About Lancaster’s Mill Race

About the Mill Race

The Mill Race is a channel of water that lies underneath some of Lancaster’s low-lying streets. It is thought to originate from a Roman waterway that bypessed the wier on the Lune. In the 13th century, the Mill Race gained its name, powering mills near what is now Damside Street and Dye House Lane. Over the succeeding centuries, the Mill Race was gradually sold off and built over, becoming completely underground by the end of the First World War.

Historic Map of Lancaster showing the Mill Race

The Mill Race has always been an issue for the town, in the 1800s it was likened to an linear cess-pit, breeding all sorts of disease. When the Corporation installed sewers later that century, the overflow from the storm drains was directed into the Mill Race, which has caused problems until the present day. Keith Horsfield, in his 2001 book The Lancaster Mill Race notes that in ‘modern Lancaster the mill race unknown, forgotten, or taken for granted, runs entirely underground, hidden from the eyes of its citizens’. However, it has a way of reminding people from time to time of its existence.

Church Street flooding, July 19th 2017

During Storm Desmond in December 2015, the River Lune caused flooding in the city and it is thought that the Mill Race, overwhelmed by the volume of rainwater led to the old system backing up with water that could not escape into the river. The area was hit again on July 19th 2018, with the Church Street area being hit once again. This flooding had a devastating effect on many of the businesses that traded there. Some were able to re-open after months of remedial work to their damaged premises, some have remained closed to this day. Since the storm, businesses, local government and universities have sought ways to prevent such devastation happening again. Sadly, the area was flooded again November  2017, highlighting the urgency of this problem.