Volunteers unearth 500 year old water mill near Helmsley

500 year old water mill Photo:

Archaeology volunteers have unearthed a water mill at least 500 years old on Yearsley Moor, near Helmsley.

This is a highly significant and important find for the area.

Volunteer Geoff Snowden said: “There is no mention of a mill in official archaeological records and no sign of one on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps produced in the 1850s.

“Perhaps this is not so surprising as some of the later fragments of pottery recovered from the site suggest that the mill went out of use around the mid eighteenth century.

“Scant documentary evidence does show, however, that a mill was sold by a William Wyldon of Yearsley to the Fairfaxes of Gilling in 1560. Then, in 1720, an entry in a Registry of Papist Estates records that a mill in Earsley (Yearsley) was still in Fairfax hands. Unfortunately, neither reference gives any indication of the location of the mill”.

A remarkable feature of the site is the large amount of finds that have been recovered so far; these have included pottery, bone, corroded metal, an undated coin, glass and some puzzling stone objects.

The find is the conclusion of three years of painstaking research and field survey work by Yearsley Moor Archaeological Project volunteers and North York Moors National Park apprentices under the supervision of professional archaeologist Luigi Signorelli.

The team is being funded by the Lime and Ice Project, a partnership of six organisations.

They have found the remains of a complex of buildings in the undergrowth and one of them contains a large millstone. The group has also discovered the outline of nearby ponds and watercourses that may well have served the mill.

Jennifer Smith, Lime and Ice Project Officer, said: “At first, we did not expect to do any excavating at all but we felt it was necessary to find out more. So the volunteers did a small area and came over what they believe to be a mill.”

The archaeology team hope to confirm the presence of the mill and to answer more important questions such as how it worked and when it was first constructed.

The vast majority of the finds have been fragments of pottery:

“This is most intriguing,” said Mr Snowden, “because there are known to have been pottery kilns around Yearsley in the past; one was excavated in the Soury Hill area in the 1930s and was thought to have supplied pottery to the local monasteries in the 15th and 16th centuries.

“Others were owned by the Wedgewood family (predecessors of the famous Josiah Wedgewood) and were in operation in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The team would be interested to hear from anyone with local knowledge of this pottery so that comparisons might be made”.

The project was started in 2009 and has proved to be a very successful volunteer-led activity. The initial objective was for the group of volunteers to survey the Yearsley Moor and Gilling Park area to identify existing archaeological sites and to see if any other unrecorded features might still exist.

The organisers thought that this type of information would appeal to visitors and help to increase the general awareness of an under-utilised and under-appreciated area of the local countryside.

The prospective mill is the current site of interest for the group but many other areas have also been investigated; these include Bronze Age burial mounds, ‘bell pit’ coal mines, ancient track ways, two ornamental temple sites, a flight of lakes with two breached dams, a deer park boundary or ‘Park Pale’ and other perplexing lumps and bumps in the landscape that have yet to be explained.