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OF MILLS AND MILLERS by A. J. Orange



This B/W sketch is 430k

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It is impossible to state when or where the first mill in Feltwell was erected. The first millers were undoubtedly men of the Stone Age. This is proved by the number of querns (millstones) which are frequently ploughed up in Feltwell fields. Messieurs Frank Curtis and Eric Seeker each have several of these and thanks to them I have three. There are two types of these ancient querns, one is a flint boulder on which Stone Age man chipped away until he had one flat side. Obviously, these querns vary in size but the average size of the flat surface seems to be about 15 inches by 9 inches. This type is known as the Saddle Quern and the corn was ground between two similar stones, one of which would have been partly buried in the soil with the flat side uppermost, to hold it firm. The top stone was usually smaller.

The other type is the Rotary Quern and the one in my collection is a squat cone about four inches high with diameters of about twelve inches at the base and five inches at the top. Down through the centre of this cone is a hole of about four inches diameter. At the base, at one point on its perimeter, a semi-circular hole of one and a quarter inches diameter has been bored towards the centre of the quern, so that approximately two inches into the stone it tapers off to nothing. This quern is quite attractive as it has been hewn out of "puddingstone", a conglomerate said to have been formed by the grinding action of the Ice Age glaciers which pulverised the rocks over which they passed into a cement, which in its turn collected all sorts of coloured pebbles.

The act of milling with the rotary quern was performed by throwing quantities of corn down the centre hole, into which was placed a flint or stone "puddler". The quern would have been placed on a flat stone and, by rotating the quern with a circular motion of the puddler, the flour would be ejected through the hole in the side. Unfortunately the puddingstone quern in my collection is not complete and there may have been another side hole.

As far as I can trace, the first mention of any building in Feltwell erected for the purpose of milling was in 1277.

In that year an "Extent" (valuation) was taken of the Bishop of Ely's Manor, later to become known as the Chief, or Capital, Manor. This document listed one windmill as belonging to the Bishop and one water-mill known as BRIGGE-MELN (i.e. the mill by the bridge).

In Mr. Speed's garden, alongside the Pumping Station on the riverbank beyond Shrub-Hill are the remains of an old building. In one wall can be seen a semi-circular groove which was obviously gouged into the wall by the edge of a water wheel. I am not suggesting that this wall belonged to the Bishop's mill as it is of much more recent construction, and no doubt there were many small watermills along the river bank, as there were drainage mills throughout the fen.

During the Middle Ages, querns were forbidden and the people were forced to take their corn to be ground at the mill owned by the Lord of the Manor.

A Mrs. Sarah Archer was buried in Feltwell 18th November, 1828, aged 101. On 13th June, 1809 she agreed to sell a house and other buildings to the Trustees of the Moundeford Charity who appointed John Richardson, a millwright of Feltwell and one Thomas Ogden of Southery to act as valuers.

Their valuation is quoted below:-

"An Estimate made this 29 day of June, 1809 Between Sarah Archer widow of the first part and James Denton, Henry Prichard, John Siggoe, William Nurse, Trustees of the Feltwell Charity School of the other part:-

One acre of land more or less – Holts - Gates on

22

A dwellinghouse at

140

A barn with a good boarded floor at

40

A stable at

20

A cow shedd and Cart shedd included at

2O

An Engine Mill 9 foot diameter at bottom and 6 foot

 

curbed(?) sails 16 foot long valued at

45

Signed John Richardson, Millwright

 

Thomas Ogden

287

In a memorandum made in 1810 the estate was described as ". being upon the forelands of the (river) bank . . . . in the New Fen District, Survey No's. 421 and 422" and was in the occupation of one Ireland North who, as tenant, was "in arrear of rent 95". Mrs. Archer was previously the widow of John North, the father of Ireland North.

No longer do we have either wind or water-mills in Feltwell the last we had stood on the two-acre site adjoining Mill House (109, Wilton Road) and part of its base is still standing (1970). About 1937, when the new aerodrome became occupied by the Royal Air Force, this old mill was considered to be a hazard to aircraft and had to be demolished. It was a typical tower or capped mill, built of red brick, with four sails and a fan-tail. About a quarter of the way up was a wooden catwalk with metal railings. Above the door leading on to the catwalk was a date slab reading W.H. 1860 showing that the mill had been erected by William Heading (Junior). His father built the sheds which still span the centre of the site.

Quite by chance, I met William’s nephew, Arthur Heading, in Norwich in 1969, when he was 82, and he told me that the sheds had been built in a pit (as is Mill House) "so that they should not take the wind away from the Mill". There were already two mills in Feltwell and William received a certain amount of criticism when he built the tower mill. It was said that "there oont be enough wind in Feltwell to keep three mills agoen!"

Standing just inside the inner gate-way, on the same plot of land, stood a very fine post-mill which had an unusual set of sails (see the sketch above which I made from a very indistinct photograph taken about 1890 and which appeared in the Eastern Daily Press 15 December, 1926).

At some time between 1869 and 1875, both mills were taken over by Horace Edmund King who seems to have had a run of bad luck. In 1895 the post-mill was wrecked beyond repair in a heavy storm, then, one very gusty Sunday in 1908, the wind changed direction too quickly for the fantail to turn the sails of the tower mill into the wind. As a result, the strong wind blew on the back of the sails and ripped them and their spindle out of the cap. Mr. William Johnson, who died in 1967, told me that he found pieces of the sails a mile away near Clawney Plantation. Both Mr. Fred Vale (born 1881) and Mr. Walter H. Beamis (born 1885) confirmed this and told me that within a few years of a new set of sails being fitted, a similar catastrophe befell the tower mill, but this time the sails were blown across the Wilton Road on to South Field (now the airfield).

Without doubt this was the last straw for Mr. King because, shortly after this event, he had a roller mill installed and this was driven by a gas engine. (Presumably this meant a gasoline, or petrol engine as no gas was available in Feltwell). His son, Harold almost lost his mill in 1927 for the late Mr. H. C. (Bob) Walden told me that during a heavy storm, flames were seen shooting from the mill. The fire engine was called and Bob, then a young lad, was given the sum of 10/- for his assistance.

It seems that Mr. King once employed a miller named Rutherford and when the sails needed painting, Rutherford used to place them in a horizontal and vertical position. Having done this, he would use one sail as a ladder, start painting at the top and work his way down. By giving the sails a quarter turn he was able to repeat the operation.

I said that when the tower mill was erected, there were already two mills in the village. The one I have not yet mentioned stood at the end of a narrow driftway, known as Mill Drift, whose entrance was close to the junction of Payne's Lane with Green Lane. Mr. Arthur Heading told me (in 1969) that he still owned the Mill Drift so we can fairly safely assume that his Uncle William was the last miller to operate that mill. As William's name had disappeared from the list of millers by 1879, we are brought to the conclusion that this mill was out of operation from approximately 1880.

This is confirmed by the Ordnance Survey Map dated 1888, which had been revised in 1883, as no building is shown on that plot of land.

At about this time, a firm of agricultural engineers, Robert Payne & Sons, was operating in Payne's Lane, and undoubtedly gave the name to what had been known up to then as Howard's Lane. Howard used to live in one of the two cottages which Mr. Frank Curtis converted into one house about 1957 ("The Flints", Payne's Lane). Prior to Howard's time the lane was known as Mill Lane and is mentioned as such in an Indenture dated 17th October, 1729 relating to South Hall Manor. The mill was therefore at least 150 years old. On the Tithe Map of 1837 this mill is drawn in elevation and always assuming that the cartographer was reasonably accurate, it appears to have been a smock mill; the Inclosure Award of 1815 shows that this mill had by that time come into the possession of the Heading family.

The Post Mill in 1771 belonged to a person named Jacumb, but by 1815 it was in the possession of John Tokelove but occupied by Robert Tokelove.

Henry Heading (senior) owned it in 1837 and the Tithe Map shows that there was a separate piece of land immediately behind the mill site, containing about 20 acres and known as the Mill Close.

Directories dated as below list as millers

1858

Henry Heading, Junior

1863/4

Henry Heading, William Heading

1869

William Heading

1875/77

William Heading, Horace Edmund King

1879/83

H. E. King (wind)

 

George Johnson (wind)

 

Greenfield Cock (steam-miller, etc.)

1892

H. E. King, G. Cock

1900/12

H. E. King (1912 Roller mill)

1925

Harold King (gas engine)

1926

Reginald Hyam

When William Heading left the Tower Mill, he moved into a farmhouse in Long Lane, which became known as Heading's Farm. The farmhouse was demolished many years ago, the barn was converted into the British Legion Hall and the British Legion erected their Clubhouse on the adjoining land. In 1970 the Hall was leased to the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

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