A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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In 1086 there were 8 mills on the manor of (West) Ham owned jointly by Robert Gernon and Ranulph Peverel; there had been 9 in 1066. (fn. 1) All of them must have been water-mills on the Lea or its branches, and they probably included at least some of the mills identified below. One other mill, though entered in Domesday Book under Leyton, appears to have been in West Ham. In 1086 this was held by Ralph Baynard as a tenant of Westminster Abbey. (fn. 2) It was probably the mill at Stratford which the abbey claimed to have been given by Aelfnoth of London, nephew of Swein. (fn. 3) There are references to that abbey's mill at Stratford up to 1400, (fn. 4) but by 1535 Westminster held only pasture land there. (fn. 5) The location of the mill is unknown. Presumably it was on the Lea near West Ham's boundary with Leyton.
From the Middle Ages onwards water-mills can be identified on five sites in West Ham. Three were at Stratford, north of the causeway (High Street) between Bow Bridge and Channelsea Bridge: Fotes, later St. Thomas's (or Pudding) Mill, Spilemans (or City) Mill, and Saynes (or Waterworks) Mill. Farther south were Wiggen, later Honeredes or the Abbey Mill, on Channelsea river, and the Three Mills, which before modern alterations to the waterways stood at the confluence of Three Mills Back river, Three Mills Wall river, Channelsea river, and the main channel of the Lea. (fn. 6) Down stream from the Three Mills, on the west bank of the Lea, were the Four Mills of Bromley (Mdx.). All these mills were originally tidal, and for most of their history they continued to depend on water-power, for which they were inevitably in competition. In the Middle Ages they must have been employed mainly in grinding flour for the bakers of Stratford. (fn. 7) This was a flourishing trade, and from an early date each mill comprised a pair or a group rather than a single one. In the 13th and 14th centuries there are references to fulling mills on two of the sites. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries several mills were manufacturing gunpowder, an industry then new in England. (fn. 8) There are also references to oil-mills in West Ham at that period. (fn. 9) At the same time the struggle for water-power became fiercer, causing violent disputes. (fn. 10) The mills at Stratford were the most vulnerable, since they were the farthest up stream, and in 1711 the millers of Saynes and Spilemans were in desperate straights because the Bromley millers had penned up the tidal water. (fn. 11) During the 18th century the situation was somewhat eased by the introduction, at the Three Mills and St. Thomas's Mills, of distilling, which did not need so much water-power, and by the additional use of windmills on or near all the ancient sites. By that period there was also a windmill near the Pigeons public house in Romford Road. Since the early 19th century all West Ham's ancient mills have been demolished except the Three Mills.
The earliest mill in West Ham recorded by name was Wiggen Mill (possibly meaning 'Wicga's Mill' (fn. 12) ), later called Honeredes or the Abbey Mill, lying on the Channelsea river within the precincts of Stratford Abbey. This was a water-mill, which was bought by Maud (d. 1118), queen of Henry I, and given by her to Barking Abbey as part of an endowment for Bow and Channelsea bridges. (fn. 13) It was later bought from Barking by Stratford Abbey, which retained it until the Dissolution. In 1538 the Abbey Mill comprised two water-mills under one roof. (fn. 14) In 1539 the mill was granted in reversion to (Sir) Peter Meautis or Mewtas. (fn. 15) It descended in the Meautis family until 1633, when it was sold, along with other parts of the abbey site, to (Sir) John Nulls. (fn. 16)
In 1662 Lady (Mary) Nulls, widow of Sir John, and their eldest son Peter Nulls, sold the Abbey Mill to William Curtis of Mile End (Mdx.) for £7,127. (fn. 17) Curtis, by his will proved in 1670, devised the mill to his brother John in trust for certain family purposes, (fn. 18) in accordance with which it was sold in 1672 to John Phillips of London. (fn. 19) By his will dated 1674 Phillips devised half the mill to Christ's Hospital (Lond.) and half to his wife Bridget for life, with reversion to the hospital. Christ's Hospital, which was in full possession of the mill by 1682, habitually let it on long leases. (fn. 20) The lessees often sub-let. The hospital sold the freehold of the mill in 1914 to West Ham borough council. (fn. 21) In 1881 the mill had been let to William and James Hunt, whose family remained tenants until about 1936. (fn. 22) It had apparently ceased to operate by 1929. (fn. 23) Throughout its history it seems to have been concerned mainly with cornmilling, but in 1703 it was producing oil from rape and linseed; by 1735 it included a smithy. (fn. 24)
The Abbey Mill stood on a small island in the Channelsea river. (fn. 25) It was rebuilt in 1768 at a cost of £7,676. (fn. 26) An engraving of 1783 shows a large group of buildings dominated by a smock windmill. (fn. 27) In 1819 the water-mill stood on the east of the site, the windmill on the west, and an engine house behind the windmill. (fn. 28) The mill was burnt down in 1861 or 1862. (fn. 29) It was rebuilt in 1863–4, (fn. 30) as a tall brick structure. (fn. 31) During the Second World War it was again burnt down, and most of the ruins were removed in 1967, when Abbey Road was straightened and a new bridge built. (fn. 32)
Fotes Mill, later called St. Thomas's Mill or Pudding Mill, was at the junction of Marshgate Lane and Pudding Mill Lane. It seems to have been the mill at Stratford which, about 1200, Richard son of Ranulph, and Hawise his wife conveyed in fee to Thomas Loc and his wife Sabina. (fn. 33) By a later charter, probably about 1245, Sabina of Benfleet, widow of John Faucilun, granted to her son William Faucilun an annual rent of 9s. 6d. which she had been receiving from the hospital of St. Thomas of Acre (Lond.) for a fulling mill at Stratford. (fn. 34) It appears from this charter that the mill was acquired by the hospital on lease from the Locs or their successors the Fauciluns. In 1244 Isaac, son of Josce the Rabbi (le prestre), a Jew, had an interest in the rent from the mill. (fn. 35) William, son of John Faucilun, granted 6s. 8d. rent from the fulling mill called 'Fotesmelne' in West Ham to Katherine, widow of Robert Faucilun. (fn. 36) This grant was probably made soon after that made by Sabina of Benfleet. A little later, apparently in the 1250s, John son of Robert Faucilun granted to the priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate (Lond.), the whole rent of 9s. 6d. issuing from the mill at Stratford held by St. Thomas of Acre. (fn. 37) The hospital later fell behind with this rent, but in 1285 it undertook to clear off the arrears and to pay promptly in future. (fn. 38) In 1291 the hospital had an income of £6 16s. 4d. from rent and a mill (or mills) in West Ham. (fn. 39) In 1304 it held a fulling mill and the site of another mill, both north of the chalk causeway at Stratford. (fn. 40) This lost mill seems to have been the one formerly belonging to the Fauciluns, for in 1306 the hospital made an agreement with Holy Trinity concerning 9s. 6d. rent previously payable from the mill at Stratford, now destroyed. (fn. 41) The lost mill seems to have been rebuilt by 1315, when the hospital had two corn water-mills at Stratford. (fn. 42) The second mill was probably that given to the hospital in free alms by John Richeman, at an unknown date. (fn. 43) It was stated in the 15th century that since the reign of Henry III the hospital had had two water-mills at Stratford called St. Thomas's Mills. (fn. 44)
St. Thomas of Acre was dissolved in 1538, and in 1544 the king leased St. Thomas's Mills to his servant Gerard Harman or Harmond. (fn. 45) The mills had lately been occupied by Stefan von Haschenperg, an engineer in the king's service who had fallen out of favour. (fn. 46) In 1547 Harman's lease was converted into a tenure in fee. (fn. 47) He died in 1559 leaving Susan Harman his daughter and heir, (fn. 48) who seems to have carried the property in marriage to Nicholas Sturley or Strelley. Sturley and his wife Susan were holding the mills in 1573, and conveyed them in 1589 to Thomas and Christopher Gardiner. (fn. 49) 'The Gunpowder Mill, late Mr. Sturley's', was mentioned in 1597. (fn. 50) The Gardiners retained the mills at least until 1646, when Thomas Gardiner, possibly son of the above Christopher Gardiner, sought permission to compound, as a Royalist delinquent, for estates including a water-mill in West Ham. (fn. 51) The mills appear to have passed subsequently to Christopher Mercer, whose daughter Anne married John Swale. In 1668 Anne and John sold to Sir Thomas Chambers a water-mill, once 'two mills under one roof', called St. Thomas's Mills. (fn. 52)
It was stated in 1796 that St. Thomas's Mills had previously belonged to the Grenville family, of whom the marquess of Buckingham had sold them a few years earlier to Mr. Jones. (fn. 53) How long the Grenvilles had held the freehold is not known, but for much of the 18th century the mills were in any case controlled by lessees. Peter Lefevre (d. 1751), who bought the Three Mills in 1727, had acquired the lease of St. Thomas's Mills by 1734, when he expanded his distillery. (fn. 54) After Lefevre's death, his widow conveyed the remainder of the lease to his nephew John Lefevre and Daniel Bisson, who in 1752 sub-let St. Thomas's Mills, for the remaining 20 years of the lease, to John Grace. (fn. 55) St. Thomas's Mills then comprised a water corn-mill, a malt mill-house, and a windmill. In 1764 Grace sold the lease to his sons, and they sold it in 1767 to Thomas Gardner. Gardner immediately sub-let the premises to three other persons, one of whom opened a paper-mill, apparently in St. Thomas's water-mill. (fn. 56)
In 1811 St. Thomas's Mill was the property of 'Messrs. Jones and Morley', who were probably identical with Henry Jones and Robert Morley, mentioned together in 1801. (fn. 57) Richard Morley (or Mawley) was the owner in 1834. (fn. 58) The mill was later acquired by the Eastern Counties Railway, which offered it for sale in 1838. (fn. 59) The East London Waterworks Co. were the owners by 1853. (fn. 60) In 1875 the Waterworks Co. sold the mill to Du Barry & Co., which had been the lessee since 1864. (fn. 61) Du Barry & Co., originally a flour miller, was later a manufacturer of patent food. (fn. 62) It operated at St. Thomas's Mill until about 1925. (fn. 63) In 1926 Du Barry sold the mill to William Abbott, a builder. (fn. 64) About 1934 it was demolished as part of the River Lee Flood Relief Scheme. (fn. 65)
St. Thomas's windmill, mentioned in the lease of 1752, was possibly that shown on 18th-century maps, on the east bank of Pudding Mill river, about ¼ m. north of High Street. (fn. 66) An engraving (1837) of the new Stratford viaduct of the Eastern Counties Railway shows what was probably the same mill, immediately south of the railway. (fn. 67) It was a postmill then in good condition. It seems to have disappeared soon after. In 1813 and 1838 there was a second windmill attached to St. Thomas's Mill. (fn. 68) It was possibly on the same site as the water-mill.
Saynes Mill, on Waterworks river, and Spilemans Mill, on City Mill river, were closely connected for most of their history. From the 13th century both were part of the endowment of London Bridge, administered by the wardens of the bridge house of St. Thomas, and later by the bridge house committee of the City corporation. (fn. 69) They were sometimes known, together, as the City Mills, but from the later 18th century that name was used only for the former Spilemans Mill.
The original forms of its name suggest that Saynes Mill means 'the lord's mill', (fn. 70) and early in the 13th century it was held of Richard de Montfitchet, lord of a large manor in East and West Ham, by Walter de Covelee. Covelee granted his right in the mill to St. Thomas, probably before 1221, (fn. 71) and about the same time Montfitchet made a similar grant, subject to an annual rent of 32s. (fn. 72) The wardens of the bridge later granted the mill to Henry Schileman or Skileman, who was to pay annually 26s. 8d. to them, and 32s. to the lord. (fn. 73) Schileman's son Edmund granted the mill to Richard Renger or Rengery of London, to hold of the wardens of the bridge for 60s. a year. (fn. 74) The above conveyances, none of which is dated, must all have been made before 1232. (fn. 75) Renger later granted the mill back to St. Thomas in free alms. (fn. 76) In 1248, apparently after Richard Renger's death, his son John made a further conveyance of the mill to the bridge house. (fn. 77) Saynes Mill is mentioned, as a water-mill, in 1304, (fn. 78) and again in 1354, when it and Spilemans Mill were leased to Nicholas atte Wyke of Stratford. (fn. 79)
In the 17th and 18th centuries the City corporation usually let Saynes Mill on long leases. (fn. 80) Here, as elsewhere, the lessees sometimes sub-let. In 1615 the property comprised a water-mill and 38 a. land. (fn. 81) For many years (c. 1628–76) the mill was occupied by members of the Slipper family, and was sometimes called Slippers Mill. (fn. 82) In 1652, after recent rebuilding, there were two water-mills. (fn. 83) The West Ham Waterworks Co., founded about 1745, proposed, in its original articles of agreement, to set up works on land to be rented from John Cox of West Ham. (fn. 84) Cox was then the lessee of Saynes Mill, and by 1762, if not before, the Waterworks company had bought the residue of his lease, which included about 30 a. land as well as the mill itself. (fn. 85) It was stated in 1775 that the company had rebuilt the corn-mill and had installed a pumping engine on the east side of the premises. (fn. 86) The West Ham Waterworks Co., and its successor, the East London Waterworks Co., retained the mill until 1883. (fn. 87) In the 19th century Saynes Mill was known as the Waterworks Mill. In 1873–81 it was occupied by factories. (fn. 88) It had disappeared by 1893–4. (fn. 89)
In 1720 Saynes Mill included a windmill as well as a water-mill. (fn. 90) In 1744–6 and 1777 there was a windmill east of Waterworks river, about ¼ m. north of High Street. (fn. 91) Drawings of it made in 1849 show a derelict postmill. (fn. 92)
Spilemans Mill was held about the middle of the 13th century by John Spileman and Roger son of Roger of London. John, son and heir of Roger son of Roger, granted the site of the mill to Walter Everard, draper of London. (fn. 93) Everard sold it to Lawrence Stede of Stratford, who granted it to the wardens of London Bridge at 1d. rent. (fn. 94) These conveyances all appear to have been made before 1298–9, when Richard of St. Albans and Margaret his wife quitclaimed her dower in the mill. (fn. 95) She had previously been the wife of Lawrence le Redere, who was probably identical with Lawrence Stede. Spilemans Mill was mentioned, as a fulling mill, in 1304 and 1354. (fn. 96)
In the 17th and 18th centuries the City corporation was letting Spilemans Mill, with 5 a. land, on long leases. (fn. 97) In 1600 it comprised two water-mills under one roof. (fn. 98) In 1615 one of these was called the Gunpowder Mill. (fn. 99) In 1640 a new lessee undertook to build a new corn-mill in place of one recently removed. (fn. 100) In 1738 Spilemans comprised a cornmill, fulling mill, limekiln, mill-house, old boarded house, warehouse, and five cottages. (fn. 101) The main buildings were ruinous; the corn-mill had been out of action for eight or nine years and the fulling mill was untenanted. Captain John Rochester, whose lease was renewed in 1739, undertook to rebuild the premises, and in 1742 he claimed to have spent nearly £4,000 in doing so. (fn. 102) He appears to have rebuilt the fulling mill as a corn-mill. (fn. 103) The lease of 1739 stipulated that Rochester was not to use the mills as gunpowder-mills. Early in the 19th century Spilemans, now called City Mills, was occupied by several tenants. Part of the premises was leased in 1805 by Howard & Allen, manufacturing chemists. (fn. 104) In 1818 other parts of the mill were being used for corn-grinding, and for calendering, presumably of paper. (fn. 105) Howard & Allen, later Howards & Sons, remained at the City Mills until 1914, and appears gradually to have taken over on lease the whole of the ancient site of Spilemans, and also much of the adjoining land to the east which previously belonged to Saynes Mill. (fn. 106) After 1914 the City of London, which had retained the freehold, let the premises in separate lots to a number of small manufacturers. (fn. 107) In 1932–3 the City Mills were demolished under the River Lee Flood Relief Scheme. (fn. 108)
The Three Mills, belonging to Stratford Abbey, may well have been among the oldest in West Ham, but nothing is known of their history before 1528, when they were on lease from the sacrist of the abbey. (fn. 109) In 1539 they were granted to (Sir) Peter Meautis, (fn. 110) and they subsequently descended along with the Abbey Mill until 1670. In the later 16th century the Three Mills actually comprised two water-mills. (fn. 111) In 1588 one of these was a corn-mill and the other a gunpowder-mill. (fn. 112) William Curtis, by his will proved in 1670, devised the Three Mills to his daughter Anne, later wife of Sir Peter Anstey. (fn. 113) She left no issue, and the property passed in succession to Peter and Katherine, Sir Peter's children by a later marriage. Katherine married Allen Bathurst (d. 1775), Lord (later Earl) Bathurst, and in 1727 they sold the mills to Peter Lefevre (or Lefebure), who in partnership with others built up a large distilling business there. (fn. 114) The later history of the Three Mills was fully described in print in 1957. (fn. 115) The mills were then owned and occupied by J. & W. Nicholson, gin distillers, who had bought them in 1872, but distilling had ceased in 1941. In 1966 the mill was sold to the Greater London council, which leased part of the premises to Three Mills Bonded Warehouses Ltd., a company partly owned by J. & W. Nicholson. (fn. 116) The oldest surviving buildings are the House Mill (1776) and the Clock Mill (1817), in both of which some of the old waterpowered machinery still remains. (fn. 117) A windmill, south of the main buildings, was first mentioned in 1734, and survived until about 1840. Other buildings were destroyed by fires in 1908 and 1920, and by bombing during the Second World War.
The Pigeons Mill, Stratford Green, was a smock windmill south of Romford Road, near the Pigeons public house. (fn. 118) There was apparently a pair of mills there in 1744–6, but only one in 1777. (fn. 119) By 1860 the Pigeons Mill was derelict and the ownership unknown. It appears to have been demolished by the local board late in that year. (fn. 120) This mill may be identical with the Oten Mill, mentioned in 1602. (fn. 121)
Nobshill Mill was a windmill on Pudding Mill river, a few yards from the main channel of the river Lea. It existed in 1867, but had disappeared by 1894. (fn. 122)