Beetham is a small village on the southern border of Cumbria near to the border with Lancashire. It stands on the River Bela on which there have been water mills for at least 900 years. Heron Mill, known by that name since the seventeenth century, had ceased to grind flour by 1927. The manufacture of cattle feed continued until 1958. In 1973 the mill passed into the charge of the Beetham Trust which has developed its stone barn for community use as an educational and arts centre, a project which has gained impetus from a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2013. As a move towards self-sufficiency a Kaplan turbine for generating electricity was installed in the mill weir in 2009-10.
One particularly innovative arts project concerns ‘tramping’, the custom, commonplace in many European countries, by which young men who had completed their apprenticeships moved across the country, sometimes to other countries, to gain further experience of their trades. The project was launched at Heron Mill when it was realised that apprentices in papermaking and millwrighting had stayed there in the nineteenth century. A road show has been devised around the theme of tramping, and pottery and banners have been produced relating to the subject.
The mill itself is stone-built and dates from 1740. It has a 4.3 m. diameter high breast shot wheel, and still grinds flour. There is an exhibition showing the history of corn milling on the site and the development of the technology of baking. Papermaking is also demonstrated in the mill, where workers continuing to produce high grade paper for artists. The museum of papermaking, established in the 1980s, shows techniques used in an industry that has been important in the area for several centuries, and still continues on the other side of the River Bela where Billerudkornäs manufacture grease resistant paper for the food and pharmaceutical industries at a mill that employs 140 people.