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Hulcote Mills

The watermill and remains of the windmill in 1903 [Z50/64/6]
The watermill and remains of the windmill in 1903 [Z50/64/6]

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. The mill house of Hulcote Mill is entry 2835 and the windmill (now called The Round House, like the former windmill in Woburn) is entry 935. The latter entry reads: "The remains of a tower mill. Two storeys survive, re-roofed and renovated".

The Domesday Book of 1086 noted that Hulcote had a mill which was worth five shillings and fourpence. This would have been a watermill since windmills were unknown in England before the last quarter of the 12th century, around a hundred years after Domesday Book. The later mill may well have been on the same site or very close to it.

The watermill stood near Aspley Hall Farmhouse, well south of the main road through Hulcote but on the north side of the stream and so in the parish of Hulcote, the south side of the stream being, before 1984, in the parish of Aspley Guise. In 1542 King Henry VIII created the Honour of Ampthill a group of local manors; the income from them was intended to fund a royal palace at Ampthill which was, in the event, never built, but the honour continued well into the 19th century. Ministers' Accounts for the Honour note: "a close of pasture separately enclosed next Hulcote water mill, in which the inhabitants of Aspley have right of common from the Feast of Saint Peter ad Vincula to Lady Day" [CRT100/25 f.78].

Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume XIV of 1931 includes an article entitled: The Windmills of Bedfordshire: Past and Present by J. Steele Elliott. He identified a common recovery of 1600 held in The National Archives in which John Stone and John Langford demanded against Edmund Starnell and John Crompton the manors of Hulcote and Beadlow and twenty messuages, three watermills and one windmill in Hulcote, Beadlow, Clophill, Maulden and Aspley Guise. The windmill may be that in Hulcote but may equally well be that in Aspley Guise or a forerunner of the mil built in the 1880s at Maulden. Certainly there was a windmill in Hulcote by the 19th century and it stood adjacent to the watermill

By 1707 the close adjoining the mill referred to in 1542 was called "Howket Mill pasture ground" and was devised in his will by Zachaeus Richardson of Brayles [Warwickshire] to his two brothers Charles and Stephen [HW18]. Then, in 1735 Holcut Mill Close in Aspley Guise was sold by Stephen Richardson of Oxford to Thomas How of Aspley Guise [HW19].

A Tithe Apportionment map of 1845 notes a field of 10 acres 3 roods 5 perches called Wind Mill Close in the ownership of Rev. Boteler Chernock with John Goodman as tenant [AT23] and this is the first definite reference to the windmill.

The watermill continued to be used into the twentieth century as in 1917 it was noted that German prisoners-of-war were being used to cleanse Hulcote mill stream until lack of accommodation forced their withdrawal [WW1/AC/DR3]. Finally, correspondence in the Brown & Merry archive noted the need for arbitration over the weight of a rick of hay at the mill [BML10/32/2].

J. Steele Elliot in his article in 1931 noted: "Adjacent to the present watermill, on the upstream north side, stands the lower part of a brick-built tower mill at about half its former elevation. It is 17 feet 6 inches over the base and built of 17 inch walling. It has been tiled over and today serves as a cattle pen. This windmill was dismantled about 50 years ago, and the sails and parts of its machinery were removed to Spaldwick [Huntingdonshire]. The watermill has now ceased its working days also within the last twenty years".

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 Hulcote Mill Farm in December 1926 found it owned and occupied by John Sheard [DV1/H6/18] who farmed twenty one acres.

The valuer noted: "Mill not working and will not be used, machinery useless would cost £300 to repair". He also noted: "House fair buildings poor". Another hand has written in the valuation book: "A good accommodation holding. Mill is derelict".

The farmhouse comprised two reception rooms, a kitchen, dairy and scullery. Three bedrooms and a boxroom lay upstairs. A brick and corrugated iron earth closet stood outside. The brick and slate mill house had a loft over it and a lean-to timber and corrugated iron wheel house with an overshot wheel – in other words a wheel where the water first hit the top of the wheel, driving it round. This was the most powerful arrangement for a water wheel. There was also a timber and tiled cart hovel.

Farm buildings comprised: a timber and tiled cow house for eight beasts; two timber and slate loose boxes with a loft over; two timber and slate calf pens and a hen house; another lean-to hen house; a timber and corrugated iron garage; a circular brick and tiled granary with two floors; a timber and tiled stable for two horses and timber and tiled open calf pens.

Directories for Bedfordshire, which were not published annually but every few years, give the names of the tenants of the mills, and later the farm, from 1847 to 1931 and the following names are taken from these directories. The dates are the dates the name first and last appears not the dates of residence:

  • 1847-1877: John Goodman;
  • 1885-1894: Philip Bass (noted as tenant of the steam mill);
  • 1898; Samuel Bass;
  • 1903-1914: Philip Bass;
  • 1928-1931: John Sheard.

The watermill was later converted into a private house. It remains a dwelling at the time of writing [2011].