In October we looked at the rivers of Dorset, now let us look at some of the mills using the river water for hundreds of years. By the time of the Domesday Book there were many mills throughout the country, generally grinding corn, the grist, into flour. At that time there were 372 mills recorded in Dorset and this number increased over the years, but the number reduced to about 130 some 20 years ago, with only about 9 in satisfactory order and only one being commercial.
In the Industrial Revolution many flour mills were converted into mills to produce cloth from wool. Many were Fulling Mills used to manipulate the cloth in a bath of Fuller’s Earth, producing a heavier fabric. Others were used to spin flax for sailcloth. Watermills were used for power for many years, until steam engines arrived and then electrical power took over.
Lyme Regis and Uplyme together are believed to have had a total of 7 mills at one time. One was recorded in the Domesday Book and another was built in about 1340. Lyme Regis Town Mill was owned by a miller until the Borough took it over. A Town Mill Trust recently took over and it has been renovated and once more grinds corn, since around the year 2000, partly for the heritage and tourist industry.
Sylvia Creed in Dorset’s Western Vale tells us that before 1860 the Moore family commenced milling and baking at Stoke Mill in Whitchurch Canonicorum, not with local wheat but bought from Bridport merchants. They ceased milling about 80 years ago and the water wheel was sold for scrap and the mill became a farm house. However the Moore family has continued baking biscuits in Morcombelake and Bradpole. At Charmouth the Old Mill was still working to produce flour by Henry Smith, the miller at the time of Jane Austen’s visit, c.1803.
On the River Axe, Mosterton Mill was working until at least 1880. Beaminster had several mills on the various streams rising north of the town. Marie Eedle in a History of Beaminster writes that the Bishop of Salisbury held Beaminster at Domesday, including a mill and two sub-tenants each having a mill. There were still three corn mills in the later medieval period, one at Hams, another off East Street and Beaminster Mill. Buckham Mill was occupied by Charles Podger in the late 1600s, probably supplied by the River Axe. Another at the top of Fleet Street formerly owned by Henry Willmott was taken over by the Read family in 1806. An anomaly occurred in 1868 when Whatley Mill which had been producing sail-cloth, twine and thread was converted to flour milling. As a rule flour came first. The Wheadon family were wool-staplers and cloth-makers in East Street up to 1811 and Thomas Hine a broadcloth maker at Fore Place, The Square in 1807. In 1830 three mills on the Brit in Beaminster were used to spin flax for sail-cloth yarn. By 1842 Eedle says the cloth industry was virtually over in Beaminster. Two of the Beaminster mills were used for paper making in the18th century, one at Fleet Street and the other referred to as in East Street was probably near Prout Bridge. In 1851 Robert Bugler commenced making agricultural equipment using a sawmill on the Brit in North Street. Parnham had an ancient grist mill on the Brit.
Stoke Abbott had a mill, strangely called “Horsemill”, possibly supplied by Stoke Water.
Clenham Mill at Netherbury was working until at least 1880 according to Eedle. Carrying on down the Brit we find Slape Mill. South and East we come to Mangerton Mill on the Mangerton River both grinding grist and working on flax. Nearby is Milton Mill. On the Asker we find Loders which formerly had two mills, one for corn and the Old Mill in New Street Lane was a bolling mill for hemp.
Bridport vies with Beaminster for its complexity. Near Happy Island on the Asker was a Tucking Mill used to “full” cloth but it ceased to operate in the 1840s and now little is left. The Simene was formerly known as the Mill Stream and possibly supplied the foundry on West Road. In Allington can be found North Mills with the former Allington Corn Mills on the Brit converted to flax spinning in 1806 and upstream can be found Pymore Mill for corn and bolling, converted to flax spinning about the same time. In West Street next to The Court is West Mill, on the Brit. It was very early and in the 1860s was used for grist and bolling. Its wheel was removed in favour of a Water turbine in 1886. The mill has since been converted to an attractive residence. Along East Street, just over the roundabout towards Dorchester can be seen a Mill House and an Old Mill House, on the north side. However East Mill, on the Asker producing flour in 1902 is now hardly evident. To the south is Folly Mill Lane on which stood Folly Mill, earlier known as Killings Mill, for grist until conversion in the late 1800s.
There is said to have been a Walditch Mill, or Asker Mill opposite East Mill, behind the present garage and workshops on the Walditch Stream which was used for flax spinning. Half way down South Street a small road leads east to South Mill. Further south behind Palmers Brewery is a large water wheel which has supplied the brewery with pumped spring water. Finally between there and West Bay once stood Port Mill, for hemp bolling using cam driven hammers, but now only a few foundation stones survive. Most water wheels in Bridport were made in the town.
Going east to Burton Bradstock Richard Roberts erected a mill in 1778 for spinning wool on the site of an older mill. In the early 1880s a second mill was built in Grove Road for flax working.
Further east and north we find Toller Porcorum (a reference to the pigs which once lived there) which had Old/Toller Mill for grist and corn until c.1900 on the River Hooke, leading to the River Frome. Going south to Abbotsbury we find the Old Mill with three millers in the 1901 census.
Early water wheels were undershot, the water running under the wheel. The breastshot wheel has water meeting the wheel halfway down and the overshot where the water feeds over the top. The best millstones were French burrstones but millstone grit has been used for animal feed.
Thomas Hardy in The Trumpet Major describes life in a mill, with the gentle noise of the wheels and cogs, sometimes all night and the mist of superfine flour pervading the whole building.
There is an old song about a mill and stream, my wife reminded me, probably from Old Time Music Halls, sung by a sweet soprano or an alcohol infused tenor which is:
“There’s an old mill by the stream, Nellie Dean, Where we used to sit and dream, Nellie Dean, And the waters as they flow, Seem to murmur sweet and low, You are my heart’s desire, I love you Nellie Dean”.
Thanks are due to Bridport Museum Service and several members of Bridport History Society for help with information used.
Bridport History Society meets on Tuesday 12th November at 2.30 pm in the Main Hall Bridport United Church when we are pleased to welcome Carlos Guarita to tell us about “Potts, another Bridport photographer”. All welcome, visitors fee £3
Cecil Amor, Hon President, Bridport History Society.