Mills, Millwrights and Engineers. A Miscellany of Trades.
Rillington Historical Study Group has been taking the scenic route through the life story of Mark Sutton of Rillington and rio de Janeiro, and exploring the people and places important to his story. This is a brief detour into the life and times of Scampston and Rillington millwrights, the Hodgsons and the Simpkins.
Most rural communities had a corn mill, often owned and controlled by the local landowner. The mill was there to harness power from wind, or fast flowing water and grind wheat into flour or oats into animal feed. Each mill had one or more pairs of grinding stones each pair consisting of a stationary bed stone and a mobile runner. A miller needed a high level of skill and he in his turn, was dependent on the skills of the millwright to build and maintain the machinery within the mill.
The earliest millwrights were specialised carpenters. The first wind and watermills were almost entirely constructed of wood and it has always been used for some of the gearing in flour mills, even after metal components began to appear. This was to minimise the risk of sparking as a single spark in an atmosphere thick with flour dust can be enough to cause an explosion.
By the middle of the eighteenth century the agrarian revolution was making changes to food production in England. Farms were larger after Enclosure and crop yields were higher due to improvements in farming methods. Corn mills needed to be larger and the machinery more robust. The comparatively flimsy wooden post mills began to be displaced by brick or stone tower mills. Water mills became larger and both types of mill evolved to generate more power and run multiple pairs of grinding stones. Later on water power, in particular, began to be harnessed for a variety of industrial processes.
Mills around Rillington.
There is evidence for a long demolished windmill near Beck Hole, off Collinson’s Lane, just to the North East of the ford, but. For many centuries, the major source of power in the area was water.
A mill at Wintringham, a village about three miles to the South East of Rillington was recorded in the Mediaeval period, according to Bulmer’s directory of 1892:
"This church formerly belonged to the prior and canons of Malton, to whom it was given by Eustace Fitz-John, in the year 1150. His grant also included his "lean house in the western part of the aforesaid church, and two mill houses in the same village, with all their appurtenances, in tithes, and in lands, and in pasturage, and in mill houses, and in right of water - in marsh land - and in the commons, and in the moors, and in all other things and liberties which, from ancient times, belonged, or were given, to the church of Wintringham."
The Ordnance survey map of 1851 shows water mills for the milling of corn associated with both Scampston and Wintringham. The mills were situated quite close to each other, in fact rather close to each other than to the villages they serviced as both used Wintringham Beck as their water source.
The Scampston mill was there by the second half of the eighteenth century, research to find out when it was built is ongoing.
From Blacksmith to Millwright:The Simpkins and the Hodgsons;
In the history of Rillington, going back many generations, the Simpkin family was involved wherever there was skilled metal work going on. ‘Simpkin of Rillington’ long case clocks still occasionally come up for auction. John Simpkin, a Rillington clockmaker, died in 1833 ‘after an affliction of 34 months’. He is buried just North of St Andrew’s church, with his wife, Lucy.
Other members of the Simpkin clan favoured heavier work. Robert and Joseph Simpkins are recorded in Baines’ Directory of 1823 as blacksmiths and farriers. They are the sons of Robert Simpkin (b. 1745), also a blacksmith. In the census of 1841 both are recorded as living with their families near the junction of Ratten Row and Lamb Lane (later Scarborough Road).
By this time Joseph and his wife Ann have six children. The youngest, and most important from our point of view, is Ruston (b. 1835).
The Hodgson Connection.
There were Hodgsons living at Scampston Mill from at least 1782 when Christopher Hodgson, Miller, married Hannah Waller from Settrington.In 1851 John Hodgson, age 63 is the miller at Scampston. His son, also John Hodgson (37), is living at Park Lodge, Scampston and is a ‘Millwright and Machine maker’, the proprietor of Scampston Works.There are two apprentices; John Beal (17) and Ruston Simpkin (16).
In 1857 Ruston Simpkin got lucky and married the bosses daughter, Mary. Their son, Joseph is born in 1858.John Hodgson’s enterprise appeared to be doing well. In 1859 he was taking out large advertisements in the Malton Gazette extolling his ‘prize grinding mills...well tried for years in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire’ his ‘turning and boring lathes’ and his ‘Portable Steam Sawing Machine’. He’s now calling himself ‘Millwright and Engineer.’
In 1863 John Hodgson moved his business to River Head Works at Driffield, taking out another newspaper advertisement to inform his customers about the relocation. It appears that Ruston Simpkin, son in law and former apprentice, stayed behind.
By the time of the the 1871 census he’s living in Scarborough Road, close to the forge run by Aaron Simpkin. He’s calling himself a ‘Millwright and machine Maker’. Ruston has a son, Joseph (13) and a daughter, Anne (10).
1877 was a good year for Ruston Simpkin He exhibited a seed drill in agricultural shows; it was mentioned with approval in the Malton Messenger of 13th October. He was also elected to the Rillington School Board, a position with a bit of local prestige. The Board School was quite new at this point and the first prosecutions of the parents for not sending their children to school had just happened, so this School Board election was, by all accounts, a contentious one.He was also advertising for journeyman blacksmiths and apprentice millwrights. This may be when Mark Sutton began his apprenticeship. In 1881 Ruston is still living in Scarborough Road with a new apprentice; Vickerman Wills.
The Next Generation.
Ruston Simpkin's son, Joseph was a millwright in his own right by 1881.
Joseph married Jane Ruston, a farmer’s daughter in 1879 and settled in Sledgate. They had a son, Thomas in 1880 and a daughter, Mary Emma in 1882. Sadly, Jane Simpkin dies in 1883, Mary Emma appears to have been sent away at this point, possibly to live with relatives. She will only reappear for the 1901 census.
In 1885 Joseph marries Annie Ruth Wilson, also a farmer’s daughter.
In 1891 Joseph and Annie Ruth were living in Scarborough Road with sons Thomas Ruston Simpkin(10), Herbert William Simpkin( 3) and an apprentice, Charley Harrison (20).
And what about Ruston?
In 1891 Ruston Simpkin is has given up the millwright trade and is living at Raven Hill Inn, Stainton Dale, with his wife, Mary, and a granddaughter. He’s described as ‘Publican and Miller’. Joseph appears to have taken on the millwright’s business in Scampston and Rillington.
Its during the 1890s that life begins to unravel for the Simpkin family.
Mary Simpkin, wife of Ruston and mother of Joseph, dies in 1894 and is buried on 19th. June in Rillington. The same year Ruston is declared bankrupt and has to return Rillington and start working as a millwright again. Let’s hope his remarriage in 1897 to the widowed Ellen Hesp provided some consolation.
So back to Joseph Simpkin.
In 1901 he was still living in Sledgate with second wife, Annie Ruth, daughter Mary Emma and his sons Herbert William (13) and Walter James (6). He is described as a ‘Tractor engine driver’ and, for the first time in decades, has no apprentice listed. Maybe the millwright’s trade is not going well.
In 1902 Annie Ruth dies and he is widowed for the second time.
Joseph followed his father’s example, taking up a public appointment as ‘Assistant Overseer of the Poor’. This was job with lots of responsibility, including keeping. track of public funds.
The Final Chapter.
In 1905 everything came to a head for Joseph. His father, Ruston, millwright and bankrupt innkeeper, died and was buried on February 27th.
In May there was a dispute about the appointment of Overseers of the Poor and Joseph had to ask the local magistrates to confirm his appointment.
On the 26th October 1905, Joseph Simpkin, in his role as Assistant Overseer, was scheduled to take his financial records and meet a Government auditor. He failed to keep the appointment and, at 5:30 in the afternoon was found dead by one of his sons. He was 47 and had hanged himself.
Subsequent enquiry found that his books were in good order.
Its impossible to know why he killed himself, but life for a widower with young children and two jabs cannot have been easy. In the light of his father’s bankruptcy and recent death, any suggestion of a lack of probity on Joseph’s part must have been painful.
After this, the Simpkin name seems to have faded away in Rillington. In 1911 Ruston Simpkin’s widow, formerly Ellen Hesp, is working as housekeeper for John Mormon, aged 92, in Wintringham.
The nearest millwrights in 1911 are an Anthony Fish in Castlegate, Malton and Thackray of Brawby.
Mark Sutton, Joseph’s early apprentice, had put his skills to good use in Industry, undergoing further training to become a Mechanical Engineer. This was a path others had followed; the newer professions of Mechanical and Agricultural Engineers had deep roots in the trade if the Millwright and the Blacksmith.