Magnificence of mill

Howsham Mill
Howsham Mill

Written by Maureen Robinson

From small beginnings, a couple’s interest in a derelict corn mill in the middle of an island in the River Derwent has resulted in their lighting up a village! Visit this magical site and be inspired by its story.

When Dave Mann was made redundant in Norway he returned to Yorkshire seeking a home for his partner Mo 
MacLeod and two young children.

He found not a house, but a huge ornate mill dating back to 1775. It was derelict and 
almost completely overgrown, but Dave felt this could be the start of an exciting project.

Research revealed it was a working mill until 1947. Indeed, my husband and his dad regularly delivered corn there each Saturday and collected the ground corn as cattle feed from the previous weekend.

In 1965 there were plans to demolish the mill. Thankfully, being a rare example of Gothic revival style, it was spared. It is one of only two such buildings in the UK. The other is in Derbyshire on the Chatsworth Estate.

Mo and Dave bought the mill in 2004. They set up a charity named the Renewable Heritage Trust in order to obtain funding for their restoration project. The building was signed over to the trust.

We have followed their progress over the last decade to see their dream slowly 

They had no wish to disturb the wildlife in such a peaceful habitat. With no vehicular access, and a quarter of a mile’s walk from the road bridge across a field, disturbance was minimal. A colony of breeding otters, and about 100 wild flower species on the island, along with bird life and fish, make it a sanctuary!

Volunteers helped dig out mud from the mill-race, and developments resulted in the reinstatement of the waterwheel to harness the power of the river-water to generate electricity.

As many fish bred in the river, they had to find a company that manufactured fish-friendly turbines. Germany manufactured fish-friendly Archimedean screw turbines. The Environment Agency gave its approval, and now electricity produced goes into the National Grid! Enough energy is produced to run the entire village!

The Howsham Mill restoration project was awarded a £643,000 grant from the Lottery Fund in September 2011. We were anxious to see the progress made on the ancient mill. Transformed from what had resembled an Inca ruin, with no roof; the waterwheel long gone, and the machinery stolen for scrap metal, the restoration was incredible! Its revival is hoped to become an educational resource or community centre focusing on local heritage, renewable energy and a more sustainable way of life. Now the waterwheel has been reinstated, along with the Archimedean Screw Turbine, and rather than driving millstones it’s generating electricity. Any surplus is to be sold back to the National Grid or the local consumers.

The old granary house kitchen and toilet facilities, and the spacious interior is truly remarkable.

A wonderful information board in the grounds highlights the huge contribution made by the building’s original architect, John Carr of York. How proud he would be to witness the mill so truly restored in 2013. Thanks to the hard-working band of volunteers, it now resembles a handsome mill again, with cobblestone footpaths in keeping with the project.

Old machinery and stones outdoors remain to be cleaned and one day no doubt exhibited. Wander round the grounds and through the woodlands to experience the ‘magic’ of the setting. Listen to the roaring weir, and throbbing pulse of machinery in the silence of the island’s remote location.

Gone are the days when barges regularly passed through this part of the river in the 18th century. So – the mill is certainly a great part of our industrial heritage, and has been put back to how it was.

Traditional methods and materials have been used throughout. Even deliveries have been made by barge. The huge structural adjustments and the restoration of decorative stonework is truly amazing!

I suggest you put a day aside for visiting this unique site.

Location. Nine miles north east of York and just three miles from the A64. Just six miles south west of Malton.

First visit Howsham – one of Ryedale’s prettiest 
villages. Howsham Hall close beside the River Derwent is an architectural gem. It was built around 1612-1619 in grey stone, using some from nearby Kirkham Abbey.

Cottages are now just along the east side of its single street. George Hudson, the Railway King, was born in Howsham village on March 10, 1800. He died in 1871 and was buried in Scrayingham churchyard downstream.

Visit Howsham’s little church built for Mrs Hannah Cholmley between 1859-1860.

Leaving the village, approach Howsham Bridge spanning the River Derwent. Its smaller arches once crossed the regularly-used tow paths.

Reaching the bridge, go down the left slope and through the gate, turning right to go under the bridge.

Look for rope scars on the metal and stone ‘roller’ which bear testimony to the passing keels. A sign clearly indicates your obvious route towards Howsham Mill. Follow the track across a field and footbridges to the island.

Having explored the island, why not take the public footpath from Howsham Bridge to Scrayingham to see Hudson’s vault in the churchyard?

Refreshment: Do take a picnic, as there are no facilities en route.

More information:

l A new volume of Rural Rambles, by Maureen Robinson, featuring 17 walks and maps, is now available from sole supplier Crag & Moor 
outdoor shop, at 38 Victoria Road, Scarborough. It costs £3, with all profits donated to Scarborough’s RNLI.