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Doolittle Mill Eaton Bray

Doolittle Mill about 1950 [Z549/110]
Doolittle Mill about 1950 [Z549/110]

Doolittle Mill was in the civil parish of Totternhoe until 1985 when it was transferred to Eaton Bray [MCDP87/5]. Four mills were recorded in Totternhoe in 1086 and it seems reasonable to assume that one of them may have stood at or near the later Doolittle Mill.

In September 1980 the former Department of Environment listed Doolittle Mill as Grade II*, in the highest group of buildings of special interest. The house dates from the 18th century and is built of red brick and has two storeys with an old clay tiled roof. The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. Entry 1457 notes that a gallows stood next to Doolittle Mill as described in the inclosure award [A92].

In 1931 J. Steele Elliott, in Volume XIV published by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, wrote the following: “1826 ‘Dolittle Windmill’ is first mapped at its present site in this year. In 1841 ‘Windmill Field’ was one of the big Open Fields that lay [AT46] between Church End, Doolittle Mill and ‘Well Head’. Remotely situated in the valley of this Chiltern country stands one of the most remarkable mills in England, a combination building for both water and wind power, yet each working independently of the other, and latterly with steam power in addition. The water-mill is worked by an overshot wheel within the mill building, and occupies the two lower stories at two different levels; the windmill works the machinery in the upper two floors. There is a communicating way between one of the windmill floors and the attic floor of the house. It is upwards of 50 years since the wind power was last used; a westerly gale terminated its days by blowing off the complete mill head, with sails, far into the mill pond below. The sails were two of double and two of single shutter form. The windmill ran originally two pairs of four foot stones. The tower at the present time is shorn of its cap and several courses of brickwork; but has an elevation of 46 feet. Not only is this mill of unique interest in itself, apart from its being, too, a delightful picture of this countryside, but it carries a history that is indeed remarkable. In 1539 Richard Buckmaster of Eaton Bray appears [BS38] in a Deposition of a Chancery Suit. Richard Buckmaster held a mill at Totternhoe in 1610, and it continued in the family from that time. Thomas was Constable on the Jury List at Totternhoe in 1780 and recorded as a miller there in 1791. Christopher Buckmaster was a miller there with freehold in 1820 and at least until 1830. The descendants of this family, represented by three grand-daughters of John Buckmaster, who was a son of a Christopher Buckmaster, remain the owners at the present day. An Alfred Buckmaster owned Beaudesert windmill at Leighton [Buzzard]; and Miss. S. Buckmaster, the present owner of Stanbridge Mill, is also a relative”.

Two wills survive of people, other than Buckmasters, who both devised the mill. In 1708 Richard Gadbury the elder of Totternhoe, yeoman’s will read as follows [ABP/W1709/30]: “I doe give will devise and bequeath unto Richard Gadbury my sonne his heires and assignes for ever All that my Windmill with all the running Geares furniture and implements whatsoever thereunto belonging and also all that my peece or parcel of ground upon part whereof the said Windmill now standeth containeing three poles and eleaven foote of Square measure ground situate and being within the Parish of Totternhoe aforesaid and lyeing next Warehill Balke on the west part. Item I doe give Will devise and bequeath unto the said Richard Gadbury my sonn his Executors Administrators and Assigns All that my Millhouse and Watermill wherein the said Richard Gadbury my sonne now doth dwell together with all the running Geares and implements whatsoever to the same watermill belonging”. The will goes on: “To have and to hold my said millhouse and watermill closes and pightles of pasture ground with all and singular their and every of their appurtenances unto the said Richard Gadbury my sonn his Executors Administrators and Assignes for and during all the rest residue and remainder of such terme and termes number and numbers of yeares as shall (at my decease) be then to come and unexpired”. This latter clause seems to make it quite clear that Gadbury only held the mill by lease, presumably from the Buckmasters

Similarly in 1769 Henry Pearson of Eaton Bray miller devised to “Ann my Loving Wife All that Messuage Cottage or Tenement called or known by the Name or Names of Horsamills (otherwise Do-Little Mills) wherein Joseph Bly now Doth Inhabit and Dwell Situate and Standing in the Parish of Totternhoe in the said County of Bedford” [ABP/W1770/58]. He goes on: “To Hold the same unto the said Ann my Loving Wife her Executors Administrators and Assigns for and during all the rest residue and remainder of the Term or Terms of Years that are to come and Unexpired in the Lease or Leases thereof and Subject to the Outgoings and Payments mentioned in the same Lease or Leases”. Clearly Pearson leased the mill from someone, probably a Buckmaster and then sub-let to Joseph Bly.

type=image;src=http://cntms/cms_files/Website/CommunityAndLiving/ArchivesAndRecordOffice/CommunityArchives/EatonBray/EatonBrayImages/The%20bridge%20before%20Mr%20Piersons%20Mill%20[Z102-31].jpg ;alt="The bridge before Mr. Pierson's Mill" about 1820 [Z102/31]
"The bridge before Mr. Pierson's Mill" about 1820 [Z102/31]

There is a painting by Thomas Fisher of about 1820 which shows “The bridge before Mr. Pierson’s Mill “. This appears below but looks nothing like the current premises. This gives rise to the suspicion that, provided the attribution is correct, there was no windmill attached to the mill house at this time. At first sight this seems to contradict the evidence of Richard Gadbury’s will. However, the document does not say that the two mills were joined and, in fact, rather gives the impression that they were not because they are mentioned in different clauses. The answer seems to be that the windmill stood further off in the 18th and early 19th century. Steele Elliott notes in the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society volume: “1765. A windmill earlier than the one now in evidence is figured about 60 yards distant to the north of ‘Doe Little Mill’; the latter mill was then solely run by the stream. The mill-stump was still to be seen there up to about twenty years ago”. His source is a map of Bedfordshire of 1765 by Thomas Jefferys

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The valuer visiting Doolittle Mill, on 26th October 1926, [DV1/H25/48] found it was owned and occupied by the Misses Buckmaster and that it included land comprising twenty six acres. The valuer commented: Also rent 17½ acres (Eaton Bray). Mill been in family 400 years. Last used four years ago. Was wind and water at one time. Water wheel out of order. Engine no good. Buildings appalling”.

The miller’s house comprised three reception rooms, a kitchen and a pantry downstairs with five bedrooms above. The valuer noted: “Water from stream”. The brick and tiled mill comprised five floors and two stones of three feet diameter; “sacks stored on ground floor”. The farm homestead comprised the following buildings: a weather-boarded and corrugated iron lean-to cart shed (“old steam engine in”); a shed; a weather-boarded and tiled loose box (“very bad”); a weather-boarded and corrugated iron pigsty, open-fronted cart shed and three further pigsties; six weather-boarded and thatched calf boxes (“part in Eaton Bray neglect”); three weather-boarded and corrugated iron loose boxes and a large flint and thatched store shed (“roof falling off”).