From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Fountains Abbey Mill

North Yorkshire
54°06'32.2"N 1°35'04.4"W
SE 2725968198
12th Century

  • History
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
Fountains Abbey Mill is part of the Cistercian Abbey complex, close to Ripon in North Yorkshire.

The is the only 12th century Cistercian cornmill in Britain and one of a few surviving in Europe. The building, which has been in continuous use for over 850 years, measures 110 feet in length and has three storeys. Throughout its existence the mill has remained in the same ownership as Fountains Abbey. It was spared at the Dissolution of the Abbeys in 1539 because it was able to generate an income for the estate, of £3 per year.

A Monastic Flour Mill The medieval mill would have ground wheat, oats and barley to feed the whole abbey community, from the Abbot down to the needy. The monks’ diet was simple but wholesome which consisted of bread with vegetable broth, being the basis of every meal. In the middle of the building two parallel wheels turned, each powering a pair of grindstones. The grain was stored above in huge granary spaces. The mill continued to grind corn until 1927, although none of the original milling machinery survives.

In the 1840's, an external wheelhouse was built to house a new waterwheel to provide power for the sawmill. Milling continued at one end of the building, while the other was used as a sawmill from the 1840s until the 1930s. The waterwheel which powered the saws still exists today and measures 17 feet in diameter. It powered both a circular and reciprocating saw. Trees from the estate were sawn into planks and timbers for new buildings, repairs, fence posts and rails. There are few records of the work done here, but some people can remember watching as tree trunks, loaded onto trolleys, were fed into the mill on rails.

The first water turbine was installed before 1901 and was used to power cooling equipment when part of the site was being used as a dairy. The second, larger generator was installed in 1928 to provide electric lighting for nearby Fountains Hall. When the water level dropped or leaves slowed down the flow, there was less power. The turbine still exists and has been restored to help power the display lighting in the mill today.

During the Second World War it housed refugees. After the war the mill was used for storage and in 1966 the stone masons moved in and used it as a stone masons’ workshop called a bankers shop.

In 1953 the top floor of the building was used to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

A major conservation project, jointly funded by the National Trust and English Heritage, began in 1993. The National Trust owns and manages the Mill whilst English Heritage, as guardian, repairs and maintains the fabric of the building. The walls were re-pointed, decaying wooden lintels were replaced and steel ties were inserted to stabilise the leaning wall at the north end. The millpond was cleared out, a new generator was installed and the old turbine was restored so electricity can be generated again. The 19th century waterwheel was restored on site.