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Moor End Mill Eaton Bray

43 Moor End - Moor End Mill House July 2012
43 Moor End - Moor End Mill House July 2012

Moor End Mill survives as a four-square 19th century house and an interesting water feature in the garden, preserving the mill stream and the spot where the waterwheel once stood. Historically the mill was in Eaton Bray for most of recorded history but the boundary changed at the end of the 20th century to follow the line of the old mill stream and the mill house and the site of the mill is now in Edlesborough and so in Buckinghamshire. It is interesting to note that the Manor of Eaton Bray had no mills recorded within it in 1086 whereas Edlesborough had two; perhaps one of them was at or near the later Moor End Mill.

A survey of the Manor of Eaton Bray [MN110] made in 1646 also lists two mills at Moor End, though it is likely that this referred to two mill stones under the same roof. Accounts from 1881 to 1886 [BML6/2/7ii] show that the mill was repaired and new buildings erected. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, Lord of the Manor of Eaton Bray, Arthur Macnamara, exchanged various buildings and pieces of land with Pedley Settled Estates. One of the properties exchanged was evidently Moor End Mill because when the Eaton Bray holdings of Pedley Settled Estates were put up for sale by auction in October 1915 [Z215/2], Moor End Mill formed Lot 26. It was described as follows:

Of about
25a. 2r. 23p.
Moor End Mill, Premises and Land
A Double-fronted Residence
Next the Edlesborough Road, of brick elevation, two stories high, with slated roof, and containing: ON THE UPPER FLOOR – Four Bed Rooms and a Dressing Room. ON THE GROUND FLOOR – Dining Room, Drawing Room, Kitchen, Scullery and Dairy; Outer Wash-house and Store Room, with Loft over; Yard, small Flower Garden in front and Garden in rear.

Corn Mill
Adjoining, brick and timber-built, and tiled, of three floors, with Shafting, Overshot Water Wheel, Pit Wheel and Gearing. Brick and Tile Engine and Boiler House with 12 h.p. Beam Engine and Harrison and Clayton’s Boiler.

Farm Premises
Brick and timber-built and tiled and slated, of large Barn, Nag Stable and Coach-house, Cart Stable, Cow House, Meal House, Cattle Sheds, Piggeries and Fold and Rickyards. Together with

Meadow and Arable Land

The land comprised 25 acres, 2 roods, 23 poles including 7 acres, 17 poles of pasture and 17 acres, 2 roods, 19 poles of arable. The tenant was James Bunker.

The lot was withdrawn. 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 and the valuer visiting the mill [DV1/C203/79] found it owned and occupied by A. Bunker. He may have bought the place by private treaty around the time of the auction or some time later. Directories for Bedfordshire were not published every year but every few years. Kelly’s Directory for 1885, 1890, 1894, 1898, 1903, 1906, 1910 and 1916 lists James Bunker as miller at the wind, steam and water mill at Moor End. Directories of 1920, 1924 and 1928 list Albert Bunker. The last few directories for the county, 1931, 1936 and 1940 list him as corn merchant instead – clearly he had ceased to mill, for reasons which will become obvious below.

The valuer commented: “Street lamp in garden” and “Lovely rock and water garden below old water wheel” – things have evidently not changed very much. He listed two living rooms, s kitchen, s scullery, s pantry (“nice”), four bedrooms, and a bathroom. He described the mill outside as derelict and partly used as a store. Other outbuildings included a brick, weather-boarded and slated garage (“poor”), a plant shed running the house’s electric lighting and a coal shed with a loft over. He commented: “Was house and mill but burnt down May 1924” and “Enormous but of little use”.

There was a “Useful Homestead worth £20 if properly used”. It comprised: a brick, weather-boarded and slated meal house with a loft over; a brick, weather-boarded and slated stable for four; a cow house for five used as a piggery all with a loft over; a brick and tiled hen house; four brick, weather-boarded and slated piggeries; a large brick, weather-boarded and tiled barn used as a meal house; a weather-boarded and thatched three bay open cart shed and a brick and slated three bay open cart shed. There was a young orchard “all prunes six years too young”.

The fire in 1924 is well reported in The Luton News of 22nd May. “Moor End Mill, a three-centuries old mill at Eaton Bray, owned by Mr. Bert Bunker, was destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning during the thunderstorm on Sunday evening [18th May]. Mr. Bunker’s house, which almost touches the mill, was only saved by prompt action on the part of the firemen”.

“The torrential rain which accompanied the storm had caused flooding in front of the mill and as the water commenced to pour into the doorway, Mr. Bunker and his son, Mr. Lawrence Bunker, left the house to endeavour to rectify the matter. Mr. Bunker went into the mill and was trying to prevent the water from entering, while the son was using a fork to clear a drain to allow the water to run into the mill stream”

“The worst of the storm seemed to have passed, when a brilliant flash of lightning, accompanied by a loud crack of thunder, came from immediately overhead. Mr. Bunker junior had his FORK WRENCHED FROM HIS HAND, but he was quite uninjured, while a number of tiles were hurled from the roof of the engine house at the base of the chimney stack, which is about 50 feet high. Mr. Bunker junior looked up at the stack as he called to his father “Tiles are falling, father”, and noticed that bricks had been thrown from the top and that a hole had been made a few feet down”.

“Both men rushed into the building to ascertain what further damage had been caused, and Mr. Lawrence Bunker, on reaching a store room on the second storey of the engine house found a large heap of empty sacks on fire. Mr. Bunker senior, who had not noticed the direction in which his son went, tried in vain to find him, and spent a few very anxious moments before he discovered him near the sacks, trying to overturn a tank of water”.

“Realising that the fire was beyond their control, Leighton Buzzard Fire Brigade received the call at 8.50. The Leighton Brigade received the call as from Edlesborough parish and, as they have no arrangements with the Council for that district, according to their usual custom, declined to turn out. A few minutes later the call was corrected, and the brigade then left under Captain Percy Payne. At Stanbridge and again at Eaton Bray they encountered floods on the roads to a depth of 18 inches, and at times progress was irritatingly slow”.

“The Luton Brigade fared little better. With No. 2 engine they made good time to Dunstable, but at Church-street bridge a car which had stuck in the flood there had to be assisted out before the brigade could pass”.

“In the meantime the situation at Eaton Bray had become desperate. Assisted by a breeze, the flames spread rapidly through the mill. The engine house, a modern brick structure, was able to escape with a gutted storey where the outbreak began, but the older building with its massive oak beams, rafters and floors offered little resistance to the flames. From these, and from many tons of burning grain and offal, the heat was intense, while the smoke was almost suffocating. At one period, when the roof collapsed and the upper floor gave way, the flames shot up as high as the top of the stack”.

“There was no lack of assistance, and there were many who set to work with tireless energy to do all possible to resist the advance of the flames. The weight of machinery on the second floor made it very dangerous to enter the building, even if much could have been saved, and it was soon necessary to turn attention to the house, which stands but a few feet from one portion of the mill. Windows were removed and furniture was passed out and placed in an adjoining meadow, or neighbouring houses. Just after this operation had commenced the electric light failed through the roof of the engine house collapsing on to the dynamo. Candles were brought into use, and their feeble light was augmented by the glow of the burning building. The corner of the house nearest the mill was then discovered to be hot, window frames began to blister and the chimney twisted perceptibly. The bathroom wall became red hot, the woodwork inside was smouldering and scorching, and at the very instant when the crowd were expecting to see a burst of flame, Luton Fire Brigade dashed up. Their arrival was greeted with loud cheers from the crowd of villagers”.

“Plenty of water was available from the mill stream, and it was but the work of moments before hose had been run out and three jets of water were playing on the hot walls”.

“A few minutes later Leighton Buzzard Brigade arrived, and attention was given to the mill. Both brigades used full pressure and by midnight the flames had been got so well under control that the Luton Brigade was able to leave. Leighton Buzzard Brigade remained until daybreak, but throughout the whole of Monday masses of charred corn, offal and sacks continued to smoulder”.

“During the earlier stages of the fire, when the ground floor began to get hot, large numbers of rats left the building and ran across the road between the legs of the spectators to the fields and other buildings. In the mill were three cats, but on Monday only one of these had been accounted for”.

“When daylight came only the walls of the engine house and the stack had escaped disaster. As previously mentioned, a hole in the stack marked the course of the discharge, while the engine house, with the electric plant - installed only a few weeks previously to light the mill and the house – had lost its roof. A few charred pieces of timber indicated what had been the roof of the mill, but in places the 16th CENTURY OAK BEAMS (one of them bore the date 1540) had burned so slowly that the interior was intact. At the end nearest the house, beams which were originally a foot square were reduced to half that dimension, but were still able to support the weight of a heavy crushing machine on the second storey. In front two iron chains fastened to the blackened upright posts of a loft doorway suspended in its proper position the iron loading chute, but behind it the floor had disappeared. A few pieces of burned wood marked the position of the office on the ground floor. Still in its place, but with the floor burnt underneath it, was the safe, which had successfully resisted the intense heat and enabled the contents to be recovered intact. Near it was an old heating stove and a heap of ashes marked the space that had been occupied by a desk”.

“Moor End Mill is, at a moderate estimate, 300 years old, and has been held by the Bunker family for three generations. Water power has always been used, and the wheel was badly damaged by the fire. We understand the premises were insured”.

Remains of Moor End Mill July 2012
Remains of Moor End Mill July 2012