High Mill was first known to exist close to Pickering castle’s Mill Tower in the 13th century and was almost certainly the earliest in the town. For many centuries it operated as a corn mill, until the advent of steam power and then electricity rendered water mills uneconomic. For several decades it continued as an animal feed mill, no doubt buoyed for a while by the war years, until it finally closed in 1958. Sadly, the waterwheels, millstones and drive gear were all removed at this time and it has been standing empty ever since. Coupled with the closure of the railway by Dr Beeching in March 1965, this era would have been a distinct low point in the town’s history.
As late as the mid 1800’s, the mill was still only a single storey stone building with two external undershot waterwheels and sluices supported on a wooden frame. After this time, the building was variously enlarged and heightened, with a fine stone frontage, brick gables and the wheelhouse completely enclosing the mill leat, with further storage above. High Mill House was built on the back of the mill about 1856, clearly post-dating the arrival of the railway, due to it’s facing of white ‘railway brick’. There obviously wasn’t much space left to squeeze the house into as can be seen by its close proximity to the line. However, on the plus side, this does mean it can scarcely be surpassed as a viewing platform along the whole length of the line.
Contrary to advice from both our solicitor and three young daughters, we purchased the semi-derelict and barely habitable hovel in October 2001, shared with about 100 pigeons and substantial damp. It was neither warm nor dry. The roof leaked gallons a day and most of the woodwork was completely rotten and riddled with woodworm. Plaster in various shades of green fell off the crumbling walls and the lead covered electric cables could best be described as lethal. With some degree of understatement, the previous owner said ‘needs some attention does that’.
Once the ingress of water was halted by a new roof, the major restoration project continued at an unerringly sedate pace, maintained by a nomadic room-to-room existence. We eventually built Mill Lodge and The Limes on the site of the former builder’s yard, garages and stables in 2006-07, with such luxuries as hot water, central heating and plastered walls.
Just shy of our original 2 year estimate, renovation of High Mill House was finally completed in September 2009, just hours before our first tourist board inspection. Uninhabitable to four-star in a mere 8 years.
Pickering, North Yorkshire