River dig unearths historic mill

AN 800-year-old wheelpit has been uncovered as part of an archeological dig in Coquetdale.

Members of the area’s community archeology group discovered the remains, which show the channel in which a mill wheel rotated, as part of a 10-day dig on the River Coquet in the Cheviots.

Working in difficult conditions in the water and on the bank, more 30 people exposed the high quality masonry, which is believed to have been built by monks from Newminster Abbey in Morpeth 800 years ago.

A large wooden structure on the riverbed, which is probably the remains of a system of sluices that directed water to the mill, was also found further upstream.

From the scale of the finds it is now clear that cloth production must have been a major part of the Cheviot economy in the 13th century, with large numbers of spinners and weavers supplying the raw material for the mill.

Chris Butterworth, chairman of Coquetdale Community Archeology, said: “The project has been a great success.

“Our members carried out valuable research and we’ve adopted new approaches, with help from a professional diver and experiments with aerial photography from a kite-mounted camera.

“We owe thanks to members of the community too: The local farmers, especially Ian and Eunice Tait at Barrowburn Farm Tea Room who stored our gear and provided lunches, and Tom Mason of Rothbury who filled in the trenches with a JCB.”

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage, with grants from others, the dig attracted local interest.

“It’s been an extraordinary two weeks,”said project director Richard Carlton.

“At the start we didn’t dream that we would find as much as we have. The project is a real testament to what a community-based group can achieve.”