The Mediaeval Mill
Records in Durham Cathedral library record a mill at Fenham, originally part of the Manor there, from at least 1339. This Manor was part of the holdings of the Monastery at Lindisfarne. James Raine’s ‘History of North Durham’ (1830) quotes the Cathedral Library records showing regular rents and repairs for the Mill from 1346 until the Reformation. The site of this mill seems to have been further inland than the current mill. P J Dixon in ‘The Deserted Medieval Villages of Northumberland,’ described the site based on his 1978 survey:
The site lies on sloping ground leading down to the coast and has clear views across the sea to Holy Island. The monument includes the remains of a manor house surrounded by a moat and a surrounding wall, as well as crofts and tofts, fields and part of the mill race of Fenham Mill.
The Northumberland Archives’ Keys to the Past Listing, based on a survey by the then Archivist Robin Guard, gives this description:
Fenham Mill stands almost on the sea shore, powered by the Fenham Burn, and it was owned by the monks of Holy Island. The slight remains of a building can be seen, though these are probably post medieval in date.
Who came after the Monks?
At the time of the Reformation Fenham Manor, being a monastic property, was confiscated by the Crown. When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne it was described as ‘a tower in good reparations’. Shortly afterwards in 1565 it was leased to Sir William Reade, one of the Captains of the town of Berwick. Then, in the 1700s, the Granary passed to the Haggerstone Family, and through them it came into the hands of the Leylands in 1864. At some point a new mill was built nearer the coast – based on mason mark evidence, the current owner believes this happened in 1801.
There may have been more than one rebuilding. The cottage to the north has a stone in the wall showing where the shaft of the mill wheel may have been. Together with some evidence that the burn previously ran past this way, it is thought that this may have been an earlier mill. Then, when the present mill was built, it was altered to make a separate dwelling.
The Present Mill
The present mill, built almost on the sea shore, was powered by an overshot wheel driven by the Denham Burn. It was advertised to let in the Berwick Advertiser on 21 February 1879:
MILL AND LANDS TO LET FENHAM MILL TO LET, with Entry at the 12th May next. Situate in the Parish of Holy Island, County of Northumberland. The MILL is in current working order, together with 16 Acres of excellent good Arable and Pasture Lands, with a good House and Suitable Buildings for the occupancy of the place, is within Two Miles of Beal Station, on the North Eastern Railway. The present Tenant will show the place. Offers in writing will be received by Mr Main, Haggerston, Beal, Northumberland, until Thursday the 27th inst. 12th Feb. 1879
The current owner began the restoration of the mill building in 1966. By 2017 it had been beautifully renovated to make a modern home, the mill machinery displayed enclosed by glass panels, and mill stones have a new use in the living room. At some time the burn was diverted away from the mill.
The earliest named miller was a George Palyer recorded as paying £5.0.0 for the Mill in 1670/71. In 1828 it was tenanted by William Cornet, and they remained millers there until at least 1871, possibly living in the cottage to the north of the Mill. By 1875, tenancy of the mill had passed to Thomas Short, a member of a long established milling family who were also involved with Etal, Waren and Spindlestone mills.
A decade later it had passed to the Curry family, who were still there in 1901. By 1911, no miller is recorded, although the property was again occupied by members of the Short family, and in 1929, when the Fenham Estate sold its farms to the tenants, it was the Shorts who bought it.