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History of Nether Alderley Mill

The fully restored medieval building of Nether Alderley Mill, Cheshire
Nether Alderley Mill | © National Trust Images/John Millar

From the 1500s until 1939, Nether Alderley Mill was worked by a series of millers who lived in the village with their families. Find out more about the flour-making process, the story of the mill and its millers who provided a village with bread for generations from the 14th century onwards.

The Nether Alderley millers

The earliest miller at Nether Alderley may have been Benjamin Tasker who died in 1693. However, his will and list of effects describe him as being from ‘Over Alderley’, which suggests that this was possibly not his mill.

From 1800 onwards, it’s possible to trace a series of milling families who worked here. The Mottrams (1800–11 and 1843–51), the Blease farmers (1878–83) and the Rawlins from 1884 until the mill’s closure in 1939.

After wheat became more expensive and technology moved on, milling at Nether Alderley Mill became increasingly difficult to continue profitably to the point that it stopped altogether in the 1930s. In 1950, the mill was given to the National Trust by Major J.A. Shelmerdine.

The life of a miller

The life of a miller was tough with its long hours and back-breaking, dangerous work.

Throughout the day, the miller had to manage the water supply, check the bags weren’t overflowing and make sure the millstones didn’t run dry. The latter would not only damage the millstones but could also cause sparks. Given that flour dust is highly flammable, a small spark could easily cause a fire or an explosion.

Before milling could start, it was important that everything was in working order, so the miller would check over the mill machinery and make any repairs before the next day’s work. By the end of the day, the miller would be covered in flour and had to spend time clearing up.

All this hard work had an impact on the miller's health, and they often developed nasty coughs from inhaling flour dust all day. One of the last millers, John Hogg Rawlins, died from congestion in the lungs.

Volunteer holding stoneground wholemeal flour made at Winchester City Mill, Hampshire
Volunteer holding stoneground wholemeal flour | © National Trust Images/William Shaw

From waterwheel to wholemeal

Although the water systems and milling mechanisms are complex, they do follow a logical sequence; water enters the mill to power the waterwheels that, in turn, drive the systems that turn the millstones, sack hoists and flour sifters.

The miller would begin his day by hoisting the many sacks of grain, one at a time, onto the millstone floor above him using the sack hoist. Here the flour was emptied into the hopper and flowed down onto a shallow trough, known as the shoe, and shaken by a four-pronged spindle (the chattering damsel) to allow the grain to flow evenly.

Perhaps the most important parts of the mill are the millstones, each of which weigh over a ton. The bottom millstone is known as the bedstone and is fixed to the floor, while the top millstone, the runner, spins above.

Grain entered the centre of these millstones and was ground between them, emerging as flour at the edges before falling to the floor below through a second chute. Here it entered a sifter that separated it into three types of flour: fine, sharps and husks. Each type was bagged at the bottom of its chute.

The miller would test the flour between his thumb and forefinger. If the flour felt smooth and not greasy or rough, he knew that all was well. If the millstones were set too closely, the flour would feel greasy as it was too bruised and wouldn’t rise well.

The daughter of the last miller describes helping her uncle, Ernest Rawlins, at the mill when she was a little girl. She remembers testing the flour, describing it as feeling like ‘warm silk’.

The mechanism of the fully restored medieval Nether Alderley Mill, Cheshire
Restored Nether Alderley Mill machinery  | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Documents dating back as far as 1391 tell us about a watermill at Nether Alderley. The mill has continued to grow and change ever since.

The evolution of Nether Alderley Mill 

1391

First records

First records of a mill on the site. Probably a small timber-framed building, there's no evidence that it stood on the same site as today's mill, but it seems likely.  

The village of Nether Alderley

Nether Alderley is first mentioned in 1086 in the Doomsday Book as Aldredelie, a name that suggests it began life as Aldred’s Clearing. By the 1500s, Nether Alderley was a thriving farming community of around 300 people, with the inn, church and mill at its heart.

Lord of the Manor

Most people farmed small pieces of land rented from the Lord of the Manor, employing other villagers as labourers. 

Supporting them were a number of skilled tradesmen: blacksmith, carpenter, shoemaker and most importantly the miller. By the late 1700s, life and the village had not greatly changed, although farms now tended to be larger and more prosperous. 

Some villagers worked as miners at nearby Alderley Edge and there was an increasing number of professionals including a solicitor, a surveyor and a bailiff.

The Stanley family

The mill was cared for by the powerful Stanley family who were Lords of the Manor in Nether Alderley from 1602 until 1938 and held land here even earlier. 

The village inn, the Eagle and Child, takes its name from their coat of arms. In the 1580s, Sir Thomas Stanley built his home on an island in the millpond, but in 1779 it was destroyed by fire and the family moved away.

One wing remained standing and is known today as the Old Hall, which you can glimpse through the trees across the millpond. In the 1800s, successive millers occupied part of the Old Hall until Lord Stanley built Mill House for John Rawlins and his family in 1920.

Two women wearing hard hats are smiling and crouching inside a low, brick tunnel which is kiln at Nether Alderley Mill, Cheshire.

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