Headley Mill

Headley Mill was until recently the last commercially working water mill in Hampshire.Headley Mill

Notes by Mr. F. W. Simmonds of Rowledge:

It has a breast-shot wheel, new in 1927 and still working daily to drive modern animal and poultry food machinery.
Above are four pairs of the old style mill stones, which are kept in working order and occasionally started up to demonstrate the ancient craft of milling. Nearly 4 ft. in diameter and 10 ins. thick, each stone scales about 15 cwt.

The upper stone has to be perfectly balanced and adjusted to run close above the nether stone and the works as a whole form one of the most complete and latest sets of stone grinding machinery as it was before this system finally succumbed to the more efficient steel rollers.
Headley Mill is owned by Messrs. J. Ellis and Sons Ltd.

There is a scale model of Headley Mill at Haslemere Museum History of Headley Mill It is almost certain that there was a mill on this site in 1086 (Domesday). 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, in fact the latest 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.

Headley Mill
The 1926 wheel
by Coopers of Romsey

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 we now have to dress our own Millstones, fit our own bearings, shape new teeth, pack the necks, adjust the damsels, beat out the bosoms, and repair the skirts!
A hundred years ago our immediate countryside must have been humming with industry, for we have records of over 50 water mills working within 10 miles of Headley, and Headley Mill was the last one running in the whole of the county of Hampshire still carrying out by water power the task for which the Mill was built.


(This article by the late Joyce Stevens appears in Headley Miscellany Volume 2, and was originally published in the River Wey Trust Newsletter)
Headley Miscellany is published by The Headley Society, © The Headley Society and the Authors

This has proved to be one of the most difficult articles I have ever written, not because of lack of material. There is a superabundance of information provided by such knowledgeable men as Shorter, Simmons, and Crocker so that it seems presumptuous of me even to put pen to paper.
In addition there is the River Wey Trust's own splendid publication of 1988 – The Southern Wey, a guide – which encapsulates all the relevant facts, beautifully illustrated with maps, sketches and photographs, and written in language easy for the layman to understand. So the only solution is for me to write as a lifelong resident of Headley, from a personal and very amateur point of view.

For years the word 'mill' meant only one thing to me - a building by a river where corn was ground into flour. The nearest was Headley Mill, a mile from my home. As a teenager between the wars this was a place I visited every Saturday morning, not for flour, but to buy layers' mash for our hens, and to have our accumulator charged.
Those were the days when 'the wireless' depended on its wet and dry batteries, and the wet one had to be recharged weekly. The mill generator supplied electricity to the business and to Mr. Ellis's home next door, and I remember how the lights flickered and fluctuated with the movement of the waterwheel.

Eventually, of course, realisation dawned that a mill is a building housing machinery: different machinery for different purposes and, as far as this area is concerned, the power to drive the machinery is water. Except on the south-west boundary (Ludshott Common) the large ecclesiastical Parish of Headley is surrounded by the Wey and its tributaries, as the names of the various hamlets show: Standford, Lindford, Sleaford, Barford and Arford.

For centuries man had depended upon muscle-power, his own and that of his oxen and horses. The Romans introduced water-power to Britain, and in Saxon times every Manor had its cornmill which belonged to the Lord who exacted a toll from his tenants for its use. They had no choice, anyway!
By the eighteenth century there were seven watermills in Headley Parish: three in a half-mile stretch of the Wey at Standford in the south, three equally close to each other on the Barford stream on the west: and one on a deep and slow stretch of the Wey at Headley Park in the north.

Of the Standford mills, Headley Mill has always been a corn mill, plus animal feeding stuffs in modern times, and Dr. Richard Ellis has traced its history back to the thirteenth century, further back even than Headley church. It is now (no longer - Ed) the only working watermill in Hampshire and one of the few left in the whole country. A few hundred yards upstream, Standford corn mill was converted into a private house in 1929, but still retains some of the old machinery.
The third Standford mill was a paper mill for nearly the whole of the nineteenth century and was run by the Warren family, in conjunction with their larger Passfield mill just over the parish boundary in Bramshott.

It was here that my great grandfather, William Suter, came from Portsea to work as a journeyman paper-finisher in the late 1830s and he spent the rest of his working life there, eventually becoming foreman. When he married he lived in the mill cottage and his wife is recorded in the 1851 census as a paper-sorter and in 1861 as a bag-maker.
By 1871 she was dead, but his two sons aged 18 and 16 were described as paper-finishers. Only the coarser stuff was made here, like wrapping paper and the bags for the dry goods sold by grocers.

This mill burned down in 1878, and although after repair an attempt was made to start it again six years later, it never prospered. For a time it was used to generate electricity, but finally it was demolished and the stones used to build a private house on the site.

The Barford stream which rises at Hindhead and flows into Frensham Great Pond is the county and parish boundary between Hampshire and Surrey, Headley and Churt.

Of the three mills, which were on the Headley bank, only their ponds and two of the houses remain. The middle mill has always been a corn mill and is recorded as early as the thirteenth century, but the other two have had a more varied history, both for a time being paper mills.
Some years ago I searched the Headley church registers for mention of people employed in this industry and found the names of forty-four families from 1738 onwards through the nineteenth century.

Richard Pym was one of the earliest described as a paper manufacturer and he insured one of his mills as 'corn and paper' under one roof. This prompted a waggish friend of mine to suggest that in the not-too-distant future some enterprising miller might make flour and paper and invent a third machine to bag the one inside the other and sell direct from the mill!
The best-known name for the paper business in this area was Warren, and by 1823 there were 29 men and 40 women employed by the firm at Standford, Passfield and Barford. There were opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers, men, women and children: master paper-maker, journeyman, finisher. apprentice, machineman, engineman, layer, bagmaker, rag-sorter, picker, cutterman - these are some of the terms used in census returns.

But although providing employment for a considerable number of local people, the fortunes of paper mills were variable. By the very nature of the raw materials stored in great quantity there was always the hazard of fire, and when woodpulp began to be used, instead of rags as in the past, small inland mills were forced out of business while larger mills near a port prospered. Fortunately the buildings and the waterpower remained and so could be put to other work.

In the Middle Ages it is probable that at least four of the seven mills were used for 'fulling'. Home-woven cloth would be scoured to get rid of the lanolin then hammered in a suspension of fuller's earth to put a finish on the cloth to harden it-which sounds like just the sort of felting we try to avoid now when we wash our woolies.
High-grade Fuller's Earth was plentiful on the north side of Fuller's Vale Road.

Following the decline of paper-making, the upper and lower Barford mills turned to making 'flock', a cheap filling for mattresses made from wool refuse or torn-up cloth. Another product was 'shoddy', a very inferior material using shredded wool fibres-so recycling is nothing new.

Headley Park Mill, sometimes known as the 'pepper-pot', served the Manor of Broxhead. It was a hexagonal building with two cottages for workers adjoining and was producing flour until the 1890s. From 1904 until 1929 a dynamo pumped water and generated electricity for the house and laundry.
Jim Clark, just starting work as a postman, remembers delivering letters to the mill cottages fifty years ago, but now the buildings are derelict. They could have been saved had planning permission been given to an artist to convert the mill into a dwelling house and studio while it was still restorable, but no. What a wasted opportunity to preserve a place of English history dating back to Saxon times.

Fortunately Headley Mill remains. Thanks to three generations of the Ellis family this grand old lady is still going strong. There is a reference to her in the Woolmer Forest records of AD978, so it is fitting to say 'she has ground her corn, and paid her tax, ever since Domesday Book'.


More information about mills in this area is available from the River Wey Trust.