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Bellows Mill Eaton Bray

Bellows Mill see from Harling Road March 2012
Bellows Mill seen from Harling Road March 2012

The Bedfordshire Magazine Volume XV page 118 of Winter 1975 has a brief article on Bellows Mill by Teresa Snowden: "Lovingly preserved, it is a great asset, adding charm and beauty to the Tudor house, which is set in a hollow, and has as a backcloth the lovely Chiltern Hills, where the Whipsnade Zoo Lion can clearly be seen. It still retains its 80-year-old turbine engine. The mill stream is raised high above the road which leads to the house, and flows gently into a lake behind it. A scene so peaceful and tranquil, it is hard to believe that it is not still the eighteenth century".

The property was listed by the former Department of Environment in September 1980. The house dates from the 17th century, though later altered and extended. The mill machinery (by Suffolk manufacturers Whitmore and Binyon) is still intact. The main building has a central section of two storeys with attics, timber-framed and rendered in colourwashed stucco and with an old clay tiled roof. There are two 19th century side wings each of two storeys with slate roofs and a rear 19th century block in colourwashed brick.

Eaton Bray has had at least four mills. Remarkably no mill is recorded in Eaton Bray in the Domesday Book of 1086, but all Eaton Bray's mills were close to boundaries - Bellows Mill lay adjacent to the couty boundary and the two mills at Moor End, Moor End Mill and Two Counties Mill also lay close to the boundary and since the end of the 20th century both have become part of Edlesborough and thus Buckinghamshire. Edlesborough had two mills in 1086. , until a change of boundary in 1985 was in Totternhoe!

The earliest reference at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service to bellows Mill is in 1618 when William Sandys of Eaton Bray, Anthony Sawrey of Middle Temple, William Mackreth of Eaton Bray and Edmund Buckmaster of Eaton Bray conveyed a watermill and millhouse called “Bellys alias Bellowys Mill” with a “little tenement of new house adjoining” together with closes totalling eight acres in Eaton Bray to William Abraham of Wingrave [Buckinghamshire] for £240. The miller at the time was William Seare [X196/1].

By 1624 the mill was in the ownership of Thomas Johnson, citizen and merchant tailor of London. In that year he conveyed the annual rent (which was £16) of Bells alias Bellows Mill, its adjoining new house and the closes totalling eight acres to trustees, who included the Vicar of Lidlington [X196/2]. The trustees were to appoint “four godly and religious preachers of God’s word” to preach a sermon on the Sundays following Michaelmas, Christmas, Lady Day and Saint John’s Day at a fee of 6/8 each. They were also to appoint someone to teach six poor scholars of Lidlington to read, write and cast accounts, the master’s salary to be four marks (£2/13/4) per annum. The scholars were to be provided with jerkins and breeches of grey frieze, the breeches to be lined with leather, stockings of blue yarn and hats with blue bands “as they formerly have been”. They were to be taught until they reached sixteen. The trustees were also to provide clothing annually to three old men in Lidlington, three others being supplied in alternate years “as they formerly have been”. The clothing was to comprise a horseman’s coat in grey frieze lined with white cotton and three hats. The men were to be the “poorest and oldest men of painful and honest lives and sober conversation and such as frequent the church”. Similarly the trustees were to provide three old women with frieze gowns and hats. They were also to give thirteen old men and thirteen women a shilling each on Good Friday and on Saint Thomas’ Day.

In 1732 the property from which the income was generated was described [X196/9] as watermills “whereof one is a wheat mill and the other a corn or grist mill called Bellies or Bellowes Mill” indicating that there were now two sets of mill stones under the same roof.

A number of leases survive from the trustees to individual millers. Between 1694 and 1798 the rent was £16/10/- per annum but in 1821 it rose to £30, £42 in 1846 and £45 in 1887. The millers were as follows:

  • 1694: William Hewett of Eaton Bray [X196/8];
  • 1732 and 1744: John Dyer of Eaton Bray [X196/9-10];
  • 1779: Mary Dyer of Eaton Bray, widow of John [X196/11];
  • 1798: Samuel Dyer of Eaton Bray, son of Mary [X196/12];
  • 1821: William Dyer of Eaton Bray [X196/13];
  • 1846: William Simmons [X196/14];
  • 1867: Frederick Simmons [WE1307];
  • 1887: Frederick Simmons [X196/15].

Directories name Frederick Simmons as miller in 1853, 1854, 1862, 1864, 1869, 1871, 1877, 1885 and 1890. William Simmons is listed from 1894 to the last directory for the county, that of 1940.

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. Eaton Bray, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927. the valuer visiting Bellows Mill [DV1/C203/54-56] found it still owned by Thomas Johnson’s Lidlington Charity and, as indicated, occupied by William Simmons, who still paid rent of £45 per annum. The mill was driven by a turbine [the water wheel had been replaced in 1901 according to Hugh Howes in his 1983 booklet Bedfordshire Mills produced for Bedfordshire County Council].

The ground floor of the brick, timber and corrugated iron mill comprised a wood and sack store. The ground floor of the main building was used for packing and stores. The first floor contained the two pairs of millstones, each four feet in diameter. The valuer noted: “1 temporarily out – to be replaced by new”. Another hand noted: “been out 2 years might not be replaced”. There was also an oat crusher with nine inch drums. The second floor contained storage bins. Outside, by the house, stood a weather-boarded and corrugated iron granary. The valuer noted: “Mill now used as a warehouse and grinds little grist. Rest of trade now done at Leighton Mill of same firm”. Six hundredweight of flour was produced from “2 hours a week only from the one stone”. A similar amount of oats were processed by the oat crusher in the same time.

Outbuildings connected with the mill were as follows: a weather-boarded and corrugated iron straw store and a similarly constructed piggery (“large”); a brick, weather-boarded and tiled barn and chaff store (“large”) and a cow house for two; a weather-boarded and corrugated iron lean-to implement store; a brick, weather-boarded and tiled stable for four, a harness room, straw store and chaff place and an open cart hovel for two; a cattle shed used as a garage at the rear of the mill and a weather-boarded and corrugated iron hen house. Three adjoining fields were also owned by the charity and tenanted by William Simmons – they measured 3.211 acres (orchard), 3.157 acres (grass field) and 3.009 acres (grass field – “poor”).

A brick, timber and slate building was attached to the mill in the occupation of F. Tooley, the foreman. Directories of 1903, 1906, 1910, 1914 and 1920 list Frederick Tooley as a miller in Eaton Bray and those of 1920, 1924 and 198 list Frederick A. H. Tooley as the miller at Bellows watermill, Simmons being listed as miller at Bellows steam and water mill! Tooley’s house comprised two living rooms, a kitchen, a dairy and an office with five bedrooms above. A brick and slate earth closet stood outside, along with a greenhouse measuring 9 feet by 6 feet 6 inches.

In his 2009 book The Windmills and Watermills of Bedfordshire Hugh Howes states that Bellows mill continued to work until 1955. Its slow working and isolated position then made it economically redundant.