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John O'groats Mill

Grain Mill (20th Century), Threshing Mill (18th Century), Watermill (18th Century)

Site Name John O'groats Mill

Classification Grain Mill (20th Century), Threshing Mill (18th Century), Watermill (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Huna Mill; John O'groats Mills; Burn Of Duncansby

Canmore ID 9394

Site Number ND37SE 27

NGR ND 37199 73347

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Canisbay
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND37SE 27.00 37199 73347

John o' Groats Mill

(Corn) [NAT]

OS 1:10,000 map, 1976.

ND37SE 27.01 ND 37155 73370 Mill Cottage

ND37SE 27.02 ND 37208 73165 Mill Dam (pond)

ND37SE 27.03 ND 37237 73179 to ND 37178 73338 Mill Lade

See also:

ND37SE 28 ND 37182 73344 Cromwell Bridge (Burn of Duncansby)

ND37SE 29 ND 37159 73291 New Bridge (Burn of Duncansby)

ND37SE 44.00 ND 37179 73329 Threshing Mill

ND37SE 44.01 ND 37174 73310 Stable Cottage

Listed with adjacent (Cromwell) Bridge (ND37SE 28).

(Undated) information from Historic Scotland.

(Location cited as ND 372 733). John O' Groats Mills. The larger mill, built in 1750 and rebuilt in 1901, is a handsome 3-storey rubble building, on an L plan, with a double kiln. The machinery is driven by an 8-spoke overshot wood and iron wheel, 4ft 3ins (1.3m) wide by 13ft (3.96m) diameter. Nearby is a smaller mill (ND37SE 44.00) with a similar wheel, 2ft 10ins (0.86m) wide by 12ft (3.66m) diameter.

J R Hume 1977.

John o'Groats Mill, Huna. Two corn mills: the larger (1750) was originally a threshing mill, but was rebuilt in 1901 as a corn mill. This reversed the function of the smaller mill (1846) which then became the threshing mill. The former has a tall double-vented kiln, the mill motivated by an overshot wheel. Both mills share the same lade.

E Beaton 1996.

Site Management (29 August 2012)

Large. south facing 3-storey, L-plan rubble mill, tooled rubble dressings. 3-storey kiln(1901) takes up outer 2 bays of east wing, with entrance at base, 2 large cast-iron stays 2 wallhead vents and 2 tall square ridge vents. Mill entrance to right in south elevation of re-entrant, with 1st floor loft door above and projecting chute gable breaking wallhead above that. Lean-to wheel-house abuts west elevation masking overshot wheel served by lade carried on rubble piers. Caithness slate roof. Smaller 2-storey, 2-bay rubble mill flanks west side of lade (which serves both mills) and from which water is deflected to serve north gable wheel. Further irregular single and 2-storey rubble range comprised of 1845 workshop/stable 1896 meal girna completes complex; Caithness slate roofs.

All internal machinery in situ. Bridge links mill with Mill Cottage, and is believed to be the oldest military bridge in the Highlands. (Historic Scotland)


Publication Account (1995)

There are two mills here, and they have a somewhat complex history of reuse. The first known mill on the site was built in 1750 where the large mill stands today. The smaller mill was built beside it in 1846, and shared the same mill-Iade. The new mill was then used as a grain mill and the old mill as a threshing mill. However in 1901 the old mill was completely rebuilt and the positions reversed; the new larger mill became the grain mill once again while the smaller building was converted for threshing. It has not been used for many years. The grain mill, however, is one of the very few waterpowered grain mills still working in Scotland, and mostly produces barley meal.

Of the older building, the lower block is the 1846 mill, while the two-storey block nearer the road is a store. The grain mill is a three-storey, L-plan building. The enclosed, overshot water wheel is made of wood and iron, and the mill lade derives from the Burn of Ouncansby some way upstream.The external sack hoist can be seen projecting from an upper storey. There is a large kiln for drying grain before grinding, with two tall square ventilators which look somewhat like chimneys. The kiln floor is made of cast-iron perforated plates that let the heat through to the grain. There are three pairs of millstones, for shelling, grinding barley, and grinding oatmeal. An interesting feature of the mill is that the grain husks were used as fuel in the kiln, an arrangement also found at Achingale Mill (NO 240534).

An unusual amount is known of the history of this mill. The 1901 mill was designed by William Campbell Houston, nephew of the miller, then studying engineering at Glasgow University. He and his uncle travelled round Caithness looking at other mills to incorporate the most up-to-date ideas in their own design.

Beside the mill is the remains of an old rubble arched bridge traditionally dated to the 17th century; this leads now to the single-storey, early 19th-century Mill Cottage, used by mill employees. The miller, still a member of the Houston family, lives in Mill House across the road.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

Photographic Survey (26 March 2013 - 14 March 2018)

A new photographic survey of the mill building at John O'Groats was made as part of a threatened building survey of mill and its machinery in both 2013 and 2018.

Field Visit (4 March 2013 - 14 March 2013)

ND 37023 73349 (centre of mill) A programme of work, relating to the abandoned John o’Groats Mill on the N coast of Caithness, has been commissioned by the Princes Regeneration Trust in association with the North Highland Initiative. The work undertaken, 4–14 March 2013, included a desk-based assessment and walkover survey of the land within the ownership of the mill, a measured survey of the mill, a general topographic site plan of the area including the mill pond and its associated waterways, a detailed written/photographic survey of the mill, the mill cottages and the abandoned cottages to the NW, as well as the adjacent 17th-century Cromwellian Bridge, an inventory of all the moveable artefacts inside the mill and a geophysical survey on the ground surrounding the mill by Rose Geophysics.

John o’Groats Mill was constructed largely in 1901, a rebuild of a much earlier threshing mill, thought to date from the mid-18th century, probably earlier. It is a long held belief that there has been a mill on or near this site for many hundreds of years, and the area of John o’Groats certainly has a long history dating back to the post-medieval period. However, apart from some unpublished investigations dating to the 1980s, there has been no evidence to suggest that any such mills existed. This work aims to establish the history and phasing of the site and its landscape, and provide information that will allow an informed decision to be made on the preservation and any future use of the building.

The present mill is a large mill for its type, three-storeys in height with a large kiln to the NE side, and a huge overshot waterwheel - set in its own wheel house – powering three large millstones on the first floor. It has been left empty since 2001, and there are 213 artefacts (some in groups) in the mill including tools, equipment, former millstones, winnowing machines, etc, which, although not of great antiquity, form part of the picture of the history and use of the mill in the later stages of its life. The flagstone mill pond to the S is just as interesting, with stone cobbled weirs and water channels.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The National Trust for Scotland

Diana Sproat, AOC Archaeology Group, 2013

(Source: DES)


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