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Blunham Mills

Blunham Mills
Blunham Mills about 1900 [Z50/19/49]

There has been a mill near Blunham Bridges for many years, indeed, it seems reasonable to suppose that the mill mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 was on this site or near it. The first record of a mill after Domesday comes in Volume XLI of Bedfordshire Historical Records Society - a book of coroner's rolls for medieval Bedfordshire translated by R.F.Hunnisett. Entry 104 reads as follows: "After nones [3 p.m.] on 24 March 1271 Henry son of Emma Colle aged over 5, tried to cross the river Ivel to Blunham mill and by misadventure fell in and drowned. Emma searched for him by the river every day and on 11 April found him dead on the land of Azeline, lady of Little Barford, in "Norcroftisende" in the parish of Little Barford…". A drowning at nearby Blunham Bridges had taken place just four months before. The next mention comes in 1538 when Sir Henry Grey, Lord of the Manor, leased a fulling mill for 21 years to John Elyott of Blunham, fuller [L1/81], the document was used as cover for a book and thus has a number of holes in it.

The description was of a:"newly built house at the north end of a close of pasture called Nether Grasse Crofte and a fulling mill with four going 'stokkes' and two going 'wheelys' with their appurtenances, also the mill 'yate' and the several 'pistary' and fishing on the same gate and on the mill dam above the said fulling mill as far as the said timber work extendeth both afore and behind the same mill and also all the several fishing ........ said manor of Blunham from the said mill dam unto the corn mill in Blunham aforesaid called the master, fellows and scholars of St.John's College, Cantab. mill and also all the osiers holms that the said Sir Hy. hath .......of the same water between the said fulling mill and the said corn mill". Ellyot covenanted to keep the mill in repair as far as the new foundation is 'be goon of both sides of the water' and when any of the standing 'stokkes' decay he would set up new ones at his own cost. he also covenanted to have the water coming at all times to the fulling mill "on such like 'right' course as it doth the date of these presents, without ..... other person and if it shall happen the water of the said river at any time during the said term to break out of the said river there of any of the banks of either of the sides of the river there into a ditch thereunto adjoyning ...... of the said Henry and the ground belonging to Thomas Sheffeldes" that Ellyot would repair the banks at his own cost. Ellyot also covenanted to maintain the "going gear", viz: the wheels the 'extrees' and all manner 'eyerne warke', i.e. chains, 'hokes', daggeshoys' of iron for t ..... 'pottyarde' and nails and also shall 'furre the feete and the shankes and also the armes of the wheelys and the rawnsoms of the stokkes and all the tappetes of the stokkes and all the nodylles of the two (?pottys)....same mylnes belonging takyng alwey of the foreseyd". On 1 Jan 1551 Sir Henry Grey once more leased the mill [L1/82], this time to Thomas Troughton and the lease now also included a corn mill.

As mentioned above, St.John's College Cambridge also owned a corn mill in the parish and in 1553 they sold it to Sir Henry Grey [LJeayes249] under the description of "watermils, millponds, fisheries and osierholmes called Seyntmondes". Five years later Sir Henry leased both St.John's Mill and New Mills  to Elizabeth Johnes, widow of David and William [LJeayes251]. It seems possible that New Mills were the fulling and later also the corn mill leased first to Ellyott, then to Troughton, as in Ellyot's lease the mill house was described as newly built.

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service possesses an unexecuted lease of 1595 from Henry, Earl of Kent to John Whytehedd of Blunham Mills (wheat, corn and fulling) for eleven years [L1/83]. That it is unexecuted does not necessarily mean that the lease did not take place as it may be a draft and the original has not survived. The next lease comes in 1604 and was for 11 years to John Freshwater of Swineshead, miller and, once more, included wheat, corn and fulling mills together known as Blunham Mills [L1/84]. In 1609 the earl of Kent agreed to lease the mills to John Parysse of Lower Gravenhurst, Freshwater evidently having either given up the lease of died as it refers to all the profits whih John freshwater had had.

The next lease that Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service holds was drawn up in 1662 [L1/88], was for nine years and was to Richard Smyth of Willington, miller. and was still of three watermills. In 1674 Smyth again leased the mills, this time for seven years [L1/89].

In 1682 a lease was made to Henry Fari [or Fary] of the wheat and grist mills (which were described as two mills under one roof) and the fulling mill for six years [L1/90] and a schedule as follows:

"- 1 pr. of Boxes to raise mill stones;
- 3 mill bills for each of wheat and grist;
- 1 box in chisill fit for working one bar of iron;
- 2 'stock lokes & Kayes';
- 1 meale croft(?) for the wheat mill & meale fat & hopershoo & shoolether;
- 1 meal troff for the grist mill & meale fat & hopper shoe & shoolether awl chanios & hooks belonging to the fulling mill and 4 brasses fitt for working;
- 1 Pair peak stones in width 5' ; 5'' at the scurt, the running stone; the bedstone 3'' at the scurt. The culling stoane 3' 6''wide and 5''thick at scurt, the bedstone 3'';
- Hawkes & Chaines for the fulling mill fitt for working".

Henry Fary again leased the mills in 1692 for nine years [L1/91]

The next recorded lessor of the mills was Ralph Stoughton of Blunham, miller, for fourteen years in 1753 [L1/92]. he undertook to make repairs except those necessitated by "storms, fire and water" and to leave at Wheat Mill a good pair of French stones and at the Corn mill a pair of Peak Stones. William Stoughton succeeded Ralph as tenant in 1768 [L1/93] for a term of twelve years.

In 1783 the mills were leased to Thomas Evans of Welwyn [Hertfordshire], rushman for twenty one years [L1/94] and, as part of the agreement, it was noted that the mills were "much out of repair" [L1/95] and the Earl of Hardwicke, through his agent Joseph Pawsey agreed to spend £300 on them, any excess to be paid by the tenant. A letter later in the year from Pawsey to the Earl [CRT100/27/4(ii) p.14] indicated that the repairs were going well and would likely cost £400, so that Evans would have to pay £100. It seems likely that an undated, but eighteenth century letter [L26/21]noting that the foundation of the mill was in danger and that a new wheel and wharfing were being added was written around this time.

An exchange of letters between Joseph Pawsey and A.Inskip of Old Warden noted in 1801 [L1/97] that John Norman had lately occupied the mill and had purchased fittings such as the running gears from Evans, the late tenant, and that his widow now owned them. The final lease of the mills held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service was in 1813 when Baroness Lucas leased a water corn mill for 21 years to William Norman of Blunham, miller (presumably a descendant of John Norman), indicating that the fulling mill was no longer in use.

The later history of the mills can be sketched in from Directories. Mark Norman was listed as a miller in Blunham from the directory of 1847 to that of 1876. In 1885 Miss Susannah Norman is listed as miller at a windmill, the entry is repeated in 1890 but the entry of 1894 refers to Miss Susannah Sophia Norman, miller at a watermill, an entry repeated in 1898. A reasonable conclusion would be that the references to a windmill are an error for watermill. There is no entry for a miller in the directory of 1903 (other than the activity at South Mills [q.v.]) but in 1910 Robert Brocklebank is shown as a private resident living at the Mill House, indicating that the mill ceased to be a mill at sometime between 1898 and 1910.

Blunham Mill
seen from the road in March 2007 Blunham Mills lies behind the willow trees

The name of the residence changes to the Old Mill as the century wears on but the following residents are shown: Robert Brocklebank in 1914; Frederick H.Clark in 1920; and Major J.E.Orr in 1924. In 1927 the mill was valued under the 1925 Rating Valuation Act. The owner was J.S.Elliott [one wonders is he was any descendant of the lessor of 1538!] and the occupier Major J.Orr. The valuer described it as being of brick and tile construction and containing on the ground floor a hall ("v.dark"), sitting room with a bay window (15½ by 13ft), a dining room (used as a bedroom 13½ by 13ft), a study (used as a bedroom "leads out of sitting room"), a lavatory, kitchen (with range and larder) and a scullery. On the first floor were four bedrooms (one used as a sitting room) and a bathroom and outside were a garage and old stable ("v.poor but big") as well as the old disused mill itself "now used for dog kennels, v. bad repair". The whole property was on an island "except for drive down" and was a "summer place" with the ground floor let off - the whole area was 1.198 acres. Other occupiers of the mill are: William Newton, 1931; Mrs Lea Newton 1936 and Mrs.Galloway 1940.