Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Kempston > Kempston Mill

Kempston Mill

Image of Kempston Mill
Kempston Mill [Z49/755]

Roman remains were discovered during alterations to Kempston Mill in the early 20th century, raising the tantalising possibility that a Roman mill might have stood on the site. In the Domesday Book of 1086 Countess Judith is recorded as owning ten hides in Kempston including a mill worth 5 shillings. It seems reasonable, though cannot be proved, that this mill was on or near the site of the later structure. Judith established Elstow Abbey around 1075 and, not surprisingly her lands in Kempston were at some later date attached to it in order to give it an income. It seems likely that the mill was amongst these lands since the next mention of the mill is in documents relating to the establishment of the Honour of Ampthill in which it is recorded that part of the property of Elstow Abbey including Kempston mill had been assigned to William Heys in 1535 for 40 years [CRT100/25 f.130] and that in 1541, after the abbey was dissolved, a lease was granted by the Court of Augmentations to Edward Harvey for 21 years [CRT100/25 f.128].

In 1553 King Edward VI granted Elstow Abbey lands which included Kempston mill to Sir Humphrey Radclyff [AL827 and X435/1]. The next mention of the mill is in 1636 when a nine year lease was granted by Edward Cater, Lord of the Manor of Kempston Hastingsbury, to Ralfe Hooton. This lease is interesting as it shows both that the mill was now part of the Manor of Hastingsbury and that there were four mills (in other words four sets of mill stones) under the one roof at Kempston at the time, one of which was referred to as a wallower, a term for a wheel driven by a gear wheel mounted onto the main water wheel.

Four years later came an agreement between the Lord of the Manor of Biddenham, William Boteler and a number of people concerned with the manor and the mill's owner, Edward Cater about "dam-booty, embankments and other mill-rights" [WW322]. Clearly there had been an argument about damming the River Great Ouse at a piece of land on the river bank called Nundams - clearly this land had been used for this purpose for at least a hundred years, back to the days when the Abbey had owned the mill. This land lay between the Ouse to the west and a "back brook, the Old Raye east". The agreement ensured that Cater could continue to dam the river in exchange for a quarter of "good sweet well-dried" malt and two shillings paid yearly to the Biddenham churchwardens, the malt being used to brew a barrel of ale for "drinking upon the Procession day and the residew [sic] thereof as allso [sic] the said Two shillings shallbe [sic] yearly bestowed upon such of the poore [sic] people of the said Towne [sic] of Biddenham as to the churchwardens and overseers for the poore of the said Towne of Biddenham shall seeme [sic] most fitting". This agreement was still in force over two hundred years later as it was recorded by the Biddenham churchwardens in 1844 [P74/25/1], this note reveals that the damming point was near the first overfall of the river near the church of Kempston All Saints

In 1801 the mill still formed part of the Manor of Kempston Hastingsbury because it formed part of a conveyance of the manor by the three daughters of John Kendall Cater to William Long, the Bedford brewer [X435/174]. A year later the mill passed out of the manor when Sir William Long sold it, along with the adjoining pest house and land to James White [GA683]. White was clearly the tenant when Long purchased the mill as a stone found in the Mill House is inscribed JW: 1801 indicating the date at which alterations were made. The obituary of Edwin Ransom [CRT180/335] reveals that his father Joshua Ransom purchased the mill in 1838 from James Warth but did not live there until 1859, employing Thomas Corder as bailiff and miller [CRT130Kem27]. Joshua Ransom built the Mill House to live in but died four years later in 1863 and Edwin took over the mill, taking a partner, George Horn of Clophill, in 1868. Ransom retired in 1882 and Horn carried on alone until his death in 1899. In 1913 the owner was W.Horn who leased it to George Horn (Kempston) Limited for £225 per annum  as indicated by a valuation of the mill carried out in order for a mortgage to be taken out [Z720/245]. At this time the mill was valued at £7,000. Subsequent valuations in the next few years showed that business improved and the value rose. The accompanying papers refer to the possibility of a sale but this had, seemingly, not occurred by the time the papers end in 1917. 

The valuation goes into some detail which may be summarised as follows: the mill itself was of brick, weather-board and slate construction, the weather-boarded section being much newer than the rest. The main building had five stories and included:

  • the mill, brick and weather-board, with wheat bins and roller milling machinery, worked by a water wheel and steam engine;
  • provender plant house of brick and slate of two stories with provender plant and wheat cleaning machinery;
  • sack room of weather-board and slate on brick piers and of two stories;
  • shelter for the water wheel of weather-board and slate on a brick curb;
  • brick chimney shaft 90 feet high;
  • boiler house - a brick and slate lean-to;
  • engine house - a brick, weather-board and slate lean-to of 2 stories;
  • carpenter's shop of wood and slate on a brick foundation.

The valuer then listed the plant belonging to W. Horn, which was noted as older than that of George Horn (Kempston) Limited. It comprised as follows (all machinery by E. R. & F. Turner):

  • compound steam engine of 100 rpm;
  • iron high breast water wheel with 12 foot blades and of 18 feet diameter;
  • on the first floor six sets of four roller mills;
  • on the second floor a triple reel scalper, three aspirators (Carter & Zummels Patent), 3 dustless purifiers;
  • on the third floor two 2½  sheet centrifugals, two 2 sheet centrifugals, an Ince's dust collector in a wooden partition and an exhaust fan;
  • on the fourth floor: a 2 sheet centrifugal and a 2½ sheet centrifugal, a sack hoist and chain, shafting and elevators and wheat bins giving a capacity of 1,000 quarters;
  • in the provender plant: 2 pairs of Peak grist stones of 4 feet 6 inches diameter and a pair of French stone grist stones of 4 feet diameter, an iron high breast
  • water wheel with blades of 8 feet 6 inches and a diameter of 21 feet;
  • in the boiler house a Cornish boiler of 80lbs pressure and a donkey pump for it;
  • outside 4 weirs and a floodgate

Kempston Mill about 1900 [X414/11]
Kempston Mill about 1900 [X414/11]

The valuer then listed plant and buildings belonging to George Horn (Kempston) Limited as follows:

  • on the ground floor a Verity dynamo of 5 kilowatts, 500 volts, 50 amps and 1,250 revs;
  • on the first floor three 4roller mills, four 2½ sheet centrifugals by Rolfe and four flour mixers and 2 seives;
  • on the fourth floor: three Rolfe centrifugals and a 2½ sheet Nagel & Kaempl centrifugal;
  • on the fifth floor a double ended Rolfe centrifugal scalper, wheat receiving elevator (intake on the ground floor) and worm of 3 sacks per minute capacity, shafting and elevators;
  • in the provender plant house wheat cleaning plant consisting of a Howes milling separator, 7 cockle and barley cylinders, a stoner, a washer with washing worm, a vertical whizzer (!), a Rolfe conditioner with hot and cold radiators, a small centrifugal pump, a Pearce two throw pump, shafting and elevators;
  • a wood and slate office of one storey;
  • brick and slate stables;
  • a small brick and slate privy;
  • a rubble, weather-board and slate barn;
  • a wood and corrugated iron lean-to shed;
  • a brick and slate lean-to loose box;
  • a rubble, brick and slate lean-to used as part of the barn;
  • a corrugated iron and slate trolley shed;
  • 5 small stables and a cart shed all of brick and slate;
  • a foreman's cottage (occupied by W. Bonfield) - "brick and slate cottage - modern"
  • of living room, parlour, 2 bedrooms, small corrugated iron kitchen, wc, washhouse, barn and garden;
  • disused gas works;
  • Old Mill House tenanted by G. A .Clover built of brick and tile with a plain stucco front and consisting of a hall, dining room (12 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 2 inches), drawing room (15 feet 6 inches by 13 feet 5 inches), two small rooms opening off the hall ("now disused"), kitchen, old coal cellar, larder, basement cellar, 5 bedrooms, dressing room, washhouse and barn and a garden of about 27 poles;
  • Mill House occupied by A. Farr of brick and slate with a plain front and stone porch consisting of a basement with: washhouse fitted with copper (15 feet 6 inches by 13 feet 9 inches), pantry with fireplace, lumber room with no fireplace (15 feet 6 inches square), stokehold for conservatory, large wine cellar, old bedroom with fireplace (15 feet 6 inches by 11 feet 8 inches); on the ground floor hall, breakfast room (15 feet 10 inches by 12 feet 2 inches), workroom (9 feet square), drawing room (16 feet by 20 feet), dining room (16 feet square), kitchen (12 feet 6 inches by 16 feet), scullery, lavatory and W. C.; on the first floor 5 bedrooms, a large dressing room, bathroom and W. C.; outside a heated conservatory (69 feet by 34 feet), brick and tile barn, garden and orchard;
  • cottage occupied by Caroline Folkes built of stucco, brick and tile "in poor condition" comprising a sitting room, parlour, kitchen, washhouse, 3 bedrooms and a garden.

The mill worked throughout World War One as indicated by a list drawn up by the War Agricultural Emergency Committee [WW1/AC/DR1] and into the 1960s but in 1968 the mill was closed. The premises then became devoted to an engineering business reconditioning old milling machinery. On Sunday 18 May 1969 it burned down whilst its owner John Clover (presumably a relative of the occupant of the Old Mill House in 1913) was away in Bilbao [FSD/PC10]. All that now remains is the ground floor stonework and the waterwheel pit and sluice gear, in 1980 a new sluice was built across the river, diverting the channel away from the site of the mill, meaning that the pit is now dry. The area of the mill has now been developed as a residential estate.

Image of the former Kempston Mill House taken in July 2007
Former Mill House July 2007

The following is a list of known millers and tenants of the Mill [date range is of known dates and does not necessarily indicate the complete period as miller]:

1636: Ralfe Hooton;
1801-1802: James White;
1838: Joseph Warth;
1850-1859: Thomas Corder;
1859-1863: Joshua Ransom;
1863-1868: Edwin Ransom;
1868-1882: Edwin Ransom and George Horn;
1886-1899: George Horn;
1899-1940: George Horn (Kempston) Limited.