Castleford Heritage Trust

Queen’s Mill

Queen's Mill by Rod Rayner Queen's Mill, previously known locally as Allinson's Mill and before that Castleford Mill, is the world's largest stone grinding flour mill, with twenty pairs of stones.   Although not a listed building, the mill is of significance because of its history, heritage and importance in the local community over hundreds of years.

It can be stated with some confidence that flour has been produced on the site of Queen's Mill for an almost unbroken period of more than 900 years.   But that may not be all, for when archaeologists excavated on the opposite side of Aire Street in advance of the Job Centre being built, they found the remains of timber wharves at what was then the edge of a much wider, shallower River Aire, dating from the time of Roman Lagentium.   Among the debris were grains of wheat, possibly spilled during the unloading of a vessel – so could it have been that this wheat was also being ground in that location?

Returning to less speculative evidence, the earliest written mention of a mill in Castleford appears in a charter dating from 1093, issued by Robert de Lacy, Lord of Pontefract Castle.   By that time, waterwheels were an established technology and would have driven millstones housed in a timber building.   A document dated 1122 speaks of “the water between the two mills of Castleford” and may refer to a mill on each bank of the Aire or, alternatively, to two mills side-by-side (or more likely within a single building) on the current site.   Both arrangements have pertained at various times over the centuries, though milling on the north side of the water ended in the late 19th century, by which time it was mainly the grinding of seeds to produce various types of oil and animal feed.

Throughout the medieval period, mills were owned by the monarchy, although day-to-day control was delegated downward, eventually resting in the hands of the lord of the manor (in this case the de Lacys to begin with, then the Duchy of Lancaster and subsequently the manor of Houghton-with-Castleford) who, in turn, leased them out to tenants.   In common with most mills, that at Castleford was what was known as a soke mill: one where villagers were compelled to bring for grinding the wheat they had grown on their strips of land in the village fields.   It is likely that the weir, in those times usually known as the mill dam, was built in 1155, this being the year a ferry was instituted across the river, presumably because the dam made the water too deep to use the old Roman ford a short distance upstream.

Occasional references in medieval documents testify to the continued operation at Castleford.   In 1241, it was recorded that John de Lacy, of Pontefract Castle, paid for new millstones, which cost seven shillings, but by 1297 the cost of four pairs of stones (probably for both Castleford and the de Lacy's other mills at Knottingley) had risen to £25.   In 1327 came the first record of a fulling mill, this being the process of beating wet newly-woven cloth with wooden hammers to refine and strengthen it, formerly a manual operation.   Similarly, the 1379 list of Poll Tax payers in Castelford includes a Thomas of Castleford whose occupation is given as a 'walker', someone who beat the cloth during fulling and who was therefore, presumably, the operator of the fulling mill.

As with earlier references to more than one mill in Castleford, it is open to question whether the fulling mill stood alongside, or across the river from, a flour mill.   In 1619, however, there were definitely two mills on the current Queen's Mill site, as a sale deed from that year refers to “two mills of Castleford under one roof”.   At that time it was probably a relatively new structure, for when the Duchy of Lancaster's commissioners visited Castleford in 1589, they found the buildings to be “so decayed in the ground work and timber” that if not rebuilt very soon “they will by the violence of a flood be carried away”.

In the early seventeenth century, the crown began disposing of much of its property and thus Castleford Mills were sold in 1607 to Arthur Ingram (who also bought Temple Newsam in 1622) while the buyer in the previously-mentioned 1619 deed was Sir William Whitmore, an MP and landowner from Shropshire; in turn, in 1642, he sold the lease to Bryan Stapylton, of Myton-on-Swale and John Bayne, of York.   Along with the buildings, each new owner also inherited the right of soke – that is, the right to charge the villagers for grinding their grain.

A significant change of ownership came in 1782 when Thomas Davison Bland, of Kippax, sold the mills on both sides of the river to the Aire & Calder Navigation company for £7,000.  : The A&CN and its successors – the British Waterways Board and Canal & River Trust – remained the owners until 2013.   By the time of the 1782 sale, the mills were more substantial structures, having been rebuilt in stone in 1746–7.   There were still two corn mills within one building on the Queen's Mill site, each with its own waterwheel, but by 1816 one of these mills was leased to David Dunderdale, to grind flint for his Castleford Pottery.

A plan dated 1822 shows the main body of the mill taking its present shape: brickwork from this period, in the wall facing the river, has survived subsequent rebuildings, along with some of the mid-eighteenth century stonework.   There were still two wheels, one driving stones to grind grain, the other to grind bone (again for the pottery industry).   Around this time, the Heptinstall family took on the lease and retained it until 1884.   Among the works they undertook were extensions at the east end of the mill for warehousing, including the building now known as the screening room, which was built in 1866.   The two waterwheels continued in operation and, externally, the buildings were starting to appear largely as they do today.

Queen's Mill 1884 The successors to the Heptinstalls were Harry Goodall & Co, who had big ideas for the mill.   In 1884–85, the traditional water-driven millstones were replaced by steel rollers, powered by steam, to crush the grain and the twin waterwheels were decommissioned.   However, rather than abandoning water power, instead they replaced the two wheels with one huge one, 21ft in diameter and 14ft wide, and connected it to a dynamo to generate electricity: thus, in October 1885, the mill became the first building in Castleford with electric light and power.   An extra warehouse was added, this being the building now known as the island, nearest the river footbridge.   The Goodalls also planned to make a fortune from 'Tricitine' – a fortified wheat powder touted as the cure for almost any health problem.   In 1896 they claimed sales had grown by 4,000% as they took out a full-page advertisement in the Yorkshire Post for a shares issue to finance expansion of the Castleford site and to buy a mill in Hull.   However, two disastrous blows ensured their plans came to nought: in November 1897 they were (unsuccessfully) sued by a rival company for infringement of trademark, which nevertheless cost Goodalls £5,000 in legal fees; then in December 1897 a fire gutted the interior of the mill and caused £30,000 of damage.  It is thought the mill remained out of action through the first two decades of the 20th century.

Where Harry Goodall had failed, however, Dr Thomas Allinson succeeded in putting Queen's Mill on the map nationally when his successors bought the lease in 1921 to produce his famous stoneground flour “with nowt taken out”.   Returning to traditional milling principles, out came the steel rollers in favour of a return to stones, though by now mains electricity supplemented the waterwheel, which nevertheless remained in operation until 1970.   Additional stones were added at various times until by the mid 1970s Queen's Mill, with its 20 pairs of working stones, inherited the status of the world's biggest stoneground flour mill.   Through various changes of ownership – first to Booker McConnell (1972), then Allied Mills (1994) and finally to ADM Milling (2003) – Castleford remained synonymous with the Allinson brand.

Thus it remained until 2010, when ADM ceased operations in Castleford and closed Queen's Mill.   That, it seemed at the time, was the end of at least 900 years of flour milling on the site – but Castleford Heritage Trust and the people of the town had other ideas and so, in 2013, the next chapter in a centuries-old story began.