A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 4, the City of Oxford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1979.
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MILLS AND FISHERIES (fn. 1)
In the 11th century there were at least five water-mills in Oxford, two on the west side of Grandpont belonging to Eynsham abbey, two 'near the wall', probably on Trill mill stream, and the Castle mill. (fn. 2) In the Middle Ages there were mills at Oseney and possibly on the Greyfriars site, and numerous others close to Oxford, within or just outside the liberty, notably Langford mill (probably on the site of the later Hinksey mill) at the southern end of Grandpont, (fn. 3) two mills in Cowley, on the river Cherwell below Magdalen Bridge, (fn. 4) two or three mills at Holywell, of which King's mill belonged to Headington parish, (fn. 5) two mills at Seacourt, (fn. 6) and others at Botley, Godstow, and Wolvercote. (fn. 7) Such an agglomeration caused frequent disputes over the supply of water. (fn. 8) In 1295 the miller of Trill mill was accused of interfering with the weir of Blackfriars' mill, (fn. 9) and in 1337 men from Medley, Binsey, and Oseney broke sluices and weirs at Castle mill. (fn. 10) Two new mills built by the abbot of Oseney c. 1350 were blamed for obstructing the river and flooding the Castle mills and meadows, (fn. 11) and in 1412 the abbey's four mills were said to take too much water away from Castle mills. (fn. 12) In 1576, on the other hand, Christ Church complained that Castle mills took too much water from Oseney mills. (fn. 13) Mills built on the Thames by the abbess of Godstow in the early 13th century and by the abbot of Abingdon c. 1344 were also blamed for damaging Castle mills. (fn. 14) In 1738 the tenant of Rewley was accused of diverting water away from Castle mills. (fn. 15) In 1486 it was agreed that a new mill on the river Cherwell would be moved because it was interfering with Holywell mill. (fn. 16)
In the later Middle Ages the number of mills in and around Oxford decreased, and by the mid 17th century only Oseney, Castle, Langford (Hinksey), Holywell, King's, and Botley mills were in operation. (fn. 17) King's mill was closed in 1832. (fn. 18) By 1797 a corn-mill, Weirs mill, had been built on a branch of the Thames, on the south eastern boundary of St. Aldate's parish. About 1825 it and Hinksey mill became paper-mills and continued as such, manufacturing cardboard, until the early 20th century. (fn. 19) By 1876 there was a flour-mill at Folly Bridge and a steam-and saw-mill in St. Aldate's Street. (fn. 20) The St. Aldate's mill seems to have been closed by 1890, and the mill at Folly Bridge had been converted into a private house by 1900. (fn. 21)
Castle mill was probably held by Earl Alfgar in the mid 11th century and by Robert d'Oilly after the Conquest. (fn. 22) It was held by the younger Robert d'Oilly in the early 12th century, (fn. 23) and presumably eschaeted to the Crown on the death of Henry d'Oilly in 1163. (fn. 24)
One moiety of the mill was farmed by the sheriff with the castle and county, (fn. 25) until it was assigned in dower to Queen Eleanor in 1271, Queen Margaret in 1299, and Queen Isabella in 1318. (fn. 26) It was later granted for life to Edward III's brother, John of Eltham, in 1330, to Thomas de Ponynges in 1337, to Reynold of Cobham in 1339, and to Richard Forster in 1364. (fn. 27) In 1386 the reversion was granted to Oseney abbey, which had apparently leased the moiety of the mill since 1292. (fn. 28) At the Dissolution the mill reverted to the Crown, and in 1542 was granted to Robert King, bishop of Oxford. (fn. 29) In 1548 he granted an 80-year lease to George Owen of Godstow, (fn. 30) whose son Richard in 1559 sold the residue of the term to the city which had controlled the whole mill since at least 1534. (fn. 31) In 1557 Bishop King took steps to regain possession of his half of the mill, (fn. 32) but he died the same year, and the see remained vacant until 1589 when the new bishop, John Underhill, offered to sell the reversion of the mill to the city. (fn. 33) In 1590, however, Elizabeth I granted the reversion to Thomas Crompton and others, agents for Robert, earl of Essex, who sold it to the city in 1591. (fn. 34) Christ Church attempted, unsuccessfully, to claim the mill in 1616. (fn. 35)
The other moiety of the mill was probably granted to the town with the fee farm in 1199 (fn. 36) and remained in its possession thereafter. The city leased the mills for terms of years from 1623 until 1678; it then took them back into its own hands (fn. 37) and let them on short leases until 1763 (fn. 38) when the policy of granting long leases for entry fines was resumed. In 1930 the city regained possession of the mills and demolished them to widen the road. (fn. 39)
All common bakers and freemen of Oxford owed suit to Castle mills on pain of forfeiting corn ground elsewhere, but there were frequent evasions and complaints of high tolls, particularly by members of the university and privileged persons. In 1305 the university complained that the millers were taking too high a toll, (fn. 40) and in 1316-17 the town alleged that the university proctors were taking away toll-corn due to the mill. (fn. 41) In 1455 it was agreed that the farmers of the mills and their millers should bear most of the expenses of grinding and the bakers pay a slightly increased toll of ½ bu. for every quarter of grain ground; if the mills were not working the bakers were to pay the farmers a 'gristpenny' for permission to grind elsewhere. (fn. 42)
In 1528 George Owen claimed exemption, as a privileged person of the university, from suit to the mill, (fn. 43) but in 1545 the Court of Requests ruled that John Lewis, a freeman baker who was also manciple of University College, must grind at Castle mills but might also employ his own miller. (fn. 44) In 1569 the city gave Lewis licence to grind 24 qr. of wheat a year away from Castle mills, for a yearly payment of £14. (fn. 45) In 1597, between 1607 and 1610, in 1617, 1621, and between 1664 and 1667 the city was involved in disputes with the university, and particularly with Merton College, over the use of Holywell mill by bakers claiming to be privileged. (fn. 46) The city claimed, unsuccessfully, that all bakers were obliged to become freemen and to grind at Castle mills; the university maintained that it might set up certain privileged bakers. (fn. 47)
Orders to freemen and bakers to grind at Castle mills, repeated regularly in the 16th century, were frequently ignored. (fn. 48) In 1600 men were appointed to seize meal ground illicitly elsewhere, (fn. 49) and in the early 17th century the millers of Holywell, Oseney, and other neighbouring mills were accused of grinding for those who owed suit to Castle mills. (fn. 50) In 1619, to win custom and goodwill, the toll of ½ bu. on a quarter of corn was commuted to 20d., (fn. 51) but in 1662 and 1664 some city tenants still failed to grind at the mills. (fn. 52) The order to grind there was repeated in 1678; (fn. 53) in 1680 the council contemplated legal action to enforce the custom, (fn. 54) but thereafter seems to have accepted the loss of the city monopoly.
The value of the mills varied greatly. In 1560-1 the profits were c. £200, in 1592-3 only £71, in 1596-7 over £300, but in 1620-1 apparently only £13. (fn. 55) From 1623 onwards the mill yielded a rent of £80 a year and occasional entry fines. In the early 18th century the rent was £85 but was reduced in the 1750s. (fn. 56) After 1763, when the mills were again let on long leases, renewal fines fell from £300 to only £206 by 1889. (fn. 57) Until 1549 mill profits were taken by the bailiffs towards the fee farm. (fn. 58) Thereafter, until the mills were leased in 1623, four millmasters were appointed yearly, and were accountable to the keykeepers. (fn. 59) A court leet and view of frankpledge for all suitors to the mills was first recorded in 1337. (fn. 60) Its rolls were quoted in a law-suit with Merton c. 1610, (fn. 61) and perquisites of court, fines, and forfeitures were included in leases of the mill until 1763. (fn. 62) The court amerced people for obstructing water-courses, freemen for grinding away from the mills or witholding toll, and millers for such offences as leaving the mill in charge of an unqualified man. (fn. 63)
Castle mill was a double mill by the 12th century. (fn. 64) Repairs to it while in the king's hands were recorded in 1245, 1272, and 1383. (fn. 65) Thereafter Oseney abbey and the town presumably shared the cost, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the city spent large sums on the mills and water-courses, including building a third wheel, later called New Cut mill, in 1597. (fn. 66) A fourth wheel, added by 1623, (fn. 67) was remade in 1692. (fn. 68) In 1700 the tenant agreed to keep the mills in repair, (fn. 69) but the city repaired them in 1704, and contributed to the rebuilding of New Cut mill in 1705. In 1707 one of the mills was inoperative. (fn. 70) Although from 1718 onwards tenants were responsible for repairs, (fn. 71) the city also paid for work in 1735, 1745, 1747 and 1751. (fn. 72) The mills were rebuilt shortly before 1781, presumably by the tenant. (fn. 73) They continued as corn-mills until 1929, when the tenant was a waste-paper merchant. (fn. 74)
Ealdorman Athelmer gave two mills on the west side of Grandpont to Eynsham abbey between 1005 and 1013. (fn. 75) They were granted to Nigel d'Oilly by Abbot Columbanus (fl. 1086, 1094), but were confirmed to the abbey in 1091, in 1109, and between 1157 and 1163. (fn. 76) Before 1247 Walter Mauclerc, bishop of Carlisle, bought the mills from Henry son of Henry of Oxford, presumably Eynsham's tenant, and gave them to the preaching friars. Eynsham abbey released the friars from payment of the 40s. a year for the mills. (fn. 77) The mills were confirmed to the friars in 1336. (fn. 78) By 1500 the mill-stream had silted up so badly that the mills had ceased to work (fn. 79) and they were not included among the possessions of the friary in 1538. (fn. 80)
A mill which the abbot of Abingdon built c. 1344 on a stream of the Thames flowing from Botley towards Castle mill (fn. 81) may have been within the bounds of Oxford. A mill-pond and watercourse belonging to the abbot's mill ran along the edge of King's mead in the mid 14th century. (fn. 82)
The abbess of Godstow was said to have built a mill in the suburbs of Oxford during King John's reign. (fn. 83) It may have been the mill at Oxford at which an abbess's servant was killed in 1250, (fn. 84) but it was more probably at the northern end of Port Meadow. At the Dissolution Godstow's possessions included land called Mill furlong, but no mill. (fn. 85)
There was a mill on part of the Greyfriars' site by 1668, apparently associated with a brew-house, and it was last recorded in 1732. (fn. 86) Anthony Wood ignored it, although he assumed that the Greyfriars had owned a mill. (fn. 87)
Henry Simeon granted a moiety of Holywell mill c. 1200 to William Hosar, who soon afterwards granted it to Oseney abbey; (fn. 88) between 1266 and 1279 Oseney granted it to Merton College. (fn. 89) The other moiety was held in the 13th century by a succession of prominent burgesses. (fn. 90) In 1301-2 it was acquired by Philip Worminghall who in 1302 leased the other moiety from Merton. (fn. 91) Philip's interest passed to his relict Eleanor who, with her second husband William of Bicester, sold it in 1331 to men acting for Merton College. (fn. 92) The college leased the property to millers until 1877, when it was exchanged with Magdalen College for other property in Oxford. (fn. 93)
The mill was a double one by c. 1200 and seems to have remained a corn-mill throughout. (fn. 94) In 1336 Merton claimed that, working day and night, it ground 10 qr. of corn a day. (fn. 95) It presumably served the college's tenants in Holywell until the city lost its monopoly of grinding freemen's corn in the 17th century. It was a corn-mill in 1876, but had been converted into a private house by 1900. (fn. 96)
In 1486 Magadalen College agreed to remove a newly-built mill so as not to impede Holywell mill. (fn. 97) There is no further record of it; Wood believed it had been built by St. John's hospital, but the hospital's mill was King's mill in Headington. (fn. 98)
Between 1182 and 1189 Bernard of St. Valery granted the canons of Oseney a weir in the river Thames with the water-course running to their mill. (fn. 99) By 1225 there was more than one wheel, and by 1249 there was a fulling-mill in addition to the earlier corn-mills. In 1412 four newly-built mills in the abbey were taking water from Castle mill. (fn. 100)
In addition to the mills within the abbey precint the abbot in the mid 14th century built two mills on a backwater behind Warham Bank in St. Thomas's parish. Complaints were made in 1350 and 1371 that the new mills damaged Castle mills, and they may have been removed, for they were last recorded in 1373. (fn. 101)
At the Dissolution the Oseney mills, described as fulling-mills, gig-mills (for raising a nap on cloth), and corn-mills, passed with the abbey site to Christ Church, which in 1547 leased the site, with the mills, to William Stumpe, clothier. (fn. 102) Stumpe assigned his lease in 1554 or 1555 to another clothier James Atwood, whose sons James and Thomas took a new lease from Christ Church in 1565 and held the site until the 1580s. (fn. 103) A grist-mill was recorded in 1611 and during the Civil War the mills were used as powdermills. (fn. 104) In 1659 the tenant of Castle mill planned to build new fulling-mills at Oseney. (fn. 105) In 1775 part of the buildings were used as a china factory, (fn. 106) but the mill continued in use. Before 1829 the tenant had built saw-mills; (fn. 107) a bone-mill was added in 1844 and another in 1848. (fn. 108) The mill was described as a flourmill in 1876, and remained so until its closure in 1965. (fn. 109)
A mill associated with Bishopsmore meadow was confirmed to St. Frideswide's priory in 1158, and the priory held a mill south of Trill mill c. 1180. (fn. 110) The mill, thought by Wood to have been two distinct mills, Priory and Bishopsmore, (fn. 111) presumably stood on the Trill mill stream, and may perhaps have been the second mill held by the king's thegn Sawold in 1086. (fn. 112) Roger son of lungwine held a mill, perhaps this one, from St. Frideswide's in 1182, (fn. 113) but no further reference to it has been found.
In 1555 the city allowed Thomas Mallinson to set up a fulling-mill at Rewley on land leased from Christ Church. (fn. 114) It was being built at Mallinson's death in 1557, (fn. 115) but no later record of it has been found.
The mill was recorded by name in the late 12th century when Benet Kepeharm granted it to St. Frideswide's priory. (fn. 116) By the mid 15th century, however, it was identified with a mill given to the priory by Robert the priest c. 1122, (fn. 117) and it has also been identified with one or both mills held by Sawold in 1086. (fn. 118) The priory made a grant of the mill c. 1250, but recovered it c. 1275. It was last recorded in 1331, but was presumably still in existence when the priory's cartulary was compiled in the mid 15th century. (fn. 119) It was not among the priory's possessions granted to the bishop of Oxford in 1546, and had certainly disappeared by the mid 17th century. (fn. 120)
A windmill at 'Rome', near the junction of Banbury Road and the modern Parks Road, in the early 17th century had disappeared by the 1660s. (fn. 121) A number of horse-mills were recorded in 13th-century Oxford. (fn. 122) The mill in a brewery in St. Mary's parish in 1466 was also presumably a horse-mill, (fn. 123) and in 1643 three horse-mills were built to replace some of the water-mills made useless by the fortifications of the city. (fn. 124)
The city acquired the waters and fisheries within its liberty in 1199. (fn. 125) From the mid 16th century the common waters were under the control of two city water-bailiffs, who from 1783 onwards were salaried officials. (fn. 126) In 1722 extra men were appointed to protect the common fishery, and in 1732 they were called 'conservators of the fishery', (fn. 127) but they do not seem to have become permanent officials. The chief task of the water-bailiffs and other officers was to keep 'foreigners' from fishing in the common waters and to prevent the use of illegal nets. (fn. 128) They also enforced the observance of 'fence months' in the spring and summer when fishing was forbidden. In the 19th century the fence months were from February to May inclusive, (fn. 129) but in the 16th century the closed season began at the end of February and continued until at least Michaelmas. (fn. 130) The mayor and bailiffs were each allowed one day's fishing before the waters were opened to other freemen. (fn. 131) By a custom described as ancient in the 17th century the fishermen of St. Thomas's parish supplied the mayor with fish during Lent, (fn. 132) perhaps in return for permission to fish.
The most valuable fisheries were those by mills, and they were usually let with the mill. (fn. 133) In 1571, however, the city leased Castle mill fishery, from Hythe Bridge to the mill, separately. (fn. 134) Other parts of the waters were also leased; in 1556 the fisheries recorded were from Grandpont to Magdalen College, from Grandpont to 'the ferry', presumably at Hinksey, from the castle mill tail to the point of Oseney mead, and from Hythe Bridge to Godstow. (fn. 135) At other times fisheries were recorded in Warham water or the backstream in St. Thomas's parish, from Magdalen Bridge to Stubb Lake, on the north of Botley mill, from Castle mill to 'the new bridge', and from Folly Bridge to Chilswell Pool. (fn. 136) The city retained control of the fishing from Oseney Bridge to Port Meadow in 1977. In the 15th century the fishing in the river Cherwell as far as Magdalen Bridge belonged to Merton College as lords of Holywell, and to St. John's hospital, later Magdalen College. (fn. 137)