A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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Three mills were recorded in Colchester, one in Greenstead, and two in Lexden in 1086. Middle mill, recorded c. 1101, was probably omitted from the survey with the castle to which it belonged. (fn. 1) Of the six Domesday mills, only the two Lexden mills, the later Lexden mill and North mill, can be certainly identified, but the Greenstead mill was probably the mill on the Colne which was moved, apparently to the site of Hull mill, in the mid 12th century. The mill on the bishop of London's soke, which seems to have been built between 1066 and 1086, may have been on the Colne between North mill and Lexden mill, on land which was in St. Mary's parish until 1699; (fn. 2) if so it was not recorded again. The mill belonging to St. Peter's church may have been the later Stokes mill on the boundary of Mile End parish, and another Domesday mill has been identified with East mill. (fn. 3)
For most of the 13th and 14th centuries there were eight mills, five (Lexden mill, North mill, Middle mill, Stokes mill, and East mill) on the Colne, and three (Bourne mill, Cannock mill, and Hull mill) on a small tributary south of the town. Other early mills, probaby short-lived, included a fulling mill called Haddel mill, recorded in 1247; Sebares mill at the Hythe, whose site was recorded in 1332; (fn. 4) and Crudde mill, a fulling mill apparently near East mill, recorded in 1391 and 1406. (fn. 5) The borough built a ninth mill, Hythe mill, on the Colne in the late 14th century. (fn. 6)
The presence of five, and later six, mills on the Colne within a short distance of each other, and of three mills even closer together on its small tributary, led to water shortages which were overcome by the raising of ever higher millponds. In 1407 and 1410 Middle mill pond, in 1411 East mill pond, in 1414 Bourne mill pond, and in 1429 Hythe mill pond overflowed and flooded adjoining meadows or roads. (fn. 7) The need to safeguard the water supply to Lexden mill was presumably what caused John FitzWalter to force a Colchester man to sell him an unidentified mill near Lexden manor, possibly Newbridge mill in West Bergholt, in 1342. (fn. 8)
The burgesses do not seem to have owed suit to any mill, and the borough assembly's attempt in the early 1570s to force bakers to grind at Hythe mill was quickly abandoned. (fn. 9) Some tenants of St. John's abbey may have owed suit to the abbey's Stokes mill, but the only manorial mill was Lexden mill. (fn. 10) The building of windmills, mostly short-lived, by individual burgesses from the 1370s does not seem to have led to any disputes with the water mill owners.
Not all the Colchester mills operated throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 11) Middle mill had fallen down by 1381 and was not rebuilt until c. 1402, (fn. 12) but its place as a corn mill may have been taken by the short-lived windmills. Stokes mill and North mill were not recorded as corn mills in the mid 14th century, and seem to have operated only as fulling mills in the 15th century. Other medieval water mills, like their early modern successors, probably contained both corn and fulling mills: St. John's abbey complained in 1429 that the burgesses were setting up roadblocks to stop men from grinding or fulling at the abbey's mills. (fn. 13)
The corn and fulling mills, particularly those on the stream south of the town, were the most valuable mills. Hull mill was valued at £7 6s. 8d. c. 1540, although it had been leased for only £3 13s. 4d. in 1536. (fn. 14) Bourne mill was farmed for £6 a year in 1538-9 and Cannock mill for 73s. 4d. about the same date. Middle mill was valued at £6 a year in 1541-2 and Stokes mill was farmed for 68s. 4d. a year in 1538-9. (fn. 15) Hythe mill had been farmed for 53s. 4d. c. 1500, and North mill for only 10s. in 1493, but both may have increased in value by the 1530s; Hythe mill was leased for £30 a year in 1578. (fn. 16)
Stokes mill and North mill disappeared in the late 16th century, but their place as fulling mills may have been taken by Crockleford mill on Salary brook, first recorded in 1588. (fn. 17) In 1632 there were said to be between 7 and 20 corn mills within the liberty, the higher estimates presumably counting double mills as two and including mills such as Layer mill on or near the borough boundary. The seven mills were probably Lexden mill, Middle mill, East mill, and Hythe mill on the Colne, and Bourne mill, Cannock mill, and Hull mill on its tributary. They were unable to grind enough corn for the town without the help of neighbouring mills and of three or four newly erected windmills. (fn. 18) Obtaining enough water was still difficult. The refusal of the millers of Cannock and Bourne mills to co-operate in the early 1630s led the miller at Cannock mill to dam his pond so high that it overflowed. In 1663 the raising of the floodgates and banks of Hythe mill flooded meadows there, and in 1681 the damming of water for Hythe mill interfered with East mill. (fn. 19)
Hythe mill was demolished before 1736 and Hull mill converted into an oil mill by 1733, (fn. 20) their place as corn mills perhaps being taken by some of the c. 10 windmills which had been built in the liberty by the later 18th century. In the 19th century and the earlier 20th the number of mills was further reduced and the surviving mills grew in size, notably East mill which was able to take advantage of the improved navigation on the Colne to grind corn from and supply flour and meal to an area much greater than Colchester borough.
Bourne mill, which belonged to St. John's abbey by 1311, may have been the mill granted to the abbey at its foundation. It takes its name, first recorded c. 1240, from the small stream or bourne south of the town on which it stands. (fn. 21) Like the other mills on that stream, it seems to have worked as a corn mill throughout the Middle Ages. (fn. 22) It may have been rebuilt c. 1326, when the abbey agreed to find large timber, ironwork, mill spindle, wheel, and stones for it. (fn. 23) Its pond was the abbey's fishpond. (fn. 24) St. John's held the mill until the Dissolution. It and its fishpond then passed through a number of hands before being sold in 1590 to John Lucas, whose descendants held it until 1917. (fn. 25) The mill was a corn mill in 1632 and seems to have remained one, perhaps with a fulling mill, throughout the 18th century. In the earlier 19th century it was a cloth mill for weaving, fulling, and finishing bays. That business closed c. 1840, and the mill seems to have been disused for some years. By 1860 it was a corn mill, and by 1894 it was partly steam-driven. It worked until 1935. (fn. 26) It was given to the National Trust in 1936 and converted into a house. The machinery was restored in 1966. (fn. 27)
Bourne mill lies close to the northern end of a large artificial embankment which was built to create the pond to the west. The surviving house was built as a fishing lodge in 1591 by Thomas Lucas, whose arms appear over the doorway. (fn. 28) The walls are of re-used materials, presumably taken from the site of St. John's abbey. The ornate gables are in the style which was fashionable in the Low Countries in the later 16th century. Each gable-end incorporates a chimney and originally the principal floor may have contained a single room with a fireplace at each end. By the early 19th century a fulling mill had been attached to the south end of the lodge, and in the mid 19th century the main building was converted into a corn mill, necessitating the insertion of an upper floor and a sack hoist and the cutting of additional doorways in the walls.
Cannock mill, which belonged to St. Botolph's priory, was called the mill near Wick or the old mill in the wood in 1311 and the old priory mill in the later 14th century; it was called Canwick or Cannock mill in 1404. (fn. 29) It was presumably older than the priory's new or Hull mill which seems to have been built lower down the stream in the later 12th century. The two mills were sometimes leased together in the later 15th century. (fn. 30) In 1536 the Crown granted Cannock mill to Sir Thomas Audley, who gave it to St. John's abbey. (fn. 31) The Crown kept the mill after the dissolution of St. John's, leasing it in 1565 to John Mildmay and in 1575 to Edward Lucas, who in 1576 assigned the lease to Sir Thomas Lucas. Sir Thomas bought the mill soon after taking out a new lease in 1594, and rebuilt it c. 1600 as an overshot mill with two ponds. It was a corn mill in 1632, and included a fulling mill in 1651. (fn. 32) It seems to have been a corn mill, perhaps with a fulling mill, in the 18th century; in 1803 and in the 1820s it was a flour and fulling mill. (fn. 33) The mill remained in the Lucas family until 1917. It was rebuilt in 1845, as an overshot mill fed by iron pipes from a high pond; new buildings were erected in 1875. It worked as a corn mill until the later 1940s when it became a store for Cramphorn's. (fn. 34) The building was restored in 1973; in 1989 it was converted into a centre for the sale of tropical fish. (fn. 35)
Crockleford mill, on Salary brook, was first recorded in 1588. It seems to have been part of Shaws farm, being held by Edmund Church before 1647 and by John Roberts in 1810 and 1811, (fn. 36) and it may have been built by William Beriff, the Colchester clothmaker who acquired the farm in 1545, although it was not listed with the farm at his death in 1595. (fn. 37) In 1657 it was rebuilt as a small bay-thickening or fulling mill. (fn. 38) It was a fulling mill in 1777, and a bay mill in 1797, but it was leased as a flour mill in 1819 and converted into an oil mill in 1823. It was sold in 1837 as a chemical plant and water mill. The London Chemical Works later produced 'Mother Liquor' there. It was a corn mill again by 1877, and worked until c. 1955. (fn. 39)
East mill, on the Colne at East bridge, was held by St. Botolph's in 1311, and remained in the priory's possession until the Dissolution when it was granted to Sir Thomas Audley. (fn. 40) It worked as a corn mill until the mid 15th century or later, but was a fulling mill in 1552. (fn. 41) Audley conveyed it in 1536 to John Christmas, whose son George sold it in 1554 to John Maynard. (fn. 42) The mill was a fulling mill in 1569 and in 1582 when it was run by Maynard's widow Alice. In 1624 it comprised both corn and fulling mills. (fn. 43) The corn mills were expanded by Henry and John Dunnage, millers in the late 18th century, (fn. 44) and when Edward Marriage bought the mill in 1840 it was a breast or overshot mill with six pairs of stones. An auxiliary steam engine was installed in 1844. In 1865 Marriage improved the river above the Hythe to enable London barges to reach the mills. In the 1870s further improvements were made to the mills and their machinery, including the installation of a second steam engine and the introduction of roller mills. Between 1885 and 1893 the mills were almost completely rebuilt and extended to accommodate a 6-sack roller plant, besides the old mill stones. Warehousing was extended. The mills were renovated in 1930-1, the mill stones and water wheel being dismantled. (fn. 45) The mill, then owned by Rank Hovis McDougall which had taken over the Marriage firm, was closed in 1976 and converted into an hotel in 1979. (fn. 46)
Hull mill, below Cannock mill on the stream south of the town, was recorded by that name in 1438, but it was probably St. Botolph's priory's new mill recorded in 1227, which seems to have replaced an earlier mill on the Colne at the Hythe, demolished in the mid 12th century. (fn. 47) Hull mill was known as the new or new priory mill between 1311 and 1386 and as the mill in the wood between 1387 and 1435. Like Cannock mill, with which it was leased in 1452 and 1498, Hull mill worked as a corn mill throughout the Middle Ages, and was still one in 1519. In 1405 it also contained a fulling mill. (fn. 48) At the Dissolution the mill passed to Sir Thomas Audley, reverting to the Crown on his death. (fn. 49) It was still in the Crown's possession in 1555, when it was a corn mill with two pairs of stones, but was sold to speculators in 1562. (fn. 50) In 1690 it comprised one water mill, one fulling mill, and one oil mill. (fn. 51) By 1733, when John Rootsey devised it to his son Samuel, it was an oil mill, (fn. 52) and it remained so until 1811 when it was sold to Samuel Bawtree and George Savill who demolished it and built a distillery and water corn mill on the site. The distillery went out of business c. 1841, and in 1843 the buildings, including the water mill with four pairs of stones, one pair of rollers, and an auxiliary steam engine, were sold. (fn. 53) The mill worked as a corn mill from 1845 until its demolition in 1896. (fn. 54)
Hythe mill, on the west bank of the Colne just above Hythe bridge, was built by the borough before 1385. (fn. 55) It was not recorded as a corn mill until 1429, when it had been rebuilt as a corn and fulling mill with two wheels, and its early lessees were clothmakers or fullers, but its high rent of 20 marks in 1387, unchanged in 1439, suggests that it had always been a corn and fulling mill. The abbot of St. John's complained that the rebuilt mill encroached on his land. (fn. 56) The mill was derelict by 1489 and was rebuilt, still as a corn and fulling mill, at the expense of Thomas Christmas the elder and Robert Barker. (fn. 57)
The mill had fallen down again by 1548, but was rebuilt soon afterwards. (fn. 58) In 1573 and 1574 the borough tried to recover the rebuilding costs by forcing bakers to grind at the mill, but had to give up the attempt in 1575. Efforts that year to 'persuade' the bakers and the Dutch community to grind there were no more successful. (fn. 59) In 1579 the tenant was allowed 4 tons of rough timber for building work, and in 1598 was ordered to pay £100 for repairs. The next tenant, Henry Barrington, agreed to build a mill house and to repair the mill. (fn. 60) By 1619 the mill comprised two corn mills and one fulling stock. The rent of £30 in the later 16th century rose to £40 a year in 1619, but fell to £20 in the 1650s and 1660s. (fn. 61) The mill seems to have been extensively repaired in 1705-6, although the mill house had been removed in 1703, but before 1736 it was demolished because it obstructed navigation. (fn. 62)
Middle mill on the Colne outside Ryegate, the king's mill belonging to Colchester castle, was recorded c. 1101 when Henry I granted one third of it to St. Botolph's priory. The priory retained that third until the Dissolution, when it was granted to Sir Thomas Audley. (fn. 63) It presumably escheated to the Crown on his death, and was thus reunited with the remaining two thirds of the mill. The mill descended with the other castle lands to Hope and Martha Gifford, and was conveyed to Francis Powell in 1725. It was bought by Charles Gray in 1757, and passed with the castle lands to the Round family. (fn. 64)
The mill, a corn mill, was repaired by the keeper of the castle in 1300 and c. 1335; further repairs were carried out in 1367, but by 1381 the mill was unoccupied and in ruins. (fn. 65) Between 1402 and 1405 Thomas Godstone built a new mill, a fulling mill perhaps with a corn mill, on the old site which he leased from the Crown. (fn. 66) In 1575 the bailiffs alleged that the mill had been used as a fulling mill for some time, but it contained a corn mill in 1593 and 1632. (fn. 67) It was a double corn and fulling mill in 1681, 1689, 1707, and c. 1750. John Wheeley, owner of the castle, repaired it c. 1690. (fn. 68) In the 19th century it was a corn mill worked by members of the Chopping family; it had an auxiliary steam engine by 1886. (fn. 69) In 1933 the millers sold out to Marriage's of East mill, who stripped out the machinery. The building was sold to the borough council the following year, and was demolished in the 1950s. (fn. 70)
North mill, on the Colne north-west of North bridge, was one of the two mills in Lexden in 1066 and 1086. (fn. 71) Hubert of St. Clare gave it to St. John's abbey between 1148 and 1154, but in 1235 the abbot quitclaimed his interest in the mill, then said to be in the suburbs of Colchester, to Hubert's successors John de Burgh and his wife Hawise de Lanvalei. (fn. 72) The mill was held of John de Burgh in 1247, (fn. 73) and later of his successors the Fitz Walters. Their undertenant, Walter Galingale, gave it to his daughter Sibyl and her husband William Knapton, who in 1338 conveyed it to Sir Geoffrey le Scrope, whose descendants, barons Scrope of Masham, held it until 1493 or later. (fn. 74) The mill, a fulling mill in 1380 and 1493, was probably derelict in 1526 when it was described as an old mill; it had disappeared by 1748. (fn. 75)
Stokes mill, on the Colne at the end of Land Lane, may have been the mill belonging to St. Peter's church in 1066 and 1086. By c. 1225 it belonged to St. John's abbey which leased it to Nicholas son of Geoffrey Spenser for 10s. a year. In 1248-9 Gillian widow of Walter Baker confirmed it to the abbey. (fn. 76) In 1422-3 it was a fulling mill, although the stocks were so badly repaired that they tore cloth. (fn. 77) At the Dissolution the mill, still a fulling mill, passed to the Crown. (fn. 78) It was leased as a fulling mill in 1560, and in 1569 was owned by John Maynard, who also held East mill. (fn. 79) It had been demolished by 1610. (fn. 80)
A mill mound in Monksdown was recorded in 1325, and an old one at Old Heath in 1341 and possibly in 1349. (fn. 81) Three windmills belonging to the burgesses William Reyne, John Ford, and Henry Bosse, presumably recently built, were recorded in 1372, but one was apparently demolished after 1373 and another after 1414. (fn. 82) A windmill in Head ward, perhaps near Lexden Road, was recorded in 1451, and Windmill field by Harwich Road in St. James's parish, site of the later St. Anne's or East windmill, may already have been called Mill field in 1542. (fn. 83) Henry Barrington's, later Scarlett's, mill was built c. 1585, and there was a mill mound between Maldon Road and Butt Road in the 1590s. (fn. 84) There was a windmill in St. Mary Magdalen's parish in 1599, and a field south of Magdalen Street was still called Windmill field in 1631. In 1632 John Lucas complained that three recently built windmills took trade from Cannock mill. (fn. 85) All the windmills were burnt by parliamentary troops during the siege of 1648, (fn. 86) but were quickly rebuilt. In 1702 there were seven windmills on the borough's half year land south-west and south-east of the walls, and 11 or 12 windmills have been identified in Colchester in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 87)
There were two windmills on the north side of Lexden Road. The First mill, near the waterworks, existed by 1678, but was described as lately built when it was conveyed to John Boggis in 1724. (fn. 88) In 1754 it had two pairs of stones and three boulting mills. The mill was rebuilt shortly before 1807 as a post mill with a large roundhouse. It seems to have been demolished c. 1819. The Second mill, to the west, was conveyed to Thomas Talcott in 1681. From 1749 to 1756 it was owned by a distiller, who may have used it and its malting house for distilling. (fn. 89) In 1785 the mill was described as modern built. Four millers went bankrupt in the later 18th century and the early 19th, and the mill seems to have been demolished c. 1824.
Butt mill, on the west side of Butt Road, was built between 1660 and 1662 when it was conveyed to John Gibson, miller of Middle mill. The mill was rebuilt soon after 1779, and again, after a fire, in 1787. In 1824 it was a post mill with three pairs of stones over a brick roundhouse. It was repaired after storm damage in 1852 but was demolished in 1881.
A mill in Mersea Road, was first recorded in 1726. In 1813 the post mill was replaced by a brick tower mill which in 1818 had two pairs of stones. In 1848 the mill was a self-turning one. It was closed and the machinery sold in 1859.
Two windmills, recorded from 1632, stood close together on the site of Military Road, one at Golden Acre, the other in Golden at the Hill, Golden Knapp hill, or Golden Noble hill. (fn. 90) The western or middle mill in St. Giles's parish was recorded again in 1666 and passed through a number of hands in the later 17th century and the 18th. (fn. 91) In 1795 it was a new post mill; by 1815 it had two pairs of stones and could be adapted to run a third pair, but in 1830 it still used only two pairs. In 1682 the eastern mill, in St. Botolph's parish, had been held by George Harrington, who was a Colchester miller in 1652. Like the middle mill it passed through a number of hands in the 18th century. (fn. 92) In 1812 it was a post mill with a roundhouse, and in 1820 it had two pairs of stones. From 1835 or earlier the two mills were held by the same millers who c. 1839 moved the eastern mill to a site in St. Giles's parish just north of the middle mill, adding a roundhouse of three storeys in the rebuilding. Both mills were demolished in 1862.
Distillery mill which existed by 1777 and probably by 1748, seems to have been built by the Rootseys, owners of Hull mill. It was held by successive owners of the water mill until its closure c. 1895. It was a brick tower mill by 1786. In 1843 it was six storeys high and had four pairs of stones, presumably three for barley and maize and one for wheat as in the later 19th century.
St. Anne's mill or East windmill in St. James's parish was one of the windmills of which John Lucas complained in 1632. It was recorded again in 1653. (fn. 93) In 1759 it was bought by Bezaliel Angier in whose family it remained for the rest of its working life. It was rebuilt as a brick tower mill after a fire in 1767. In 1832 it worked two pairs of stones, although there was room and power for a third. It ceased working c. 1864.
The mill later called Scarlett's mill was built c. 1585. (fn. 94) In 1656 it was a wind oil mill belonging to Henry Barrington, and it was presumably the windmill north of his house in 1648. (fn. 95) It was probably still an oil mill c. 1673, but by 1686, when Abraham Barrington sold it to John Scarlett, it was a wind corn mill. (fn. 96) It was recorded throughout the 18th century, but seems to have been dismantled in 1800; it may have been moved to a site on or near Magdalen green, where a windmill was recorded between 1801 and 1813, before being moved again, to Shrub End, where it worked until 1871. Its roundhouse survived until 1973.
There was a windmill in Mile End in 1730, (fn. 97) and two were recorded on Mile End heath in 1777. The eastern one, on the south side of the later Mill Road, seems to have been built c. 1764 and to have worked until the early 1880s. The western one had gone by 1806 and probably by 1791. A windmill of unknown type was recorded north of the Colne c. 1724.
A post mill at Old Heath operated from 1774 to 1780, when it may have been moved to a site in Greenstead opposite the Hythe, where a postmill had been built by 1784. The Greenstead mill was demolished in 1903 or 1904. (fn. 98) Another windmill was associated with East mill in 1795; it was probably built over the water mill. There was a short-lived post mill near Cannock mill in the early 1840s, owned by the miller of Cannock mill. Clubb's mill, a rag mill in North Station Road, (fn. 99) was recorded in 1832. It ceased work in 1852 after storm damage.