Summats afoot at Eskdale Boot Mill

by Judith Wildwood

What’s afoot at the seasons end of Eskdale (or Boot) Mill? photo by Alan Cleaver

What’s afoot at the seasons end of Eskdale (or Boot) Mill?
photo by Alan Cleaver

THE 2016 season at Eskdale Mill, Boot draws to a close with visits from two local primary schools – St Bega’s, Eskdale and Longtown Primary Yr 3.

This indicates the success of the volunteer group in making links between the Mill and local communities over the course of the last year.

A stand at Eskdale Show similarly saw a constant flow of interested visitors, both local to the valley and from further afield wanting to know more about this hidden Lakeland gem.

Volunteers have offered a guided tour of the Mill at a nominal cost to over 2,000 visitors since March; our passion for this unique remnant of Lakeland’s farming past has been matched by the enthusiasm of our visitors. Recent visitors from Lincoln said: “We wish we lived closer so that we could help out.”

Hunkered into the hill in Boot village and on an ancient pack-horse trail/coffin road over into Wasdale, the building simply oozes history.

As Lakeland’s oldest working water-mill its historic mechanisms and artefacts reveal a great deal about the small-scale, nearly self-sufficient valley economy before tourism took over.

It abounds with quirky references to many of its resident millers over the 800 years that it has functioned.

It boasts its own folk-tune “The Boot Mill Jig”; this dance-tune may have been penned by Ned Bibby “The Dancing Miller”. He was a dab hand on the squeezebox in the early years of the 20th century when he wasn’t toiling away grinding oats and corn!

Similarly we have a short local lullaby in the collection from an Elizabeth Benn Moore who was born in 1881 – many people will recognise

Benn as a local farming name and also the Cumbrian dialect words it contains:

Bishy Bo Babby Lie Still

Thy Mammy’s Away To The Mill
She Will Be But An Hour
A-grinding The Flour
So Bishy Bo Babby Lie Still!

The Mill is now poised on the brink of what may be some of its greatest changes in many decades.

In the course of the last year a detailed examination of its historic fabric and the exploratory phase of a Heritage Lottery Fund Bid have taken place.

Depending on the consultations now taking place, up to Elm may be allocated to secure the fabric into the future, to catalogue and conserve its historic artefacts and to shape it into a local Heritage tourist attraction, which will be viable into the future.

As a consequence, it is projected that the Mill will now close its doors to visitors until January 2018. We hope she will then emerge like Cinderella in all her finery and invite you to come along with her and have a Ball.

Importantly, the word “Heritage” is significant; the Mill is a classic example of what is best about Cumbrians – our grit, resourcefulness and inventiveness often with very slim resources.

As such it does represent “All Our Yesterdays” – it is our heritage and history; something we have every right to feel proud of and to leave in good order to future generations.