Mills

Headley Mill

There is a reference to Headley Mill in the Woolmer Forest records of 978 A.D. The west end of the Mill is considered to be 16th Century and the centre is much older. In 1796 the bridge was rebuilt, and soon afterwards part of the house was rebuilt and the open water wheel covered in, major reconstructions took place to the fabric of the Mill and all the present water milling machinery was installed so that this contains a very modern layout as water mills go, the latest 'state of the art' in Stone flour milling machinery.

The Mill is built astride the river [the southern River Wey] facing S.E. with a pond of some 4 acres in front which provides the power to turn the breast shot Water Wheel (12 ft diameter x 7½ ft wide). The 'head,' which is the height between the pond level and the tail water, is approximately 7 ft. The flow is reliable and stable throughout all seasons, and is sufficient to drive a pair of Millstones perpetually.
The Iron Water Wheel was installed by Coopers of Romsey in 1926 when the old wooden one (oak and elm) was scrapped because of old age, but the shaft (iron) was reused for the new Wheel.

Power is transmitted to the Mill Stones and ancillary machinery by way of the Pit Wheel, which is an Iron Wheel (9ft in diameter) with wooden (oak) teeth, driving the Wallower (iron) which drives the perpendicular shaft on which the Great Spur Wheel (Iron 8½ ft diameter) is mounted. This is a very fine piece of early iron casting. The Great Spur engages the Stone Nuts (teeth of Beechwood) which drives the Mill Stones on the first floor where two bevel gears driven by the crown wheel drive auxiliary machines, crushers, rollers, electric generator, and Sack Hoist.

There are 4 pairs of Mill stones - 3 pairs French Burr (best for wheat flour) and 1 pair Derby Peak (oats & barley). The stones are 48 inches in diameter and weigh about 1¼ tons, and the dressing is '3 furrows to a harp'. The Water Wheel will drive 2 pairs of Millstones at a time.

The output of flour from a pair of Millstones with a good head of water is about 4 cwt. per hour, and Cattlefood about 6 cwt. per hour [1cwt = approx 50 Kg]. The fineness of the flour is decided by the Tentering lever which adjusts the gap between the 'Runner' and the bedstone. This can be done while the Millstone is running at full speed (120-150 rpm). The Wheat, after cleaning, is hoisted to the top of the Mill (Bin Floor) by hoist or elevator, and gravitates to the ground floor via the Millstones where it arrives as flour, and is conveyed to the centrifugals or dressers (by Armfields), and these machines decide the grade of flour i.e. 100% Wholemeal or 81% Plain Flour.

Maintenance: Gone are the days when professional Stone Dressers called regularly like the piano tuner, and mill owners now have to dress their own Millstones, fit their own bearings, shape new teeth, pack the necks, adjust the damsels, beat out the bosoms, and repair the skirts!

 

See also the notes on Headley's Mills by Joyce Steven.

Bramshott Mill

Bramshott had two watermills in 1086, ‘worth 100 pence a year to the Lord of the Manor’ (Domesday Book). One of them no doubt stood on this site – when a good spot is found and a dam constructed to hold the mill-pond you don’t lightly abandon it. (The other mill possibly stood on the Wey near the railway bridge on the Haslemere Road: the other Mill in the Parish, at Passfield, would not have been included, as that was in the Manor of Lushott). The Manor Court used to fine peasants who ground their corn by hand, at home, instead of taking it to the Lord’s mill; in 1425 a local man put the Mill out of action for a time by removing the ‘flood-gates’ and emptying the mill-pond!

The present building, according to an old date-stone now fixed above the door, was begun in 1730; it is built of the local Bargate stone (taken, perhaps from the pit taken out of the bank on the opposite side of Tunbridge Lane), and is roughly coursed. It had three pairs of mill-stones; with a good head of water it could grind about 120 sacks of corn a day (1½-2¼ tons, depending on the cereal being ground). The last miller, Walter Spershott, used to grumble that the Chalcrafts, who owned the land between the London Road and the Mill, left him short of water when they were ’drowning’ their water-meadows; his son remembered up to 10 or 12 carts waiting to unload at busy times.

Pedestrians crossed the river here on the mill-dam, which had no hand-rail then. Mrs Carpenter, who did the miller’s laundry, tumbled off the dam into the mill-pool one dark night: the workers didn’t hear her cries above the noise of the machinery. Fortunately one of the Wilsons, ill in bed at Bramshott Stores (site now occupied by Hampshire House flats), heard her and ran out in his nightshirt to raise the alarm!

From 1895 Walter Spershott described himself, no longer as a “miller (water)”, but as a “miller (water and steam)”. He had presumably invested, like two other local millers, in small-size roller-milling equipment driven by a little steam engine. But like others he still found it hard to compete with the huge steam mills at the ports, rolling cheap corn imported from the USA and Canada. The final blow came about 1908, when he had to pay heavy compensation to a worker injured by an accident at the mill – for which Spershott was not fully covered by insurance (it was just before the Act compelling workers’ insurance came into force). He had already started baking, as well as milling, at the Mill; he now moved to what became the Candy Box (now just a house, 69B Headley Road) and set up as a baker there.

The mill fell into disrepair. Old men tell how they roamed the deserted building as boys and dared each other to climb to the shaky upper floors. It was restored and enlarged as a private house about 1933/4, apparently by Lieutenant-Commander Phillimore (who later lived at Bramshott Thatch in Rectory Lane). The roof of the lower, western block was raised to give an extra storey; a hood and window were set in the gable of a new storey, recalling the old sack-hoist canopy and door. Other windows were added or enlarged and dormers inserted (one of the old small windows can still be seen in the east gable of the main block). The water-wheel and the channel bringing water to drive it, on the ‘river’ side of the mill, have disappeared – replaced by a porch and small extension. The main dam, with the old overflow sluices, remains.
The mill-pool above the dam has been reduced in size; the Wey no longer flows through it (it tended to silt up the pond, which is now fed purely by springs).

Until 1910 there was no bridge over the Wey here. Carts had to be taken down into the river and through ‘the Long Ford’ to get to the mill or Burgh Hill Lane from the Bramshott side. Old Mr Silk used to tell of the water coming over the ‘deck’ of his high-wheeled baker’s van when the river was in flood! Theodore McKenna, who bought ‘Mill House Land’ with Bramshott Court in 1910 offered to build a bridge over the Wey here, if the Parish Council would let him close the ford and the right of way over the dam; the Council gratefully agreed.

The miller’s house (separate from the mill, because of the fire-risk) stood near the present entrance from Burgh Hill Lane. McKenna let the house to the manager of the Griggs Green brickworks; in 1913 it was burnt down by the suffragettes, who thought McKenna lived there and confused him with his brother, who was Home Secretary. The steps and garden wall can still be seen.

The Decline of the Mills

The closure of all these mills coincided with the trade depressions of late 19th and early 20th centuries. The growth and decline of particular industries followed national trends of prosperity and depression. With the advent of steam power in the 18th and 19th century, the river had a rival which was to all but replace the water wheel and whose effects were only temporarily staved off by the introduction of the more efficient water-turbine.
Locally, the impact of the railway (from 1859) in disrupting and creating new trade patterns of distribution and competition is apparent. Whilst it brought with it longterm social and economic benefits, the immediate effect on our local watermills was adverse and no doubt hastened their decline.

What is at once both striking and typical about the history of the watermills of the Wey is their adaptability. As one industry declined another moved in to take over the same site. Some were adapted for the generation of electricity, other continued as factories using alternative sources of power. Buildings were converted to different uses while others were demolished. The majority of today’s survivals are private homes.

The physical impact of milling on the landscape of the valley is still often clearly visible in the surviving ponds, leats, races, and other features — sometimes the only indicators of previous activity.

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