Shrouded in an air of mystery, on the highest part of Cleadon Hills, proudly sits one of our most prominent local landmarks. Built almost 200 years ago Cleadon Mill was one of over a hundred windmills in the North East of England, mostly scattered along the coast.
This stone tower mill which sits 200 metres above sea level, is built from Magnesium Limestone and was built for the purpose of grinding corn, but it is believed that this was not the first windmill on this isolated spot.
Following the devastation brought on by the black death in the fourteenth century a survey of the land was ordered by the then Bishop of Durham. Recordings of the survey found that bond tenants of Whitburn and Clevedon held the tenancy for a Windmill in Clevedon of which the exact location is not known. We can only assume that the current Mill was built within the original footprint as it was common for the same plot to be re-used.
The current Mill is said to have been built in the 1820’s for the Reverend George Cooper Abbs of Abbs House and Cleadon Hall in Cleadon Village. Abbs was an academic and a naturalist and is said to have been good friends with many of Tyneside’s luminaries of the nineteenth century. There is a definite recording of the mill being in operation in 1828 when Joseph Watson was the corn miller but by 1844 the Mill was run by Thomas Metcalf. The Gibbon family were working the Mill by the 1850’s and it was this family who ran the Mill till its closure in the 1870’s.
There is a sad love story which links the Gibbon family to the Mill. The story is about their daughter Elizabeth who by all accounts was stunningly beautiful and could quite easily have had her pick of local boys. However she chose to fall in love with a less than respectable sailor who was known as ‘Peter the Pirate’. The miller was furious and forbid Elizabeth to see him.
There are two possible endings to the story and there is doubt whether either is true. The first is that when Elizabeth found out that Peter had met another girl on his return from sea she fell into a depression and stopped eating. She became severely ill and eventually passed away. The other story is that on being prevented from seeing Peter by her father, Elizabeth fell into depression and one day climbed to the top of the mill and threw herself off. Either way she died of a broken heart and her ghost is said to haunt the ruined Mill.
So how or why did the milling at Cleadon come to an end? Some say it was due to a devastating fire, others say it was one dreadful night when a severe storm swept through the North East destroying the windmill. Who knows if one or any story is true, but it still makes a far more interesting and mysterious end to the windmill, far better than it being bullied out of business by the industrial revolution which was looming at the end of the eighteenth century.
Some years later the damage to the windmill was made worse when it was used during the First World War as an artillery base.
The Windmill is now owned by South Tyneside Council and is currently Grade 2 listed. There have been several pleas made over the years by local residents to restore the windmill to its former glory much like the windmills at Fulwell and Whitburn. But despite their efforts little has changed to the Mill in over 100 years apart from a partial restoration in 1992. Luckily we can use our imagination to visualise how spectacular this windmill would look with huge sails in such an open landscape with the most breath taking views.