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Clophill Watermill

 The old watermill in March 2007
The old watermill in March 2007

Clophill did not have a mill in 1086, the only mill in the modern parish recorded in Domesday Book being one at Cainhoe, though it is just possible that Cainhoe included that part of Clophill around the present mill, the village of Clophill, perhaps, being gathered around the old church on the ridge above the current village.

In Volume XLI of Bedfordshire Historical Records Society - a book of coroner's rolls for medieval Bedfordshire translated by R.F.Hunnisett, the following is entry 180: "About midday on 14th August Sarah, daughter of James at Mill, aged 2½, was near the south side of the pond of the water-mill at Cainhoe, fell into a well near the pond and drowned by misadventure. Her mother Alice searched for her, found her drowned, immediately shouted, at which the neighbours came…"

The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire [Vol.II p.323] draws on documents held at The National Archives to trace the history of the mill and notes that it descended with the Manor of Clophill & Cainhoe and that by 1272 there were two mills (meaning two pairs of mill stones). The mills were described as nearly destroyed in 1330 and only one mill was mentioned in 1376 which was leased to Lord Edward Grey of Ruthyn in 1445.

Clophill had a working watermill well into the 20th century, the mill lay at the west side of the junction of the High Street and The Causeway, with the 19th century Mill House lying just to the west.  The first mention of a mill specifically in Clophill occurs in 1514 when Richard, Earl of Kent demised a mill with dam and pightle to William Hewyns of Ampthill, baker [CRT100/31 p.70]. In the description of the Honour of Ampthill [see Introduction] of 1542 [CRT100/25 f.68] a mill of the King's in occupation of John Fox was noted in Clophill.

In 1672 the mill was leased for 5 years by Amabella, Dowager Countess of Kent to Robert Ravensden of Clophill, warrener [L4/318]. Actually, at this point in its life, it was three watermills under one roof (two for wheat  and one for grist) with a dwelling house and Millers Mead of one acre. The attached schedule of fictures notes: 12 mill bills for grist mill; 2 mill bills for wheat mill; 1 crowe of iron; 8 new brasses; 1 gable rope; 1 pair of peak stones with 9 inch thick runner and 4 inch bedstone; one pair of peak stones, with 14 inch thick runner and 5 inch bedstone.

The ground floor of Clophill Mill in 1983 [Z50/31/111]
The ground floor of Clophill Mill in 1983 [Z50/31/111]

The following 18th century document (sadly undated) is from the Wrest Park archive. It will be noted that its spelling is eccentric, to say the least but gives an interesting picture of the over-shot mill and its machinery [L26/1417]:

 "The Acounte for Planking and Gears to keep them agoing yearley at Clophill Mill"

"3 Pare of Wallowers heds 4 pare of heds for the Stoans and 6 heds the Shape of the Oufer Shot Side and 2 pare of heds for the Shape the Ground Side and 2 heds the Sacktakell for to Draw up the sacks"

"And to find Plank and Geare for to Geare thease heds that is Cogs and Staves will come too £3 5s 0d."

In 1744 Philip Yorke and Jemima, Marchioness Grey leased the mill to Thomas White of Clophill, miller for 21 years [L4/319]. Sadly he did not live to see the end of it, as the following document of 1756 [L26/1413b] makes clear, interestingly he had first become tenant in 1733 (as other documents make clear) so the 1744 document was clearly a renewed lease:

"The following were done at Mr.White's Expence as declared by his Men & the Millwrights who fixed them; and I do not find in the Books any allowance to Mr.White since he quitted the Farm and took to the Mill only, save in 1748 allow'd for Repairs £0,15,6 and in 1751 allow'd for Repairs £1.0.4. I also hear'd Mr.White's mom [men?] say, never was so empty a Mill entred upon as this, and it is not impossible, Mr.White might do a great deal at his own expence to keep the Rent as low as he could to on account of parish Rates. As the Mill cannot be occupied without the following articles, as the Executrix has Nothing but them to pay my Lord withal, and as the Incoming Tenant pays in advance, he humbly hopes His Lordsh' will not expect him to buy any of the following fixtures, he having bought what is usual the Gear"

Then follows a comparison of the thickness in inches of the various stones when White entered the mill in 1733 as against the time of writing:

"The running French:  9¾   9½
Ditto Bedstone  1¼   ½
Great Peak:  4½   3½
Ditto Bedstone:  2¾   2
Little Peak:  3  5¾
Ditto Bedstone:  1¾   2½

The two former decreased in value £1.15.0
The Latter increased in value £1.15.0

Balance of the three pair of stones on entry: £0.0.0". 

"N.B. The Balance of the above was made in favour of the Executrix in the former acco't taken but I make it even"

The first floor of Clophill Mill in 1983 [Z50/31/115]
The first floor of Clophill Mill in 1983 [Z50/31/115]

Another lease to have survived is one of 1763 [L4/320], of 12 years from Philip Yorke and Jemima, Marchioness Grey to Thomas Dunton of Clophill, miller; noting the following fixtures:

- a pair of substantial French stones on the wheat and great corn mill and a pair of substantial Peak stones on the corn mill and also on the Little Corn mill;
- upper French stone to be 6¼ inches and bedstone to be ¼ inch thick;
- upper small French stone to be 9½ inches and ? inch respectively;
- large Peak to be 3½ and 2 inches thick respectively;
- little Peakstones to be 5¾ inches and 2½ inches respectively;
- schedule of the pollard chamber: the bran bin; the three flour mills with the tackling; two flour bins; the bin in the upper chamber".

The survey which preceded this lease has also survived [L26/1415] and reads as follows:

"Yesterday I read the inclosed Draft to Thomas Dunton, who approv'd thereof; and you will as soon as  finds you, get this & Mr.Sellis's engrossed and sent to me".

"The following Fixtures you will please to endorse on the Lease & Counterpart of the Mill to be left by Dunton at Expiration of Lease"

"One Pair Large French Stones: Upper Stone 6¼; Bedstone ¼
The little French Stones: Upper Stone 9½ ' Bedstone ½ & ?
One Pair of Great Peak Stones: Upper Stone 3½; Bedstone: 2
One Pair of Little Peak Stones: Upper Stone 5¾; Bedstone 2½
The Pollard Chamber - The Bran Bin - the Thrice Flour Mills with the Tackling two Flour Bins - Two Wheat Bins and the Bin in the Upper Chamber".

"I have to add that I hope this will find you, Mrs.Vernon and family in good Health and that I am Sir" 

"Your most humble Servant"

"Joseph Cole"

"I hope your next will fix the day of our Meeting either at Silsoe, Hockley [Hockliffe] or Alesbury for now my Lord is Absent one Day is as well to one as another. His Lordship having told me, I need not attend two Days in a Week at Wrest, when he is absent unless I please".

"You may if you please, when you put the Procuration Reciting:'t in your pocket put up also last year's Wood Book".

A letter in the Wrest Park archive reveals that the tenant in 1802 was James Lacy and that he had had an operation by Philip Yorke's own doctor, suggesting that he was not short of money.

The old mill March 2007
The old mill March 2007

In the early twentieth century the tenant of the mill was George Course. He was dead by 1918 when the Wrest Park estate sold the mill and nearly five acres of adjoining land to the new tenant (clearly a relation) Francis E.Course for £800 [L23/1005] 

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed as to its rateable value. Clophill was assessed in 1927. The valuer visiting the mill [DV1/C288/59] noted it was an "old place, not modernised" and had "too much water in winter". It was constructed of brick and tile and had three floors with a loft and comprised:

  • lower floor: the wheel itself, 10ft by 10ft and a sacking room;
  • ground floor: three pairs of stones of 4' 6" diameter; an office; a cakestore and cake breaker;
  • first floor: a flour dressing machine; a kibbler (for grinding); a smutter (for cleaning the grain); a corn store;
  • loft: grain shutes and a store

The valuer further noted "Grinding trade for farmers, barley, meal, cake, very little flour" grinding cost two shillings per sack. Outside the mill had a lorry garage and an office. Other buildings comprised the following:

  • a brick and slate earth closet;
  • a brick and slate pigsty;
  • a weather-boarded and tiled chaff house, food mixing and meal house;
  • a weather-boarded and tiled stable for three horses and hay barn;
  • a weather-boarded three bay cart shed;
  • a weather-boarded and corrugated iron cartshed and two pigsties;
  • a weather-boarded and corrugated iron pig sty and cow shed for two;
  • a weather-boarded and tiled chaff house;
  • a weather-boarded and corrugated iron bullock shed;
  • a weather-boarded and felt shed;
  • a brick and tiled hay store;
  • a weather-boarded and tiled barn ("old used hens");
  • a weather-boarded and corrugated iron hen house;
  • two weather-boarded hen houses.

Three fields forming nearly four acres were included with the mill. As may be seen from the photographs the mill survives but is now [March 2007] a private house.