Temple Sowerby: Acorn Bank House

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Acorn Bank stands on the site of a religious house of the Knights Templar dating to 1228. On their suppression, the estate passed to the Knights of the Hospital of St John who held it from 1323 until the Dissolution. In 1543 it became the property of the Dalston family. Building the house in several phases, parts date from the 16th century and the main block was rebuilt during the mid 17th century. Constructed of sandstone and ashlar, the south front (above) features a symmetrical nine bay facade with a second floor band and a central doorway with segmental pediment. The whole house was given a new facade in the late 17th century and the Georgian sash windows were added in the 1740’s. The estate passed through marriage to the Boazman family from County Durham in the early 19th century.

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Acorn Bank with 180 acres of park and woodland was given to the National Trust in 1950 by Dorothy Una Ratcliffe (Mrs McGrigor Phillips). Dorothy was a Yorkshire writer and traveller who with her second husband, Captain Noel McGrigor Phillips, purchased the property in 1934. They renamed Acorn Bank as Temple Sowerby Manor and set about the restoration of the house which Dorothy filled with her impressive art collection. Noel had been injured at Gallipoli as an officer in the Great War and sadly died in 1943. Dorothy gave Acorn Bank to the National Trust (without its contents, which were dispersed) and moved to Scotland with her third husband. Thereafter, the house was leased to tenants and most recently, the Sue Ryder Foundation used it as a nursing home until 1996. The building, which retains none of its original contents, then returned to the direct management of the Trust.

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Most of the rooms retain 17th and 18th century panelling, fireplaces and cornices and the majority of the doors are original. During the time the house was used as a nursing home, many of the first floor rooms were partitioned into two bedrooms. As the partitions had been carefully erected, they were removed with little damage to the fabric of the walls and ceiling.

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The east staircase features a Venetian window with Doric columns and a single pane of heraldic glass (above). The sandstone stair was a final addition to the house and was added in 1745 by John Dalston, great grandson of the first. The stair is cantilevered and the coat of arms in the window are those of the Clough family, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe was born Dorothy Clough in 1887. At the head of the stairs are paired Ionic columns and original pedimented door cases feature on each of the landings (below).

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The fabulous panelling is original to the Drawing Room (below) and dates from the 1670’s. It has a carved decoration of oak leaves, acorns and vines (the name Acorn Bank dates from at least 1600). Made from a mixture of oak and pine, the panelling has always been painted. Investigation has revealed ten coats in its 350 year history with a stony white being the earliest colour, a duck egg blue dating from the 1930’s and a pale green from the final 1980’s paint scheme.

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The Drawing Room was an addition to the house made by John Dalston in 1670 and features an elaborately carved Robert Adam fireplace and overmantel. A structural survey made in 2013 concluded that although the Parlour floor above is stable, it is quite delicate. Advised to minimise the weight put on it, The Trust limits numbers to 10 people at any one time.

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Acorn Bank is Grade I Listed.

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Temple Sowerby: Acorn Bank Mill

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There has been a mill on the site of Acorn Bank Watermill for hundreds of years although the current building dates from the late 18th century. The mill was the manorial mill of the Acorn Bank Estate, also known as Temple Sowerby Manor for a while, and the miller was a tenant. The earliest mention of a mill is in 1323 when the estate passed from the Knights Templar to the Knights Hospitaller and at the time the mill gave an annual income of £4. The machinery suggests that substantial changes were made around 1840 when a French Burr millstone was installed. The original building is constructed of coursed squared rubble with quoins and although primarily a corn mill, the mill has also been used to provide power to the estate gypsum mines. The mill ceased to work in the 1940’s and gradually fell into a state of ruin.

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Restoration began in the late 1980’s and the Watermill was little more than a ruin. Many of the walls have had to be dismantled and completely rebuilt yet much of the machinery survived and has been retained. The mill is now partially restored and has been open to the public since 1996. Flour was ground again for the first time in September 2011. The water supply for the mill starts at a weir and sluice on Crowdundle Beck – about a quarter of a mile upstream of the mill. The weir directs water into the millrace and the sluice allows the miller to control the amount of water that flows to the mill. The race has a very shallow fall while Crowdundle Beck drops more rapidly. By the time the millrace reaches the mill, the water in it is about four metres above the river level and high enough to pass over the wheels.

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Upper Mill Machinery

Acorn Bank Watermill is unusual in that it has two sets of mill machinery driven by separate waterwheels. The upper set of machinery (above) is virtually complete with two pairs of millstones for grinding grain and making flour. This set of mill machinery is driven from the uppermost of three waterwheels. The large vertical cogwheel is on the same shaft as the waterwheel. This cogwheel is the pitwheel and it turns the smaller gear, the wallower, on the vertical shaft. The great spur wheel is the large gear above the wallower and this could be made to drive either or both of the millstones via the small ‘stonenuts’ to each side of the great spur.

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Lower Mill Machinery

The lower set of mill machinery (above) is no longer complete but was once almost identical to the upper set. The large cogwheels were probably removed when the waterwheel was adapted to provide power to a local mine. The lower set of mill machinery, like the upper set, has two pairs of millstones and was driven from the middle of three waterwheels.

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The Drying Kiln

The drying kiln (above) was used to dry the oats before they were milled. A floor of perforated tiles existed above a fire and the oats were spread over the tiles which were dried from the heat of the fire. Suspended above the kiln fire was a baffle plate which spread the heat more evenly and prevented a hot-spot on the floor above. The perforated tiles of the drying floor were supported on cross beams of stone and slate and later, iron. The earliest tiles were made of roughly fired clay with holes punched through. The oats were spread over the floor to a depth of a few inches and were turned regularly to prevent the lower grain burning and to ensure an even drying. The miller would be able to tell when the grain was dry enough by biting it. Once dry, the grain was swept off the drying floor to be milled.

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There were once three waterwheels at Acorn Bank. The top and middle wheels drove corn milling machinery while the bottom drove a saw bench. The middle wheel was adapted to provide power for a nearby gypsum mine. There were two types of wheel in use at the mill. The upper wheel is a pitchback meaning that the water falls onto the top of the wheel at the back and the middle and bottom wheels were overshot meaning that the water falls onto the wheel at the top. In both cases, the water fills buckets and its weight turns the wheel. The bottom wheel was situated below the mill building.

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Acorn Bank Mill is Grade II Listed.

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Temple Sowerby: Acorn Bank Dovecote

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On the southeast side of Acorn Bank Manor House stands a late 18th / early 19th century dovecote. Constructed of ashlar, the two storey building is of a square plan and features a slate roof with a central wooden clock turret with corner balusters surmounted by a wrought iron weather vane.

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While they are considered to be picturesque, dovecotes were functional buildings and were almost always constructed in vernacular styles using local materials. Free standing dovecotes are common and when they are attached to large country houses, such as Acorn Bank, they were designed to be a feature in the landscape.

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The building has two small dovecote openings under the eaves on the north side and features a Venetian arched window on the south side (below) with Tuscan columns. The dovecote is Grade II Listed.

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