Dockray Cornmill

by Emma Bray and Eddie Allen

All images © Eddie Allen

The former cornmill and race are situated between Aira Beck and Riddings Beck, just east of Dockray. The mill, also known as 'New Mill', is presumed to have been built after an earlier mill which was sited to the west of the village. A 1675 reference to this latter as 'Old Mills' dates construction before this date. The use of semi-cruck trusses to the western end of the building corroborates this evidence.

A watermill symbol is shown at both sites on Donald's 1774 map of Cumberland; The mill, weir, leat and tailrace are marked in great detail on the O.S. 1861 first edition. By 1898, the O.S. second edition (sheet 65.II) shows the mill as disused. The mill was owned by the Howards of Greystoke.

Donald's 1774 map of Cumberland
1861 Ordnance Survey map


A natural weir, 40m to the west, has been enhanced to feed the leat, which follows a straight course, arriving at the north-west corner of the mill. Channels can be seen where overflows and gauging points were positioned. The route of the tailrace can easily be traced to its end at Riddings Beck 150m to the east of the mill.

Along the line of the mill race

The roof was pitched with an uncharacteristic single hip, and is covered in Westmorland green slates in diminishing courses, topped by sandstone ridges. Walls are of randomly coursed local stone with some evidence of imported sandstone and quoined corners.

Internally the building can be divided into three sections:

a) Corn drying kiln at the western end. This was once covered with tiles.

b) Milling area running north to south.

c) Lean-to extension to the east, added between 1861 and 1898.

North-east corner with hipped roof

Function and usage

The site was carefully chosen to harness the power of Aira beck whilst avoiding the possibility of flooding. From a C19th print it can be seen that a timber leat, supported by stone buttressing, fed an overshot wheel. Use has been made of the undulating bedrock, creating a building in which labour input could be minimised using bank-barn principles; the flow from corn to flour taking a horizontal and downward route.

It is thought that corn would have been delivered by cart to the western gable door, where a storage gallery leads to the drying kiln floor. The kiln is likely to have been peat-fired, with the fuel delivered through a ground-level aperture in the southern wall.

Dried corn could then be delivered by chute to the millstone(s) below; the flour being sacked up at ground floor level. There was a double trap door in the original floor through which the sacked flour could then be hoisted up for storage, prior to being lowered through the same set of doors onto carts for despatch.

The Mill Today

The derelict mill is being restored and converted into a dwelling. The power of the beck is being harnessed once more by means of a hydro-electric scheme which will power the house and provide electricity to the National Grid.

by Emma Bray and Eddie Allen

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