The building that was once Barton Corn Mill is a rare survivor of a water-powered corn mill in Lancashire. Both the mill and the mill owner’s house are now private residences, but there is a good view of each from Barton Lane. The huge axle of the water wheel that once turned at the mill is now placed outside Barton Village Hall as a permanent monument.
The original manor of the area was held by the Barton family. They were succeeded by the Halsalls and, finally, the Shuttleworths. The earliest recording of a water mill on the estate is from the 1200s. Estate property documents show that both a watermill and a windmill were present in 1575. The present building mill dates back, in part, to at least 1671. Over the centuries, it has had six phases of development and the current appearance dates from the 1832 rebuild.
An interesting snapshot into the life of the mill comes from a document for a 21-year lease. This was taken out by tenant John Holiday of Barton from the owner Richard Shuttleworth in 1713. Rent would be paid for the “Water corn mill and 2 drying kilns, all under one roof at Barton…”. As well as the building, the tools of the trade were included. Amongst these were twelve picks (pointed tools for dressing the millstones), a chisel and gouge, iron crowbar, hammer, a dust sieve, a meal sieve, three grain-storing bins and three chests. Other more domestic items included a bed with a bolster, and a coal scuttle and tongs.
In 1776, a miller named William Holiday appeared in the manor court, charged with not repairing his part of the lane that the watermill stood upon. His tenure agreement stated that it was part of his duties to maintain it. He was threatened with a fine of 30 shillings if he did not carry out the work within seven weeks. He may have been in some serious financial trouble, as just a few months later the lease was given over to John Gardiner of Bilsborough.
James Shuttleworth sold the manor estate to George Jacson in 1833. Jacson, who lived at Barton Hall, was a member of the well known cotton-manufacturing business Shorrocks, Jacson and Company. He leased the mill out and census records show that in 1841 James Taylor, aged 55, lived there with his family and an eleven-year-old apprentice. George Jacson’s son inherited the estate, but on his death it was split into lots and sold by auction in 1899.
At the auction, a Mr Wallbank bought the watermill, the mill house opposite, the associated shippon and stable block. His son George became the last miller of Barton Mill. By then it was processing oats and wheat, and these were being used to make cattle feed. A generator was added that was used to produce electricity for the mill house, connected by an overhead line. The generator charged up a set of batteries, and could produce around 100 volts.
Closure and Repurposing
The mill finally closed in the 1940s and most of the machinery was removed in the 1960s. In 1979, it was converted into a private home and lost its Grade III protection. The top storey was removed and the massive axle of the water wheel, which had remained in place in the internal wheelhouse, was taken out and set up at Barton Village Hall. At the time of the conversion, Peter Day, a local archaeologist, surveyed the mill and its surroundings.
Investigation has shown that the mill dam behind the mill was able to store water in the mill pond to provide three hours of work for the waterwheel. Refilling the water behind the dam took time, and if it was all depleted in the morning it would take until late evening to be fully replenished. This obviously limited the watermill’s operation during protracted dry weather. The mill race that carried the water to the mill ran parallel with Barton Brook. The head race came from north-east of the mill (where the M6 motorway is today). The tail race (the channel where the water leaves the waterwheel) had an overflow mechanism, to allow water to return to Barton Brook if levels got too high during potential floods.
In 1988, the mill house was restored. Underneath the external render, handmade bricks were found. A number of blocked windows and doors showed that it had had a number of phases and alterations.
Sites visited by A. and S. Bowden 2021
Barton is situated half way between Preston and Garstang. off the A6. The huge water wheel axle is in Barton Village Car Park, just off the A6. The axle and interpretation board are on the far side of the car park, opposite the village hall.
To see the converted houses that were Barton Water Corn Mill and Barton Mill House park in the large layby on Jepps Lane (off the A6), proceed on foot and turn right down Barton Lane. Be aware that there can be traffic on this road and that there is no pavement, but it is a route that is walked. A small bridge takes you over Barton Brook. The watermill is on the left and the mill house is opposite on the right. There are good views of both, but please remember these are private residences.
Watermills of North West Lancashire, Phil Hudson (1995). An unfinished working document, available to view online.
On site interpretation at Barton Village Hall Car Park.
‘Townships: Barton’, in A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 7, ed. William Farrer and J Brownbill (London, 1912), pp. 127-128. British History Online british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol7/pp127-128