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The Mills in Mill Road Husborne Crawley

The watermill and clay mills about 1800 [Z49/656]
The watermill and clay mills about 1800 [Z49/656]

Two mills are mentioned as being in Husborne Crawley in the Domesday Book of 1086. Clearly, it is not known exactly where these were but it is possible that one of them was the mill later called Yppewell Mill whilst the other lay somewhere near the later mill on Mill Road. They would both have been watermills because windmills were unknown in England before the last quarter of the 12th century

The first mention of a mill in the area of today's Mill farm, also known as the Experimental Farm, is in 1542 [CRT100/25]. A survey was made of the lands which formed part of the newly created Honour of Ampthill. Some of these were in Ridgmont and Husborne Crawley and formed part of the Lordship of Brogborough.

A mill tenanted by William Hall is noted and described as "The King's Mill of Caldecote", together with a watercourse, a meadow and pasture, which formed "part of the royal demesne of Brokeborough [Brogborough]", and had lately been part of the lands of the Earl of Kent. He had been Lord of the Manor of Husborne Crawley until he sold it in 1525 to agents of the Crown. The mill was leased by the General Supervisor of the King's lands for 21 years, on 8th February 1532 at a rent of £4/6/8 and an increment 6/8.

 Wind Mill Hill Furlong on a map of 1760 [R1/42]
Wind Mill Hill Furlong on a map of 1760 [R1/42]

The first mention of the windmill in this location is in 1691 when Thomas Cartwright of Finsbury [Middlesex], leased two roods of land to Thomas How of Aspley Guise in Sand Field next to the windmill [HW25]. A map drawn up for the Duke of Bedford in 1760 [R1/42] shows that Wind Mill Hill Furlong lay on the opposite side of today's Mill Road from the mill itself [see below].

The mill shown on a map of 1760 [R1-42]
The mill shown on a map of 1760 [R1/42]

The next reference to the watermill is on a map of the Duke of Bedford's estate drawn up in 1760 [R1/42] which shows a mill on the site of the Experimental Farm. A painting [Z49/656] of the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries shows the water mill and a pug mill. The pug mill was designed to chop up and shape clay into the right size for bricks, it lies on the extreme left of the picture.

In estate correspondence of 1804 [R4/608/18/6] an estimate for machinery for the windmill at Crawley Mill is given as follows:

"Estmate for Millwork at Crawley Mill exclusive of Timber

  • Labor Nails Sawing and Ironwork to a New 15 foot water Wheel 5 feet wide £45
  • Ditto to Shaft with New Gudgeons Hoops and Brasses £22/10/-
  • Ditto to New 15 foot Beveld Pit Wheel fixed on water Wheel Shaft £21/10/- Query if in fact Dist £15.10.0
  • Ditto to New HurstBridge Trees &c Complete £20
  • Taking down altering and refixing upright Shaft from Windmill with Spur wheel and Beveld Pinion on Ditto and refixing present Brasses £10
  • Labour Nails Sawing & Ironwork to a New Beveld Crown Wheel on Top of shaft £7/10/-
  • Ditto to a Beveld Pinion and Tumbling Shaft with 2 strap Riggers on Ditto with Iron & Brasses £16/15/-
  • Removing and laying up two pair of stones from Windmill with iron Boxes or alteration to Spindles and 2 new Pinions - refixing Hoops Hoppers &c complete £22
  • Removing and refixing 2 meal Bins from Windmill £2
  • Removing and making good Flour Mill from Windmill (including new Deal) £15
  • Ditto Ditto Wire Machine £20
  • Sack Tackle Complete £24
  • £232/5/9".

Husborne Crawley windmill about 1800 [R4/608/18/5]
Husborne Crawley windmill about 1800 [R4/608/18/5]

A crude drawing of the mill can also be found in the Duke of Bedford's estate archive [R5/608/18/5]

In the same year an estimate is given for improving the watermill [R4/608/18/7] as follows:

"Estimate for Rebuilding first and then Alterations

  • To Rebuilding part of the MillBuilding with Brick wall & Tiled Roof as for plan - exclusive of materials from Windmill and in present end of water Mill and of Timber £170
  • To Completing Millwork at the New End of Mill as per Plans including a Flour Mill and Wire Machine exclusive of machinery from Windmill and of Timber £232
  • To Conveying water from Brook on to the Wheel at North West and with making Bank &c as per Plan £94
  • £496"

In the 1830s more work was being contemplated on the mills, a letter of 1830 [R3/3283] refers to directions having been sent: "for making soak ditches". The following year in a letter [R3/3286] it was noted that: "The Duke thinks Sheppard will not be competent to erect new mills at Crawley but that Jeffreys will". In 1836 it was noted that outer wall repairs had been completed the previous summer but that the mill needed a new water wheel [R3/3916] and in the same year it was noted [R3/3925]: "Crawley Mill is not of itself sufficient employment for a capitalist if it does not go with Smith's farm it should go with Peters'". In another letter [R3/4822(b)] of 1844 it was noted that there had been previous discussions about using Crawley mill solely to send water to the Abbey and abolishing it as a corn mill but that the plan was abandoned.

Nevertheless the mill did not survive much longer. The last reference to it in any directory for Bedfordshire is in 1869 and on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1883 Mill Farm is shown but not the mill, suggesting that it was pulled down some time between these two dates, which was probably when today's Mill Farm house (a mid 19th century Bedford Estate structure) was built

Directories for Bedfordshire, which were not published annually but every few years, give the names of the occupiers of Husborne Crawley millfrom 1854to 1869 and the following names are taken from these directories. The dates are those of the first and last appearance of a name, not the full span of dates of residence:

  • 1854 William Peters
  • 1862 Thomas Turney
  • 1862-1869 Henry Turney