This was a humorous phrase on the radio some years ago in affluent times, probably relating to the cotton and wool mills in the north of England. It may have resulted from the depression of the 1920s and 30s, but they were troubled times everywhere. As the present is, for some, unfortunately.
I now realise that times must have been hard for my parents in the 1930s, which now explains to me why an early Christmas present was a wooden railway engine, lovingly made by my father in his shed from off cuts. I was just old enough to have seen pictures of engines, in bright colours, red, blue, yellow, etc., but I was upset as mine was finished in brown varnish, showing the wood grain. I suppose this varnish was all Dad could find in his shed. Mother and Father both rode bicycles and Dad fitted a small saddle and foot rests on his crossbar, so that I could ride with them, whereas present day youngsters ride behind in trailers! The only trip I can remember is once on a winters day, when Father had to ‘sign on the dole’ at the Labour Exchange in the nearby town, as there was no work available in the building trade in bad weather. A proud man, this would have distressed him and perhaps holding me by the hand gave him some comfort. I hope so.
Recently I have been reading the history of the engineering company where I trained, in better times, but of then it said ‘In the works … things were at a very low ebb, with a considerable proportion of the workforce laid off’. Then in 1934 a large contract was signed to supply the Polish State Railways and ‘staff salaries, which had been cut by 10% were restored to their former levels’. The contract ended with the war, but I remember it still being talked of when I joined the company after the war. I also remember a later occasion of poor business, when the Christmas bonus, which had become the post war norm, was not paid. The company then about 4,000 strong, was the largest employer in that country town and the local Chamber of Trade members wrung their hands for the effect on the local shopkeepers. Trouble in’t mill indeed, (or was it ‘at mill’?).
The word ‘mill’ came into our language well before cotton mills and engineering factories, first of all with corn or flour (grist) mills, grinding grain. Originally these were wind powered, or as locally, water mills. Within, or on the outskirts of each local town, we may find several mills, within easy reach of their market and raw materials and where there is a good flow of water. We know of these local mills, firstly from the Domesday Book of 1086, for example, the Beaminster area had Buckham and Langdon mills and a third, according to Marie Eedle, perhaps at Parnham, but surprisingly none are mentioned at Bridport, although there are others a short distance away. Loders and Netherbury each had two and Abbotsbury, Askerswell and Allington each had one in Domesday. Later in Beaminster, at the top of Fleet Street, a mill is recorded in 1806, by which time multiple uses were recorded of grist and fulling. Others were opposite the Manor House, later a saw mill, a flax mill at Whatley and a paper mill near Prout Bridge. The growth of flax production in the 1800s required more mills and Netherbury had Bingham’s Wooth (first recorded in 1325), Clenham and Slape, Yondover, Mill House and Drury Lane. Others were at Mosterton and two at Stoke Abbott in Domesday and one at Melplash. West Milton was recorded in 1401. Bradpole had a mill listed in 1291, possibly later a tucking mill. At Bridport, Killings Mill was first mentioned in 1225, later known as Cook’s and then Folly Mill by 1880. Bridport West Mill appears in the Court records of 1560, Bothenhampton, later called South Mill in 1799, and two North Mills at the same date. East Mill appears not to be mentioned until the 1830s, although it was possibly referred to as St John’s in 1660. Wm. Hounsell had a twine mill in 1881and the Brewery is also listed as a watermill. Port Mill was a bolling mill in the 1840s. Some of these Bridport mills were also listed as owned by The Lord of Stourton in 1479, John Salmon in 1530 and one known as Storkysmill.
Powerstock had a mill and Pymore had one in 1318, increased to two in 1799. Symondsbury had two flour mills in 1393. Mangerton was mentioned in 1835 as a bolling mill, but was probably an earlier corn mill.
At Burton Bradstock, Burton flour mill is first mentioned in 1799, followed by Grove Mill (flax) in 1803. Chideock was first listed in 1557 and Lyme Regis had two mills at the time of Edward I and its Town Mill in 1340.
Some of this information is from research carried out by the late Civic Society of Bridport. Bolling, tucking and fulling are all flax or cloth making terms.
Quite a catalogue! But there may be others, hidden in the Vale?
Bridport History Society are visiting a mill just outside the Bridport area at Clapton on Tuesday 9th June at 2.30pm. Numbers are limited, prebooking is essential, to avoid “trouble at mill” !
Cecil Amor, Chairman, Bridport History Society, tel : 01308 – 456876