"Trouble at t'mill" - origin?

It’s a cliché of Yorkshire speech, but does anyone know where the phrase “trouble at t’mill” originally came from and how it became such a standard?

It’s used in Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” sketch which was first broadcast in 1970, but I’m sure that was just trotting out a well-known phrase.

I found a radio programme called “Trouble at t’Mill” in the BBC Home Service radio listings from September 1967, which is the earliest newspaper reference I could find.

What I do know is that some of the earliest industrial-age labor-capital confrontations took place among textile weavers. The ones I’m remembering were in Scotland but maybe the North of England had the same sort of things. Don’t know if that’s the actual source for your phrase, but not bad as a WAG.

I expected you to say that.

My family is from ‘oop there’ and everything is “Ya goin daan t’pub” or Ya “Ma’s off t’grocery store” so I’m going out on t’limb by saying that the Monty Python sketch made ‘Trouble at t’mill’ part of the vernacular.

Well, obviously the phrase came about the first time a crossbeam went out askew on t’treadle.

It all started when the flay rod went out of skew on t’ treadle.

There’s naught wrong with gala lunches, lad!

Inheritance(novel and TV series)

You… labourers!

From the 1890s to the 1940s at least, there was an entire subgenre of English Fiction referred to by this title, ranging from very cheap magazine stories to respectable middlebrow novels. Even the 1940/50s novelist Thomas Armstrong, writing of Northern manufacturing folk in dynasties of wool and cotton comes vaguely into this category.

At least so much that honest working people rush in to the factory owner’s office in the case of a strike, or his domicile if the factory is in flames in the middle of the night, and shriek out that immortal phrase in spirit if not in actual words.
I may be very wrong, but I suspect the phrase first came in one of the Bronte sisters’ novels. Which I couldn’t say being unable to read them; but it prolly had a lot of ‘*maister’*s thrown in to show proper deference.

All this was parodied in the comedy series Brass , starring Timothy West as the mill owner Bradley Hardacre

Its all very well you and your posh miner friends talking away, being an author wasn’t good enough for you was it ?Arrrrrrrrrrr my writers cramp…

Tungsten carbide drills! What the bloody hell’s tungsten carbide drills?

Reckon tha might ha’ nailed that, lad.

I am afraid this phrase goes back so far, the source will for ever remain anonymous. Its use in “inheritance” is acknowledged, but my family was already using it to refer to a generic problem (particularly a work-related one) long before that. “Mill” is not only a textile-related workplace, there are steel mills for instance, that it had gained a general use as a substitute for “factory” by the late 19th century in deepest Yorkshire. The first use, I guess, referred to a flour mill.

Owts daft boot thee and me, and thee’s a bit queer…

(“I’m from the third world - Yorkshire.” - Ronnie Barker)

I would not be at all surprised if it came down to something like the plug riots or the Luddites.


There were plenty of bitter strikes where the military were called out, they make modern industrial unrest look like a ladies sewing circle by comparison.

Try the Leeds Gasworks strike