Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Woburn > Woburn Watermill

Woburn Watermill

Park Farm mill before elevation
Park Farm Mill in the late 19th century [R818/8/4]

No mill is mentioned in the Domesday Book entry for Woburn. A watermill at Park Farm is mentioned in the estate correspondence of the Dukes of Bedford. Interestingly in 1794 the estate was considering using an eight horsepower steam engine to help drive the mill [R4/608/27/3] an estimate of running costs worked out at £658 per annum - a very considerable sum for the time, this was broken down into £120 per annum for parts, including mill stones etc, £24 for a building to contain the engine, £104 to pay four men to attend it, £20 for maintenance and £390 for coal to feed it.

Transverse section through Park Farm mill wheel
Transverse section through Park Farm Mill - late 19th century [R818/18/13]

The estate approached John Rastrick of Morpeth [Northumberland], one of the leading men in the early history of steam power who replied [R4/608/27/5]: "The Plan I have in View to erect a Steam Engine, at present, or any futur [sic] time, to work the Thrashing Machine. This Machine may be constructed to make all the mang, or Oatmeal for His Grace's Hounds. The works may be made as well at Woburn as elsewhere. The Millwrights I have had imployd [sic] in the nighbourhood [sic] of Newport Pegnal [sic] are in general very bad workmen. I frequently Send one good workman to give directions & also work when not otherwise engaged. In this case Carpenters will do the work to directions & is more managable [sic] than Millwrights. Its my wish to give every Asistence [sic] in my Power, in Erecting this or any other Machine, For His Grace, or you. There is this in the Business, every new erection or Improvement I am making, Strange Millwrights imployd, has the opportunity to carry off the Plan. As I have brought the Threshing mchine to that perfection no where else to be found. My Tearms [sic] is at Home for giving a Plan &c for a Threshing machine is Twenty Guineas, any distance from Home Travling [sic] expences alowd [sic]…"

 Intended elevation for Park Farm Mill after proposed alterations in 19th century
Intended elevation for Park Farm Mill after proposed alterations in 19th century [R818/8/10]

Experiments were then conducted into the effectiveness of a steam engine which continued well into the next century. By June 1836 the mill was not working very efficiently and Walter Hunter of Bow [Middlesex] was called in to investigate, he reported [R3/2286]: “…We worked the Threshing Mill first with five horned cattle and two horses and then with the Water Wheel; with the cattle the Mill will do the most work as a sufficient supply of water cannot come forward to the wheel as now constructed, nor can come to the wheel when there is a sufficient supply in the Pond owing to the pipes which convey the water from the pond to the wheel not having of themselves a sufficient capacity or dimension of bore to pass in a given time the quantity of water required to do the work, there is also another obstruction at the pond as the grating in the side of the pond to prevent weeds, straw, twigs of trees and floating substances from getting to the pipes is of too short length for when those floating substances are drove by the wind or otherwise come against the gratings there is not sufficient space left for the water to pass through and the pipes are thus deprived of part of the water which would pass through the grating. Mr.Crocker and Mr.Burness informed me His Grace the Duke would not have the water drawn down in this pond but to a certain point and on that account were afraid to lay the pipes lower, so as to have a head of water on their receiving orifice this I answer put in a long grating about 18 inches distance from the edge of pond into the water and behind it a tumbling Bay which may be put out of view if His Grace objects to the appearance this will allow a sufficient quantity of water to pass to the pipes while there is any above the given point determined by the Duke and when down to that point the water will cease passing to the wheel. They must then stop threshing until the water in the pond again accumulate and rise to its head which I understand would seldom happen but in very dry seasons….”

 Park Farm mill before plan
Plan of Park Farm Mill before alterations [R818/18/8] - please click the thumbnail to see a larger version

The Estate was still considering using steam machinery to assist the mill, but now to raise a sufficient head of water to drive the wheel. In 1837 William Mylne wrote [R3/2287]: “Having at your request attended at Woburn Abbey and taken in general view the supply of water for the Ponds and Springs, as well as the Machinery occasionally worked by the fall of water at Park Farm as also the Flower [sic] Mill worked by Crawley Brook, I cannot for one moment hesitate in recommending to His Grace the Duke of Bedford the application of a small Steam Engine to be erected near the Springs at White Horse Inn [in Husborne Crawley] of power sufficient to raise eight cubic feet of water per minute to the height of 156 feet, where it can be delivered into the proposed Tank at the boundary of the pleasure ground pointed out to me by Mr.Crocker, the machine need only be worked for the supply of the Abbey during the winter, but in the summer season it might be employed to a much greater extent in filling up and receiving the various basins [sic] of water the surfaces of which are greatly reduced by evaporation and are in a considerable degree injurious from the stagnant state in which I found them on Saturday last…”

 Park Farm Mill ground floor after
intended ground floor plan for Park Farm Mill after proposed alterations [R818/18/11] please click on the thumbnail to see a larger version

Later that year it was noted that work to supply water to Park Farm mills "goes on slowly, sometimes at a standstill" needs to be speeded up [R3/2630]