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                                                  The Mills of Rylstone Parish



There were at least two mills which served Rylstone over past centuries and their purpose changed over time. One was situated in the centre of Rylstone village and was fed by water from Rylstone Pond. The second mill, which served the needs of both Hetton and Rylstone, was situated on Hetton Beck, and on the boundary between the two villages (see map below).







There is confusion in past documentation about the two mills, with most of the texts appearing to refer to the Rylstone-Hetton mill. In this paper, we set out the evidence for the presence and operation of both mills, starting with the village mill in central Rylstone.

  1. Rylstone Village Mill


Despite the fact that the remains of the Rylstone village mill house have existed in living memory, little is actually known about this mill and its relationship to the other enterprise shared with Hetton.


What evidence do we have of this mill?


The presence of the duck pond shown on the early OS maps as a reservoir would seem to indicate a mill pond. A son of one of the old farming families in the village, the Snowdens, on building his recent new farmhouse in the village, has named it Mill House, as according to him ‘I’m sure there was a mill building next door to my site before’.

At a low spot in the village there is a length of old masonry walling located between the recent houses Mill House and Garris Croft, as indicated below.


We carried out a measured survey of the masonry and the adjacent land. See sketches and photos below.


   Scale approx. 1:40


                    Scale approx. 1:40

We found the masonry to consist of an approximately 4.5 metres long wall with window which could be the wall of the previous mill building, and adjacent to the south a length of approximately three metres wall being the edge of an enclosure or pit, with chamfered door or window in it. The photo below shows the filled-in chamfered door or window with lintel looking west.

chamfered doodr.jpg

 We then superimposed on our survey plan the possible mill building shown on the old OS maps (see below) – the building is shown on all the OS maps up to 1956 after which it was demolished to make way for the new buildings.


The surveyed masonry is the likely east wall of the building and structure, shown on the maps.


What did the building look like?


The building was approx. 4.5 metres by 3.5 metres in plan, with pitched roof and had two windows in the west elevation. It was two storeys. It is too small in plan for a barn.


What about the pit/enclosure?


It is in plan approximately three metres square. On the OS maps it is slightly skewed over but not on site? On the OS maps it is not shaded in, so it has no roof? it is an open structure with a door in it.


What about the stream?


The stream runs close to our building and structure. But this might not be relevant as a mill race often diverts away from the stream anyhow?

We have been given a photo of a building now demolished to make way for the recent buildings, which was possibly the mill house (see below).


                                 Photo courtesy of Irene and Stuart Smith

What sort of mill would the village have?


Where there is a small stream with a reasonable head of water, say over two metres, in association with a small reservoir, overshot or pitch back, water wheels were commonly used as the motive power of the village mill.


Buckets attached to the wheels are the driving forces. The mill wheels and buckets were generally constructed of wood.


We measured the difference between the pond level and the bottom of the pit/enclosure and it is about five metres, which allowing for approximately 500 mm fall of the head race, gives a head of approximately 4.5 metres. This is well over the minimum head generally accepted for a small village mill.


The wheel shaft would be supported off the walls of the lower storey of the mill house with a belt drive to the mill itself on the first floor.


The mill would look something like the mill shown in the photo below except that our Rylstone mill was built of masonry not timber.

Mill 101.jpg

 2. Rylstone-Hetton Mill


One of earliest mentions of this mill is in the early 13th century. In a 1928 paper by Annie Cottam on ‘Furness Abbey Granges’, which draws heavily on the earlier ‘Coucher Book of Furness Abbey’, edited by J.C Atkinson and J. Brownbill, she states that during the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, Furness Abbey had ‘quietly accumulated’ a number of estates and granges in Lancashire, Cumberland and Yorkshire by ‘voluntary gift [of local landowners], persuasion or purchase’. One of these was the Winterburn Grange, to which a large part of Hetton Parish was added. Cottam describes the mill as follows: 

monk mill.png

It is most likely that the share of a mill acquired from Eustace de Rilleston in 1237 was what we now know as the original Rylstone Mill and the other, the smaller Hetton village mill. In 1295, the mill – still a moiety - was valued at 53s 4d at the time of the death of Elias de Rillston, Eustace’s grandson.

The medieval corn mill


Whilst the earliest Rylstone mill was a corn mill, grain production in the area (barley and oats mostly) was marginal because of the climate and the best arable fields in the township changed after medieval times to meadows and pastures. As a result, and with it becoming cheaper to buy in milled grain from elsewhere, the need for a corn mill gradually diminished. 


The next mention that we have of the mill is in the 16th century when, in 1569, a Mr Topliss was the ‘free tenant’ or leasee and paid £5 per year for a 40-year lease. In 1605 the mill was again leased by Francis, Earl of Cumberland (Head of the Clifford family of Skipton Castle at the time) to a William Wallock who was granted a 99-years lease at £3 per year.

The cotton mill


Little if anything is then known about the operation of a mill until the late 18th century, when we know that the mill was owned by Cumberland’s successor by marriage, the Duke of Devonshire, who also owned much of Rylstone township and its surrounds. At this time, there was a rapid growth in textile manufacture, using flax, wool and, latterly, imported cotton. It is also noteworthy that the Leeds-Liverpool canal had opened at nearby Gargrave. George Ingle (1997a) in his paper on early Dales’ cotton mills notes that,


‘For about 20 years, between 1780 and 1800 the Yorkshire Dales experienced the fastest industrialisation in their history’…’…in nearly every town and village local people with capital or land formed partnerships or went into business as cotton spinners.’


Ingle cites the confluence of improvements in transportation (turnpikes and canals), technical innovations in spinning and weaving machinery, changes in agriculture away from arable farming and a surplus of agricultural workers and high demand for cotton goods drove the growth of textile manufacture in Dales’ villages. The following excerpt from Ingle’s articles (1997a and b) describe the local situation:


‘Two of the early mills were in Rilston and Hetton which are small villages in Craven just a few miles from Skipton. These two mills represent the marginal aspects of this industry as they only had a very limited life. Although the cotton industry was initially widespread in Yorkshire changes in technology soon made these two early mills redundant. Once the opposition to the new mills in Lancashire was overcome, larger mills were built in that county which could take advantage of both steam power and the newer, larger machines. The cotton mills which did survive in Yorkshire had mixed fortunes. Some in the Craven and Calderdale areas continued but many others followed the example of the Keighey mills and were turned over to worsted spinning. What is not generally known is that there are more examples of early cotton mills in Yorkshire than in Lancashire’.


In 1792 (Aspin, 2003) reported that Richard Waddilove, a local landowner, agreed to take on the lease of the mill from the Duke of Devonshire and began converting it into a cotton spinning mill, having already bought some land around the mill site. He found the proposed rental, however, to be too high, access to the millsite to be difficult and subject to local dispute. He reliquinshed, or never formally took on, the rental.


Robert Bradley, (Trading as Robert Bradley and Co.), after arguing that times were hard in the cotton trade, secured a more favourable lease from the Duke. Robert Bradley was cited as being a yeoman from Hetton, and his likely senior partner was a John Heaton. Heaton (member of the Heaton family of Deane, near Bolton in Lancashire who were weavers and mill owners) sold up his farm and mill near Bolton, relocated with his wife and children to Rylstone and took on, probably, a share of the lease as well as the running of the mill.


The converted mill at Rylstone was in operation from 1792 until 1797 (Ingle, 1997b), but was not successful. Bradley and Heaton soon ran into operational problems, complaining that the mill wheel was faulty and having legal disputes with local landowners over access and the state of the track to the mill. These problems led to the bankruptcy of John Heaton and his subsequent disappearance to Rio de Janiero to avoid his debts and where he died in 1812 (E. R. Heaton letter from 1998). There is mention of his wife selling some of the mill machinery in 1797.


It seems that Robert Bradley was then left with the mill and the financial burden thereof. He realised that he needed a larger and better designed mill to be profitable and asked the Duke of Devonshire to build a larger factory (75 ft x 30 ft x 4 stories) at a cost of £600, as the following excerpt reveals (Chambers MS 200):


It appears that, whilst the Duke gave permission for the mill, he did not agree to provide the build-cost so Robert Bradley and Co. had to cover this by taking out loans. The new cotton mill seems to have been built, but to have been smaller than original expectations and was only of three stories, not four. The mill was said by Ingle (1997b) to have had a ‘27’ x 4’ water wheel fed from a weir about 400 yards above the mill’. Bradley sub-let the operation of the mill to James Wallace.


Bradley’s problems with the mill continued, as transcripts of three letters in 1799 and 1801, from him to James Collins, (who was an agent for the Duke of Devonshire), reveal.

The same problems with access re-occurred, with Hetton landowners refusing access from the Hetton side of the Beck, and all traffic (largely to and from Gargrave and the canal) having to go round by Rylstone. Rylstone landowners were also difficult as Bradley relates to James Collins in 1801:


‘I have at present a good tenant and on account of the roads being so indifferent and Rilston people so backward and awkward that their intention must be so to do nothing at present. A carriage can scarcely pass without some misfortune so upon these circumstances Mr. Walass (Wallace) my tenant has given up the mill. He says he used every civil and quiet means he could to get the road from Rilston to the Mill kept in some decent repair and finds those means of no use and it is the only road people will travel with a carriage to the Mill until Hetton road is decided therefore he will leave until this year is out.’


In all three letters, Bradley makes mention of John Heaton who seems in these years to be in London and pressing Robert Bradley to pay the rental fees relating to Rylstone mill. In his 1799 letter, Bradley has paid the agent £15.17.0d for some undisclosed rental and £10 for the rental of ‘Rilston Mill Farm’, but he requested that John Heaton ‘let rest’, because, ‘as having been put to so much expense in advertising the Mill and it now is standing “so long ded” on my hands’.


Perhaps the mill went back into production briefly but in 1803 records show, according to Ingle, that the tenant, James Wallace, advertised his machinery in the Halifax Journal. This consisted of :


3 carding machines for cotton

2 drawing frames

3 mules with 204 spindles

1 throstle with 108 spindles

1 throstle with 72 spindles

1 stretching frame with 96 spindles

1 cotton picker and other equipment

11 pairs of looms for weaving velveteen.


Ingle further notes (1997b) that this equipment showed that Wallace was producing both warp and weft for his weavers to weave material on his hand looms – powered looms still being two decades away from use in the Dales.


By 1806, a survey of the mill site showed that, whilst the main building was delapidated, the mill wheel itself was in good repair and was presumably sold. By 1826, the mill was pulled down and the stone allegedly used for building in Gargrave. Whilst the 1840 Tithe Map shows a footprint of the old mill still visible in Mill Brow, the site was completely gone by the 1893 OS 25” map.

Visible remains of ‘Rilston’ Mill


In 1980, a short piece on the history and visible remains of Rylstone Mill, written by one or more local residents, appeared in the history section of the Parish Magazine. In 2010, members of the Cracoe and Rylstone History Group, together with members of the Vernacular Buildings Study Group of Upper Wharfedale Field Society, surveyed the mill site and recorded that various earth works and mill remnants were still visible. The Rylstone Project Team also visited the site on at least two occasions to examine what still remains, with a short paper written in 2021. We draw upon these sources to describe the visible legacy of ‘Rilston’ Mill.


The 1980 article described the remains of the mill and the access tracks from Hetton and Rylstone (the main access route) as follows:


Very small portions of the mill masonary can still be seen, some having been uncovered during the massive floods of 1979. These floods also washed away the old mill bridge abutments which must have been several centuries old and probably originally supporting large slabs of stone as the bridge still remaining between Rylstone and Hetton and known as Kirk Bridge. The mill bridge gave access to the mill from Hetton. Most of the road [track] linking it to Hetton is readily discernible.


The road from Rylstone to the mill can all be traced and for those wishing to look at the site of the mill would do well to follow this route, all of which is a public footpath. Take [the] back lane out of Rylstone, turn right onto Green Lane and right again at the end of Green Lane. Take the left of two gates which face you and you will be on Mill Lane. On the skyline ahead of you will be seen a railway bridge and 19th century barn known as Park Laithe. Before the days of the railway, Mill Lane crossed directly in front of Park Laithe. After crossing the railway and the front of Park Laithe, you will see a gate some 50 yards ahead, beyond which the lane is again readily discernible [as] a depression between two banks and bordered by the occasional hawthorne. In the distance can be seen a 17th century barn called Millgate Laithe. The lane passes to the top side of this, then skirts the top of the wooded bank known as Mill Brow, eventually doubling back like an Alpine pass to enter the mill site just above the newly constructed foot bridge.


The actual mill building was sited on the wooded flat area by the side of the Beck. The wheel pit and water feed channel are apparent just below the rocky outcrop to the upstream end of the site’. (GPS location at SD 95961 57928).


Indeed, the awkward path to the mill site, described above, seems to have been one of the main reasons why the mill was difficult to operate and did not flourish for longer. A second problem was the very constrained site by the beck, although the team visiting in 2010 took measurements of the available space and concluded that, ‘making allowance for some subsidence of the banks found there was space for a 75 ft. by 30 ft. building’ - the one built in the late 18th century by Robert Bradley.


The 2010 team also recorded the other visible mill features as follows:


‘Across the beck at SD95943 57938 there is a substantial wall built of sandstone blocks, possibly from the mill which appears to be reinforcing the bank on the Hetton side of the beck, safeguarding the path which was the Hetton access route to the mill. On top of this wall there is one drying kiln joist showing there was a drying kiln somewhere in the area. Corn mills needed a drying kiln before milling otherwise the grinding wheel would not work well, nor was it safe to store damp grain.


The site of the mill takes up all the available suitable building space on the hillside making the site of the kiln unclear. It is however possible for a drying kiln to be incorporated into a mill building as is the case with Hough Mill in Barden and this is one possible option. The other option is the new mill with a much larger foot print replaced a small corn mill and separate drying kiln.


One member of the team spotted the part remains of a mill stone lying in the beck.’


Four photographs were taken in 2010, and one in 2012, of the various mill remains.

mill x4.jpg
Stone from corn drying kiln
Photo by RIP  (April 2012)

A key requirement for any successful mill – whether it be for milling grain or spinning cotton - was a sufficient and reliable water source. The 1980 Parish Magazine article states that although water powered, the water to power Rylstone mill did not come from the beck, as might be expected, but from two springs about 200 yards upstream from the mill. It continued:


‘The water from these was contained within a man made dam, part of which can still be seen [see photograph above]. The water was then channelled to the mill in a level artificial water way which followed the stream on the Rylstone side. By the time the water reached the mill, it was some 15 ft. above stream level where it must have driven an overshot wheel before finally channeled into the beck’.


The 2010 team, confirming much of the above report, concluded that:


There is very clear evidence of a platform which appears to have carried a falltrough approximately 500 mts. long from a point on Hetton Beck at SD 96031 58093, also the site of a spring, to a small pond at SD 96021 58068 from here it continues for some distance to SD 95961 57928 [site of the mill] at which point it turns positioning itself over what could be a wheel pit. From this point a tail race appears and returns to the beck.


Thus in conclusion, we find that ‘Rilston’ Mill has had a long history dating back to at least medieval times when it was a very necessary resource for the local community as a corn mill. We do not know how many mills there were on the mill site, but over the centuries, the old corn mill must have been refurbished or rebuilt several times. In the late 18th century its use changed - as did many small mills in dales’ villages - to that of a cotton spinning mill. At this point, a larger and more modern factory was needed, but the rebuilt mill had various disadvantages – its location and access were not good, it may not have had sufficient water and larger, more accessible mills were soon more economic. It soon fell out of usage and into disrepair and was then pulled



Heaton, E.R. (1998). Letter to Dr. George Ingle concerning his ancestor, John Heaton, and his connection with Rilston Mill. See also, Heaton, E. R. (2000). ‘Heatons of Deane. The Varying Fortunes of a Lancashire Family Over 850 Years’. Self-published.


Ingle, G. (1997a). ‘Yorkshire Cotton. The Yorkshire Cotton Industry, 1780-1835’. Preston: Carnegie Publishing.


Ingle, G. (1997b). ‘Rilston and Hetton Cotton Mills’. Yorkshire History Quarterly. Vol 3. No.1 Aug. 1997. pp. 4-7.


Ingle. G. (2009). ‘Yorkshire Dales Textile Mills. A History of the textile mills in the Yorkshire Dales from 1784 until the present day’. Hebden Bridge: Royd Press.

Raistrick, A. (1967). ‘Old Yorkshire Dales’. Chapter Two: Discovering A

Village. Newton Abbot: David and Charles.


Rylstone Parish Magazine (Dec. 1980). Unattributed and untitled short piece in Local History Section of Magazine on Rylstone Mill.


Rylstone Project Website (undated). Spinning, Weaving and Textile Production in Rylstone.

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