river was installed in the mid-1860's. It was manufactured by the Gateshead Iron Works and its clear skew-span across the river was 63 feet 6 inches and it was 7 feet wide with a depth of 4 feet. It had openings in the side to provide a spillway over which water in excess of the requirements of the mills could escape into the river as the photograph shows.

The two-storey building on the right of the picture was known as the 'grey' mill and this was operated by an overshot water wheel and its use was always subsidiary to the water requirements of the main mill which was housed in the large building in the centre of the picture. While there is no known record of the kind of machinery operated within the main mill building there is little doubt that it would have been very similar to that contained in the Heathershaw Mill on the Till between Ford and Etal. That complex has been painstakingly restored in recent years and today it can be demonstrated as a working unit and is open to the public.

The 'grey' mill was mainly used for rough grinding and the production of cattle feed and it was run by Jack Scott who was the secretary to the committee of the Lesbury Reading Room in 1901. Thew's of Alnwick held the tenancy of the whole milling outfit and the main milling operations were in the hands of a man named Dodds, who later on took over the running of the whole business.

Just above the aquaduct in the photograph and adjacent to the main mill building may be seen a low building and this was where the millrace ended. Within this building was a deep timber-lined shaft which was capped by an open box into which the race water was led through screens to prevent detritus getting into the system. Local people found this very handy as salmon and other fish found their way into the millrace at its Deep Dene end could readily be removed from the screens for their own use.

Into the bottom of this box four large vertical pipes were fixed and these led the water down to the bottom of the shaft where they were connected to a bid turbine which provided the motive power for all the gadgetry in the mill building.Having done its job in the turbine the spent water found its way into the river through the nearest of the two bridge arches.

With the turbine prime mover situated at such a low level, at times of high water in the river it would have been drowned and thus rendered less effective. To cater for this contingency, in the building on the extreme left of the photograph, the one with a white door, there was housed a large oil engine which was connected through a flywheel and a long wide leather belt into the system and this could be brought into operation at short notice to keep the mill going, thus providing a standby or additional source of power when, for whatever reason, the amount of water coming down the millrace from the weir at Deep Dene (the Longhoughton mill) was insufficient for the Lesbury milling operations to continue satisfactory.

There seems to be no record as to when this turbine arrangement was installed to supersede the water wheel which must have been there previously but it can be recorded quite categorically that when milling came to a stop the turbine was broken up in situ with explosives and the scrap then removed from the shaft. The engine house was demolished in 1957.

The iron aquaduct remained as a monument to the past, rusting away and becoming a danger to children playing on it until in about 1970, quite suddenly, it broke under its own weight at its centre point each half falling into the river. Soon after that the remains of all the mill buildings were finally cleared away and the site was regraded and handed to a farmer for its cultivation.

When the local roads were surfaced the one past the mills was regraded and was raised by as much as three of four feet where it passed the mill which explains why the openings in the wall along side the road appear so low as are the rings to which horses were tied. Previously the road camber lay inwards towards the mill and when the more speedy motorised transport appeared on the scene the right hand turn on to the bridge for vehicles coming down the hill was difficult to negotiate. It is related how one day one of the early open char-a-banc type of public transport came down the hill too fast and a passenger at the rear of the vehicle was thrown out as it tried to get round on to the bridge and he fell into the tailrace and was drowned. Apparently nobody noticed what had happened and his body was found next day in the tailrace channel.

This photograph of Lesbury was probably taken in the late 19th century. Looking at the photograph the house on the left is the post office and shop and the terraced houses on the right is Garden Terrace, the wall on the near right is part of the cemetary wall.

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