Most mills were either used to grind corn or to prepare cloth (fulling). The mechanisms needed for a windmill were more complex than for a water mill. So windmills were rarely used in areas (like Alnwick) where there was a plentiful supply of suitable water power. We know that Stoney Hills was sometimes called Windmill Hill, but we have found no record of a windmill closer to Alnwick than than the one at Hauxley (south of Amble). Alnwick seems to have relied on water mills until the arrival of a mill powered by steam in 1855.
There were a number of water powered mills along the Aln, where farmers could bring their grain to be milled. The miller would retain a proportion of the flour as his payment (Multure: the grain or flour due to a miller in return for grinding corn). Tenants in different areas were obliged to use a specific mill, and could be fined if they avoided this monopoly by grinding their own grain or taking it elsewhere. The last record of such a fine in Alnwick was in 1704.
The earliest records of mills in Alnwick were associated with religious foundations. They were either allowed to construct their own mills (as at Hulne Priory, and Alnwick Abbey), or the lord contributed the proceeds from a mill that he owned (as at the Town Mills).
- Construction of a mill required significant capital. To provide a religious foundation with economic independence the lord could either allow them to construct their own mill, as at the Hulne Priory Mills and the Abbey Mills, or he could donate the proceeds from a mill that he owned, as they did at the Town Mills. After dissolution the ownership of these mills passed to the monarch, but the Earl of Northumberland eventually managed to regain possession of those in Alnwick.
- The mills then operated on a commercial basis. In the case of the Town Mills, the Earl owned them, and paid for any repairs. At least until the middle of the 17th century, the town Corporation leased the mills from the Earl, and sub-let to a miller. Farmers brought their grain to be milled, and the miller would retain a proportion as his payment (Multure: the grain or flour due to a miller in return for grinding corn). Tenants in different areas were obliged to use a specific mill, and could be fined if they avoided this monopoly by grinding their own grain or taking it elsewhere. The last record of such a fine in Alnwick was in 1704.
- The earliest records reported by Tate only mention mills at Hulne Priory, Alnwick Abbey, and the Town Mills. Recent work on the fish pass at Denwick Bridge suggests that this could have been the location of another medieval mill. By the middle of the 18th century there are a number of maps and records to suggest that, by then, there may have been another four or five mills at various points distributed along the banks of the Aln.
- The parkland around Alnwick castle was developed between 1750 and 1786. Mills on the Aln were badly damaged by a series of floods between 1744 and 1767. Both resulted in mills being modified and rebuilt. By the 19th century there were fewer, larger mills.
- The first steam mill in Alnwick was installed shortly after the railway arrived, in 1855, by Thomas Archbold. By 1882 it was being referred to as Bolam’s Mill. By 1920 Peter’s Mill was disused, and the Abbey mill was the only water mill that remained in operation.
For an accessible summary of the history of mills, see the Historic England Introduction to Heritage Assets <here>