Recollections of the Mill at Low Waskerley Farm

(Based on discussions with Mr. Thomas Miller (22nd and 28th August 2021) by Robert Hill, Land of Oak & Iron Trust)

I was born in the front bedroom of Low Waskerley Farm in 1941. The farm was previously the home farm on the Shotley Hall Estate. My Grandfather, Thomas Miller, had taken the tenancy of the farm on 14th May 1923; the agent being Captain Martell RN (Retired) who acted for his four sons who inherited the Estate through their mother. Before this tenancy my grandfather’s family held the tenancy on Warkshaugh Farm in Wark, near Hexham, and he walked his herd of cattle from this farm to Low Waskerley.

The normal date for tenancies to start was the 13th May each year but, that being a Sunday in 1923, the start of the tenancy was delayed until the following Monday. My father, William Crawford Miller, continued with the tenancy until he retired in 1973, which again as the 13th May fell on a Sunday, meant that he left the farm the day after. Colin John Martell, the eldest of the Captain’s sons took over and ran the farm after my father left.

I don’t know when the mill was installed or much about the history of the farm prior to my family taking the tenancy, however, I recall that the mill was used until the mid-1940s. I would have been around 5 years old when the mill stopped being used, due to the wheel spokes being in poor condition, and a fear that the wheel might collapse. The wheel was chocked up on lengths of old railway sleeper. I left the farm in 1969 when I was 28 and, with my wife, I took the tenancy of one of the other farms on the estate, at Airy Holm.

The mill wheel was around 18 feet in diameter(1) and the axle was about 5 feet below ground level with much of the wheel running in a pit. I was not allowed to go into the pit. Access, down a wooden ladder which was always wet and slippery, led to a narrow path alongside the wheel. The stonework in the pit was very good, with tight fitting stones and very little cement required in the joints. I can only remember the mill being used for chopping hay, into about 3” lengths, for the horses at the Co-op mill and rolling oats, also for the horses.

In the 1970s an academic from Newcastle University, Mr Geoffrey Fisher, ARIBA, visited the mill and did a survey of the millwheel and farm buildings(2). The detail in the report concerning the discharge of water after the wheel and ditch is not quite correct. The water went into a “cundy”, a stone lined gulley with a stone cover, across the yard near the sheep shed, then across the fields to join the burn which ran down to the river below Panshield Farm.

Water for the mill was supplied from the pond on the other side of the road, and that was fed by a watercourse which started near Hammermill, Shotleyfield. The watercourse was (and still is) a well made stone lined gulley which, in addition to feeding the mill, had points in each of the fields along its route where water was supplied for the cattle. The water came into the mill through a 12” cast iron pipe. This pipe came under the open barn, near the silo barn, and the stack yard where the corn stacks were kept. Every couple of months the big thresher would be bought to the farm, local people from the other farms would help, and the corn from one of the stacks would be threshed. The photo (below) shows the thresher on the yard at Low Waskerley probably in the 1930s or earlier. The man standing on the “stack” may have been my grandfather or father.

There was another water supply to the farm which came from Lady Well (location near Spring Wood). This, at the time, was the main water supply for Shotley Hall and all the houses on the Northumberland side of the river. This supply provided drinking water for the people, and occasionally the odd tadpole would also appear from the tap. It was also used in the dairy for cooling milk. In the dairy water flowed through a corrugated chiller, a bit like a radiator on its side, and milk passed over the outside. After passing through the chiller the water was used for cattle on the farm and in the fields below the farm.


1. The wheel diameter is recorded as 19ft 6ins in the report by G.J. Fisher, detailed below.

2. Report by G.J. Fisher, Chartered Architect, ARIBA, dated November 1972. His association with Newcastle University has not been confirmed.