Paper mills near Bowburn

Cornforth Mill, Thinford Mill, Hett Mill, Butterby Bill and Croxdale Mill were all either converted to paper mills or had paper mills built alongside earlier corn mills. None of these mills was in Cassop-cum-Quarrington except perhaps Hett Mill, which straddled the boundary with Hett Parish.**

Together with Coxhoe Mill, which was never used for paper manufacture, all were on the same waterway which Robert Surtees, in 1816, described as a “little brook [which] rises from two heads in Kelloe Parish, flows past Coxhoe and Cornforth, exchanging its name for that of every village which it passes; and a little below Cornforth receiving a small Beck from Ferryhill, and another which descends from Quarrington, runs through the low grounds betwixt Tursdale and Hett Moors, dividing Darlington and Easington Wards, and terminates its course on the Wear. This little stream turns six mills – Coxhoe Corn-mill, two paper-mills at Cornforth, Thinford Corn and Paper Mill, Hett Mill, and Croxdale Paper-mill. The last stands in a glen so deep and narrow, that the sun never shines except on its roof.” (We do not know why Surtees did not mention Butterby Mill.)

Satellite view (thanks to Google maps) showing location of nearby mills

(Note: Coxhoe Mill was never a paper mill.)

Paper is made from pulped cellulose fibres (usually cotton, flax, or wood), by changing the properties of those fibres by maceration or disintegration. The pulp is then moulded and dried, in early years by hanging, later over heated rollers. Before paper production was industrialised, the most common fibre source was recycled hemp (rope and canvas), for brown paper, and linen and cotton rags, for good quality white paper. However wood pulp was first introduced c.1840 and esparto grass in the 1860s. By the end of the 19th century almost all European and American printers were using paper made from wood.

A paper mill was a water-powered mill that originally just pounded the pulp, using trip-hammers, to break down the fibres. Later, it also drove a device for mixing the fibres with water to make the pulp. The first paper mill in England was set up in about 1490 near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, and the first commercially successful one near Dartford, Kent, in 1588.

By 1800 there were 430 papermills in England and Wales and by 1821 there were 564. These were mostly single vat mills, the vat being the tank containing the pulp, or “stuff”. In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, there were 45 in County Durham, on 36 sites, as some were in pairs. The peak at any one time was 33 mills, in the 1830s, of which about one sixth were on Surtees’ “little brook”.

All production before 1800, however, was by hand and output was low. The first successful paper-making machine was installed at Frogmore, Hertfordshire, in 1803, and by the middle of the 19th century, the mechanised production of paper was well under day. Though paper production increased, the number of paper mills decreased. By 1884, there were 250 in England & Wales, as production was concentrated into fewer, larger units. Steam power replaced or supplemented water power. Geographical changes took place, too, as many of the early mills were small and in rural areas. The change was to larger mills in, or near, urban areas, closer to suppliers of the raw materials and to paper markets.

An example of this change of scale can be found in the Cooke paper making family. In 1871, James Cooke (1820-1893), a great grandson of the James Cooke [1719-1807] who had acquired Hett Mill in 1799 (see below), was living at Howe Villa, Richmond, Yorkshire. The Census that year described him as Paper Manufacturer, employing 186 men, women and children. This contrasts with the descripton of his cousin [first, once removed] Robert Cooke (1797-1855), when he was in charge of Hett Mill. In 1851, the latter was described as Paper Manufacturer, employing 6 men and 4 women.

Cornforth Mills included an original corn mill that was converted to be both a corn and a paper mill, plus a paper mill added later. They were small and “were casualties of increasing competition from larger or newer, more strategically placed mills of the first quarter of the 1800s” (Stirk, p. 99). The first mention of a paper mill here was in 1793. Thomas Egglestone was the master paper maker by 1803 and until at least 1841. But paper making may have discontinued soon after that.

Site of Cornforth Mills

Thinford Mill is first known to have been a paper mill in 1803, when Robert Moon was the master paper maker. Thomas Moon was there in 1820. The mill probably had a breast shot wheel, fed by a 740-yard leat. The Moons may have remained owners but the mill was worked by the Andersons in the 1820s and then the Oates’ till c.1840. It probably ceased paper production c.1844. John Miller, corn miller and farmer, was there in 1857. From 1918 till 1988, the building was occupied by Tursdale & Metal Bridge Working Men’s Club. Today it is The Olde Mill hotel and restaurant, at Metal Bridge.

Thinford Mill, now “The Old Mill”

Hett Mill was powered by an undershot water wheel, fed by an 800-yard leat. The mill race ran from the slight bend 150 yards south of the crossroads between footpaths 1, 2 & 3, where there was a weir. The present line of the beck, at that point, was possibly established when that mill race was cut – possibly in about 1800, when or before the Cooke family arrived from North Yorkshire (see below). The new line was in any case shown on the 1839 tithe plan. Yet the parish boundary, even today, follows the beck’s old course!

A mill is shown at Hett on a map dated 1430 and it was mentioned in a charter dated 1451. It was originally a corn mill and the first paper mill was probably a converted corn mill. Both corn and paper mills were advertised for sale or rent by Thomas Ayre (or Eyre) in 1778. The Ayre family were well-known paper makers. Amoras & Joseph Ayre were paper makers at Hett in 1798 and continued after James Cooke (1719-1807), from the Egglestone Abbey Mill (near Barnard Castle), acquired the mills the following year. Cooke was proprietor till he died eight years later. In his will, dated 1805 but proved in 1807, he required that the corn mill have exclusive use of the waters from 7pm till 2am and the paper mill have it from 2am till 7pm.

It was shown as a “Paper Mill”, on the first Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1857), and Fordyce (1857) wrote “Hett Paper-mill is situated about a mile from the village [of Hett], on the Thinford Beck, and is carried on by Mr. Robert Cook [sic]”. Robert Cooke (1797-1855), who was a grandson of the original James Cooke, was living at Hett Mill at the time of the 1851 census and described as Paper Manufacturer, employing 6 men and 4 women. He died in 1855. His eldest son, also Robert (1824-1874), who married Isabella, daughter of William Story & Mary Story (née Lee), of Heugh Hall farm, Quarrington, at first carried on the business afterwards but he later moved to Crossgate – probably marking the end of paper production at Hett.

Hett Mill (or mills) may not have been destroyed to make way for North Eastern Railway’s new Ferryhill to Relly Mill main line, which opened in 1872, although some of the associated buildings were. The mills stood across the mill race, below the site of today’s level crossing, and extended partly over the line of today’s road.

Hett Mill and its mill race, as shown on the 1st Ordnance Survey Map (1857), overlaid on today’s satellite view (thanks to Google maps)

Butterby Mill was originally a fulling mill. It was converted to a paper mill in 1795, by William Lumley, and remained in that use for at least 70 years. It had a high breast shot wheel, four feet by twenty feet, fed from a leat about 500 yards long (although Stirk says 1,600 yards).

Lumley’s mill was destroyed in a storm on 29th December 1815. (See Stirk, p. 103, for description.) It was re-built and continued as a paper mill till at least 1855. The Teasdales succeeded the Lumleys as paper makers, being tenants of the Salvins. They were succeeded by the Martins, who in 1838 installed a steam engine. James Cooke (1811-1900, a cousin, but also brother-in-law of the younger Robert Cooke, having married his sister) was there by 1850, concentrating on brown (wrapping) paper. He was living there in 1851, when the Census described him as Paper Maker employing 6 men and 4 women.

Fordyce (1857) wrote: “There is a paper mill at Butterby, belonging to Gerard Salvin, Esq., and carried on by Mr. James Cook.” The mill was advertised to let in that year, “well adapted to the brown paper trade, with overshot water power…”, so the steam engine had presumably been abandonned. It was again let to Messrs Cooke (the three sons of Robert Cooke jnr, who had died in 1855). However it was unoccupied in 1861. The paper-making Cooke family presumably moved out at that time. (James Cooke moved to Darlington, where he was a rag merchant.)

In the 1860s, Butterby mill was converted for making worsted yarn, which it continued to do until at least 1915. By 1890 it belonged to Matthew Dean & Sons, a worsted manufacturing family in Durham, and was being managed by John Harding, who was living there at time of the following year’s Census. It was shown as “Butterby Mill (Worsted)” on second OS map (surveyed in 1895, published 1897). It was still a worsted mill in 1915, when the third OS map (published in 1919) was surveyed. By 1939 (OS4), it was disused.

Access to Butterby Mill was presumably via the bridleway round the west of the adjacent field and over the brick bridge to the Hett-to-Sunderland Bridge road. However there was also a path up to the cart road between Croxdale Hall and High Croxdale.

Butterby Mill accommodation bridge

Croxdale Paper Mill, owned by the Salvin family, was the first known paper mill in County Durham (1670s). Its tenants included Clarke, Ayres (or Eyres), Cummis, Ord, Lumley, Lonsdale and Teasdale.

Paper making probably ceased there in 1829 and the site is shown on the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1857) as “Ruins of a Paper Mill”.

(Note: This is not the Croxdale Corn Mill that stood about 500 metres further north, which is today a private residence – shown in the photograph below.)

**Much of the information in this account was obtained from Jean V. Stirk’s “The Lost Mills: A History of Papermaking in County Durham”. In addition, D. A. Kirby’s Durham Univesity thesis about water use in the Wear Basin includes a gazeteer of all water mills. (With thanks to Dorothy Hamilton for drawing attention to this thesis.)

Responsibility for any mistakes, however, is of course ours.

Other Sources:

• Ancestry (

• British Association of Paper Historians (

• Fordyce W. (1857): “The History & Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham…”, Newcastle

• Kirby, D. A. (1968): “Some physcial and economic aspects of water use in the Wear basin”, Doctoral thesis, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:

• Ordnance Survey Maps and Tithe Plans, via Durham County Records Office

• Stirk, Jean V. (2006), “The Lost Mills: A History of Papermaking in County Durham”, Sunderland: University of Sunderland in association with Durham County Local History Society.

• Surtees, Robert (1816/1972), “The History and antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham”, Volume I, reprinted by E. P. Publishing Limited