Saturday, 3 December 2016

Welland Valley Wind & Water Mills

Figure 1: The wind and water mills adjacent the Welland at Gretton in 1587 [1]
[Please click on this image and all the following ones for a larger version.]

The following blog was sparked by a recent post on Twitter by Dr Susan Oosthuizen.

She was drawing attention to extracts of a map made in 1587 on behalf of Sir Christopher Hatton, by Ralph Treswell, that has recently been posted on the Rockingham Forest Trust Website. Oostuizen is a distinguished landscape historian whose work predominantly covers the Medieval Period in Cambridgeshire and the Fens. She specialises in water features and the use of water in the landscape.

Having been brought up in Lyddington in Rutland, I have been intrigued over the past year or so to see her interest in landscapes spreading from Cambridgeshire into East Northamptonshire, and indeed in this latest post up to the very county boundary with Rutland at Lyddington.  Gretton Mill and indeed the stretch of the River Welland from here down to Harringworth, were my childhood playground, and one where I would exercise myself and my dog.

Figure 2: Gretton Mill in 2014. [2] Notice the very low flows.

During the 1970's I worked on the construction of Rutland Water, and was part of the River Authority team that took that landscape apart, almost literally, when we cleared the reservoir bottom of trees, hedges and buildings, and built the new facilities. Archaeologists came to record many of the sites we had exposed, and as a result of this experience I became hooked on landscape archaeology.

The late Hugh Clarke from Lyddington owned a copy of the Lyddington Enclosure Award Map, and working from that, and field walking, I explored much of this area, so it was with agreeable surprise that I looked at the new information Susan Oosthuizen was presenting.

Since the 1970's I have moved away from the area, however sources of information have become much more readily available in recent years than they formerly were, so that I have been having fun revisiting my original research, and with some rather intriguing results.

Figure 3: Gretton Mill in 1899. [3]

When I first visited the mill during the late 1960's, the mill building itself had already disappeared. 

The River Welland and Nene River Authority, the predecessor body to the Environment Agency, had installed a large green guillotine lifting gate as a form of weir in an attempt to maintain the water level upstream of the site. This was successful, and the presence of  the large pike in the pool was a strong attraction for us local boys.

Figure 4: A chart showing the water levels at Duddington. [4]

While Susan Oosthuizen was undoubtedly right to draw our attention to the apparent incongruity of  building a windmill adjacent to a watermill, it begins to make much more sense when you know something of the flow patterns in the River Welland.  For many months of every year the flows in the river here are so low, that it could well have been difficult to have provided an adequate milling service using water power for ones clients. This can be demonstrated by the flows recorded by the Environment Agencies gauging weir at Duddington, which is the nearest gauging weir on the river.  It shows how the river rises and falls very rapidly, and only runs at comparatively low levels for most of the time.

The river flows shown are probably not entirely representative of those in 1587, as the river has been substantially straighted and shortened. Between Rockingham and Duddington, David Harper was able to show in a study that some 6% of its length had been lost since the 1960's. [5] This alone would have a really significant effect on the rivers regime.

In earlier centuries it is very probable that similar straightening had already occurred upstream and when this is combined with the greatly increased arable acreage present in the Welland Valley since 1939, as well as the increased urban growth, which has hardened up the surfaces of many former fields around the villages and Market Harborough, which thereby increased the rate of runoff, it can clearly be understood how in former years, the peaks of the floods were very probably less pronounced than they are today.  The flows probably came down the river in a more steady and consistent rate than they do today.

I believe that the old mill house, which is still clearly visible on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map was pulled down during the first half of the 20th Century, and very possibly as part of the works when the lifting gate was installed. I cannot date the installation of the gate, however I know that the River Authority installed many similar gates elsewhere in the catchment during the 1940's and 1950's.

A considerable amount of dressed stone almost certainly coming from the old mill, is present in the bottom of the downstream mill pool, where it had probably been spread in order to reduce the scour in the plunge pool.

During the early 1980's a Siphonic Weir was installed, as can be seen in the following photograph. This involved realigning the channel, and considerable landscaping using the arisings from the works took place in the adjacent field. I believe that it was this work that has effectively removed any sign of the windmill's base.

In 1899, the Ordnance Survey recorded the site as a mill. Interestingly the site of the next water mill down the river at Thorpe is recorded as being a "Disused Water Mill". This suggests that the Gretton Mill was still working in 1899, unlike that at Thorpe.

Figure 5: Recent Drone footage showing the Gretton Mill Site [6]

Not having researched the history of Gretton Mill before, but having previously researched several mills of similar age mills in Rutland and Suffolk, I turned to the British Newspaper Archive, to see if there were any references to this mill.  Rather surprisingly given what I had found elsewhere, very little seems to be recorded about Gretton Mill.

Unlike the other mills, there are no advertisements for its sale or lease.  It appears, that unlike the windmill at Lyddington, and water mill in Thorpe by Water for instance, which were owned by the Earl of Exeter's Burleigh Estates and which came up from time to time for the renewal of their leases, that Gretton Mill was most probably owned, occupied and operated by the miller, and that it cannot have changed hands very often.

The following death notice from 1791 in the Northampton Mercury enabled me to identify one of the millers.


"Tuesday se’night ….   Same day, Mr. John Gray, of Gretton-mill in this county.
Saturday 21 May 1791,  Northampton Mercury."[7]

While following up the Gray family I struck lucky on Ancestry.Com website as the two following photos appear on that site.

Figure 6: Gretton Mill from the upstream side.

Although the photos are very low resolution the profile of the building clearly matches that of the building on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map in Figure 3 above.  The main building has two very interesting features. Firstly, the steepness of the gable wall is such that it is almost certainly an early building from the period between 1540 and 1600.  From studies in Lyddington and the surrounding villages, it is possible to work from the known dates of similar buildings, such as the Homestead at 81 Main Street in Lyddington that has a similar gable and which dates to before 1650.  As the centuries rolled on the steepness of the gables reduces steadily.

The roof also appears to have the raised stonework borders on either gable that was originally intended to retain the thatch in place.

Interestingly enough in Figure 1, Treswell shows a red roof, and therefore presumably it was a tiled roof.

Thatch lasts at least 30 or more years. If the roof had originally had a thatched roof, that would suggest that if it were re-tiled by 1587, that it might have been originally built at least 30 or more years earlier.

Figure 7: Gretton Mill from further upstream.

It is very difficult because of the very low resolution of the images to make an assessment of the date when the photos were taken, however they have the feel of photos taken after the widespread adoption of the Box Brownie camera, which came into popular usage by 1914.  Earlier photos tend to have much better resolution, as they were made on larger cameras, often with glass plates for the images and tend to have far better resolution.

This leads me to believe that the photos probably date from the 1920's or 30's.

Figure 8: Seaton Wind and Water Mills.  In the background Harringworth Viaduct can be seen.

As I have already alluded to, due to the low water flows that occur for many months of the year, it was probably not possible to mill with water power, except for limited periods.  Having an auxiliary windmill appears to have been a common feature in the Welland valley.

This is clearly demonstrated in Figure 8, which shows a very fine post mill in the field next to Seaton Water Mill.  The viaduct was built in 1878, so that this photo must date from about 1880 or slightly later.  This mill was the home to the Royce family, and this was where Mr Royce, of later Rolls Royce fame spent much of his childhood.

A similar situation existed in Lyddington.  Throughout the later 18th Century and first half of the 19th Century Lyddington had two mills. One was the windmill that sat on top of Windmill Hill, one of the three hills to the east of the village that look out over the Welland Valley, and a second water mill, that was located in Thorpe By Water.  Both mills were owned by the Earl of Exeter, and were let together. In 1757 Edward Sharman entered into a 21 year lease. Both of the mills and his house in Lyddington must have been in very poor condition when he entered into the lease, because he reached an agreement with his landlord for a very major programme of rebuilding of all of his buildings.

Sharman had previously leased these properties from 1743 to 1758, and was presumably able to apply pressure to the Earl's land agent to force the Earl to fund the improvements, to what were probably old time expired mills, before he would take out a new lease.

Details of the leases are given in much more detail in Rosemary Canadine's book, "Buildings and People of a Rutland Manor, Lyddington, Caldecott, Stoke Dry and Thorpe by Water published in 2015. Rosemary Canadine worked for a number of years as an archivist in the Burleigh House Archive.

Interestingly these were not the only wind mills closeby in the area bounded by Caldecott, Lyddington and Gretton.

On Bowen's strip map of 1753, two windmills can clearly be seen to be astride of the highway between Caldecott and Lyddington.  Bowen was almost certainly not the surveyor for this map, which is copied from an earlier survey carried out by John Ogilby in 1674, then reproduced by Bowen and a long line of other publishers.

So what we can see next probably shows the situation as it existed in about 1674.

Figure 9: Bowen's Map of 1753.

It is not immediately apparent where these two post mills were located.  It is known that the road layout locally was considerably altered in 1804 when Lyddington and Caldecott were Enclosed.  The modern A6003 road from Caldecott to Uppingham only came into being shortly after the 1755 Act of Parliament for a Turn Pike from Bowling Green in Kettering to West Bridgeford Lane in Nottingham was passed.

The following plan is drawn from the 1899 Ordnance Survey plan and shows the layout of the earlier pre-1804 roads that were converted into footpaths after they were replaced by the new post enclose roads.

Figure 10: Map showing the route that I believe John Ogilby surveyed in 1675.  The blue circle rings the area in which I conjecture that the two post mills were situated in.

The ringed area is situated on a slightly elevated piece of ground in an otherwise flat plain.

It is clear that the villagers and the surveyors have probably slightly realigned the footpath, as it appears to leave the line of the original ploughing baulks, and the modern footpath cuts across the ridge and furrow of the former ploughing. This would have almost certainly have not been acceptable to farmers before the Enclosures took place.

The upper third of the route nearest Lyddington follows the original hedge boundary between Holbrook Field to the north, and Nether Field to the south. It is interesting that Ogilby's survey appears to show a hedge, in a solid line, whereas the opposite highway boundary is dotted. [9]

Figure 11: The probable site of the two windmills in Ogilby's Survey on the parish boundary of Caldecott and Lyddington. Notice the crop mark of a possible hollow way in the top of the central field.

Notice how the footpath as drawn on the map, and as can be seen aerial image as a faint line.  This puzzles me as the path is clearly crossing plough ridges, which would have annoyed those growing crops. I think that it does allow us to plot the road however, because the curved hedge leaving the top centre of the aerial view is clearly on the path, and from here on into Lyddington, it follows headlands.

To the immediate left of both images is the deserted Medieval village of Snelston.  The parish boundary between Lyddington and Caldecott is the dotted line on the map.  With a height of just over 200 feet I believe that this ridge must have been the site of the windmills.  I believe that the road in 1675 followed the hedge along and did not cross the post 1804 field. It ran into the "triangular" shaped field on the left centre of the image, which was formerly part of Snelston and out down the current A6003 into Caldecott.

There is what appears to be a crop mark for a hollow way or pond running into the field. Could this be leading to the mill sites?

Why does this all matter?

Well amongst the fascinating things I found over the past week of research is the following passage from an early 18th Century book, "The Natural History of Northampton-shire: With Some Account of the Antiquities." By John Morton published in 1712.

Figure 12: The Natural History of Northampton-shire

Morton was the Rector of Oxendon near Market Harborough, and his book is absolutely full of fascinating details about the natural history of Northamptonshire, with many valuable descriptions of the places and events in the area.  In the following passage presumably written after 1705 and before 1712 he describes a weather event that took place shortly before a thunder storm.  Both the Lyddington and Gretton windmills are mentioned.  Bear in mind that these are post mills, so that they swivelled around the supporting centre post to face into the wind.

Figure 13: A description of the two mills, presumably working on that day.

Windmills had to be secured when they were not working, and the cloth sails rolled up, or stripped down to prevent the wind breaking the mill. This could lead to a fire breaking out inside the mill, which would very quickly cause the flour to burn in with an effect that would be very like that of an explosive.

It was just such a fire in about 1840, that destroyed the only other windmill that could possibly be being described by Morton. That was the one located on top of Windmill Hill at Lyddington.

Until the 1980's this mill site was readily accessible and half of one of the mill stones lay partially buried in the topsoil on top of the hill. This was a popular destination for a Sunday afternoon walk. The hill is heavily earth worked with both ridge and furrow as well as a sunken roadway leading to the mill site.  Sadly the pastureland was planted in trees, and the site is no longer easily accessible, although the crown of the hill was left unplanted.

Figure 14: A plan showing the locations of the mills near Lyddington

As can be seen, there is a surprisingly large number of mills in this area. The are also watermills at Caldecott and at Seaton.

Thorpe Water mill went out of business by 1899. The building survived without its roof until about 1968. I can remember playing in and around it.  The masonry was again bulldozed into the river and along the toe of the adjacent railway embankment by the River Authority.  The retaining wall of the sluice is still visible below the footbridge as can be seen in the following photo.  The mill lade survives, however it was heavily modified by the construction of the railway line during the late 1850's, and it was probably this work that caused the mill to cease production. Nobody knows when it started in production, but it was probably operating in competition with Gretton Mill. A footpath leading directly to Gretton crosses the bridge in the photo. A nearby footpath goes by a less direct route over the back stream to Gretton over an old masonry & brick bridge now on the point of falling down.

Figure 15: Thorpe By Water former water mill site. [10]

When did all this milling start?  One intriguing clue survives.  The following Lidar image of Gretton Mill survives.  Two streams can be seen.  The main river, with the Gretton Road Bridge just to the east of the mill sites.  To the north is the back stream. It has a very sinuous course, and as can be seen on Figure 10, is the County and Parish Boundary, which suggests to me that the current main river is probably an early artificial cut  made in order to achieve a suitable fall.  There is evidence of another cut close still to the mill, and it looks as if quite a bit of digging was undertaken here by the original builders.

Figure 16: A Lidar image of Gretton Mill courtesy of the Environment Agency.

Why did these mills close. Of course it could have been for many reasons, obsolescence, being worn out, or competition.

I personally believe that it was due to the price of wheat and barley, which has fluctuated greatly over time.

Figure 17: William Playfair's Chart showing the price of wheat. [11]

To most historians over the past century who tend to have urban and socialist leanings, the rise in the price of wheat has negative connotations. However it should be borne in mind that the struggle for the balance of power between the consumer and the producer was here long before the supermarket was invented. For much of that time the farmer was on the losing side of that balance. When the red line fell below 40 towards 30, in Figure 17, farming communities began to feel the pain.

Conversely when the price rose, farmers prospered as they did from 1940 until about 1975.

It is interesting to consider that Gretton Mill was already operating in 1585 and had probably just had a new tiled roof installed. I believe that it was built on the back of rising demand for grain, and increased incomes resulting from the grain prices shown above. I think that the windmills date from the second prosperous period starting in about 1650, but that they went largely out of use following the crash in farm gate prices during the 1720's.

 Arable rents fell away to very low levels, way lower than the rents that grazing could command.  The pair of mills were almost certainly derelict and gone by the time the surveyors measured up between 1799 and 1804 for the enclosures.  The remaining mills then had a final burst of prosperity and activity during the Napoleonic Wars, before finally fading out of use as the land was turned over to pasture and cattle fattening once more.

There was clearly a great deal of arable farming going on in the high Medieval Period in the area, as is borne witness to, by the sheer amount of remaining ridge and furrow.  Out of about 2200 acres in Lyddington over 1800 acres were ridge and furrow. Assuming a three course rotation, about 600 acres was cropped for cereals in any one year. This might have yielded somewhere between 600 and 900 tonnes of grain.

Confirmation of just how much grain there was comes from a great discovery arising from Rosemary Canadine's work in Lyddington. She secured a Lottery Grant that enabled a dendrochronology survey in many of the village houses, and in a barn at Prebendal Farm.  This barn outwardly dated to 1726-51, turned out to have two reused beams inside it that were dated by dendrochronology to c. 1347-72.

Experts believe that these beams had formerly been uprights, and from the jointing details present in the beams, that they had served a barn 12 metres wide, and that the barn would have contained from 6 to 8 of these bays.

Lyddington, Caldecott and Thorpe by Water all belonged to the Bishop of Lincoln who had a substantial Palace in Lyddington.  The Bishop had both the access to capital and the power to commission such a barn, which is thought to be the only such tithe barn of this size in Rutland or Leicestershire.

It was clearly bigger than the 18th Century barn, and would not be equalled in the village until the 1970's when arable farming was once again highly profitable.

If you had this much grain to process, water and wind mills were a must.[12]  It is very likely that the Bishop had a hand in the development of the first mills in this area, which date to 1280, if not before.

It is not known where the huge barn was located, however it is very likely that it was under the site of the later 18th Century barn and the surrounding crew yards.

The date of construction of the Medieval barn is a puzzle because the Black Death is widely believed to have so reduced the population, that arable farming greatly diminished afterwards. Perhaps the Bishop was better at praying than he was at agricultural economics and planning.

After the 1540's the barn presumably became far to large for the farming outputs of the day, and it would have fallen into disuse just as many Model Farms from the 1800's and first half of the 20th Century have done over the past 40 years.

As Figure 17 shows there was a resurgence in crop prices from about 1650.  Interestingly enough this coincides with the arrival of the Great Re-building in both Gretton and Lyddington. W.G. Hoskins who coined the phrase assigns the period to 1570 to 1640.  However in Lyddington, while there are buildings from this date that survive, it is clear that the main period of serious re-building dates from about 1650, with a peak in about 1680.

Rosemary Canadine has produced graphs that show the age distribution for the houses, and they show about 48 of the ones that survive come from this period out of about 103 houses that existed in the 1804 survey.[13]

Some really serious money was flowing into these villages at this period, so that I believe that it was coming in large part from grain, and milling was of course all part of getting that added value from ones crop.

[2] Photo courtesy of Patterdale Paddler. This intepid gentleman canoes down many of the local rivers, and his excellent photos provide a really good record of many of the features of this little known stretch of the River Welland.
[3] Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland, Ordnance Survey Maps Collection.
[6] A still from a video by Nigel Ward of drone footage found on the web at The video shows the area surrounding the site well.
[7] Courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive website.
[9] See Rosemary Canadine,  "Buildings and People of a Rutland Manor, Lyddington, Caldecott, Stoke Dry and Thorpe by Water published in 2015. page 43.
[10] Photo courtesy of Patterdale Paddler.
[11] See for a very good blog on this subject.
[12] Rosemary Canadine, pages 119 and 120.
[13] Rosemary Canadine. pages 121 to 175.

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