MIDFORD MILL, MIDFORD, NEAR BATH
From Heritage Statement by Andrew Foyle September 2010
- The mill site may be of Saxon origin
- Owned by Hinton Charterhouse until the Dissolution in 1539
- Evidence in the mill house of significant Late Medieval fabric in the roof structure, some ceiling joists, an internal partition wall and two fireplaces
- A manorial property which, after the Dissolution, was sold with manor lands to a succession of wealthy owners
- A water-driven corn mill is firmly documented in 1638, owned by Sir Edward Hungerford, and leased to Robert Flower
- The house was substantially remodelled probably in the early 17th century, and again in the early 19th century, the date of the façade
- The attached mill building is largely mid 19th century
Midford Mill is sited on the east side of Midford Hill (the B3110) where the road leaves Midford south towards Hinton Charterhouse.
It sits on a natural weir in the Wellow Brook, which flows from Wellow north down the valley to join the Cam Brook at Midford, and thence (known as Midford Brook) north to join the River Avon near Limpley Stoke.
Midford was until the creation of the County of Avon (1974) in the historic shire of Somerset. Since Avon was abolished in 1996, Midford has been in the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset.
Most of the village of Midford (everything west of Midford Brook and the railway viaduct) is in the parish of South Stoke. The properties east of that boundary, including the mill, are in the parish and former manor of Hinton Charterhouse. It is the archival records for the latter which provide most of the evidence for the mill’s history.
The county boundary with Wiltshire runs along the road directly behind the Mill.
Mill house and adjoining disused mill building.
The house is possibly early C17, altered late C18 - early C19. Rubble with large freestone quoins and dressings; stone slate roof with coped raised verges;
- irregular rubble stack with off-sets projects on left gable.
- 2 storeys and attics in 2 steep stone gables.
- Four 16-pane glazing bar sash windows.
- Off-centre panelled door in lattice porch.
- Ground floor left room: framed ceiling with chamfered beams; ashlar
- fireplace in chamfered and segmental headed surround.
- At the right are the attached mill buildings, now part of the house and outbuildings. Early C19. Rubble with freestone quoins and brick dressings to the windows; double Roman tiled roof with coped raised verges.
- L-plan of 3 storeys.
- Single bay to each elevation: irregular fenestration pattern, all 2-light casement windows under segmental heads.
Midford Mill consists of an L-shaped three-storey mill building, of rubble limestone with double Roman clay tiled roofs. The mill was rebuilt, perhaps in the early to mid 19th century; its walls may include reused masonry. It has softwood floor and roof structures, and the window openings have segmental heads and red brick framing. The water wheel and original mill machinery have been removed, although some large stone milling wheels are in the building.
Attached at the west is the Mill House, on a single-pile plan of two storeys with attic. It is of Bath stone rubble and ashlar, with the front face of the roof tiled in limestone. According to English Heritage’s listing description it is possibly early 17th century with 18th or early 19th century alterations, which from the outside appears reasonable.
The earliest surviving fabric at Midford is the roof trusses and the fireplace and chimneybreast on the west gable wall, perhaps 15th or early 16th century. Both belong to the period of ownership by Hinton Charterhouse priory.
There are four roof trusses, with recent partitions at the two intermediate trussesforming three rooms. The trusses are probably of oak (but parts may be of elm). The main timbers are of extremely large dimension, and heavily chamfered, with chamfer-stops of varying profile; simple run-out stops, stepped and diagonal cut. While none of the features seems instantly dateable, all are consistent with roofs of the 14th or 15th centuries elsewhere in the Somerset and Bristol region. The massive timbers make a 17th century date less likely.
The trusses are of a simple triangular form with tie-beams forming the first-floor ceiling joists, and with cambered collar-beams at head height. There are no arch-braces. The roof slopes have one tier of trenched or tenoned purlins, with massive curved windbraces below.
Smaller purlins run below the base joints of the windbraces, though these have been cut through, e.g. to create head-space in the staircase bay. There are several ill fitting joints from repairs or inaccurate reinstatement of timbers after partial dismantling. Some purlins have been replaced with machine sawn timbers. The ridge purlin is diagonally set in a V-notch along the apex of the principal rafters. At the south-east gable end, the roof truss is not tied into the gable wall, and sits a little way inside the line of the wall. The external masonry joints suggest that this gable was entirely rebuilt at the same time as the adjoining mill.
The north-west gable end wall has a very large irregularly stepped chimneybreast. The corresponding ground floor fireplace in what must have been a parlour has a continuous hollow-chamfered moulding and a depressed arched profile.
It is likely to be late Medieval; Hampshire examples of similar profile are dated 1444-5 and 1491-6.1 Fire openings of similar profile occur in Northern England throughout the 17th century, however by that date in the Bristol and Bath region, the shallow cambered opening known as a Tudor arch was universal for stone fireplaces. There are two stone divisions within the fire opening which are later insertions.
The north-east partition wall of the left-hand ground floor room is timber-framed, with vertical close studding of stout oak timbers. There appear to be repairs and later insertions as expected, but some at least of the fabric is likely to be late Medieval.
The hall fireplace is also possibly late Medieval, though with fewer dateable features and could possibly be 17th century. It has an oak bressumer of slightly cambered profile, with a square chamfer stop at one end and run-out stop at the other. The fire opening has had numerous alterations and a brick domed bread oven exists to its right side, which is unlikely to be earlier than the 17th century.
The fabric of the mill house suggests a major remodelling, perhaps in the first half of the 17th century. The walls were probably raised and attic gables added, and the medieval roof reassembled with alterations to allow for a new staircase access and for the projecting gables which cut through the windbraces and purlins.
Medieval houses of this type were rarely gabled in Somerset. Gables became fashionable from the late 16th century, and almost universal after 1600. They began small and gradually became larger; after c. 1660 they are often of the same height as the main roof ridge. The lower gables at Midford Mill suggest an early 17th century date for the remodelling. The quadrant-curved kneelers at the gables and at the eaves of the main roof verges are consistent with this date.
The layout after the 17th century rebuilding must have been much as now: a cross-passage between two heated rooms, the hall to the right and a parlour to the left. The staircase may possibly have been sited as now at the rear of the cross-passage, though it is much more likely that there was a rear door at that point, as per the almost invariable tradition of medieval and early modern house plans. The staircase may have been contained in a projecting stair tower (either semicircular or rectangular) on the rear wall of the hall, or possibly rising from the recess (now a door to the kitchen) to the left of the hall fireplace.
By 1742 the road passing behind the mill was turnpiked, and improvements must have been made to what was previously little more than a track. The bridge crossing Midford Brook at the bottom of Midford Hill was repaired or rebuilt in the late 18th century, and by the early years of the 19th century, a new turnpike road had been made from the entrance to Midford Castle around the side of the hill, bypassing the steeper and narrow roads through the village. It may have been at this time that the road level was raised to lessen the incline on the approach to the bridge, so that it now passes the mill house above the level of the first floor. This had significant structural consequences for the house, blocking the rear exit and creating space for a vaulted cellar between the rear wall of the house and the abutment of the roadway. The cellar, on the north-east side of the house and accessed from the hall, has a two light window in its north-western wall. The mullion is almost without mouldings; its date is perhaps in the second half of the eighteenth century.
A further phase of change seems to have occurred either perhaps c. 1790-1830, although a date after c. 1810 seems most likely based on the style of the iron Regency-style porch with swept metal roof. At or about the same time, the windows were updated to two leaf sashes, arranged six panes over six. The glazing bars are of lambs tongue profile, and the sashes are without horns, suggesting that they may be the original ones.
A prominent pair of masonry joints is visible in an early 20th century photograph (ill. 5.7), on the left hand side of the party wall between house and mill (now obscured by vines). They show that the front facade of the house has been rebuilt from at least the ground floor ceiling level, leaving the much larger quoin stones (possibly late medieval or 17th century) at the angle of the gable wall showing. If this was done in the early 19th century it would also explain why no remnants are visible of blocked 17th century window openings.
The present staircase appears to be an early 19th century insertion, probably coeval with the metal porch and other alterations to the facade.
Midford is not named in Domesday. However, the manor of Hinton (later Hinton Charterhouse) has a full entry, translated as follows: “Edward of Salisbury holds Henton from the King. Wulfwynne held it at the time of King Edward: it paid tax for 10 hides. Land for 10 ploughs. In Lordship 3 ploughs; 9 slaves; 5 hides. 12 villagers and 15 smallholders with 6 ploughs...2 mills which pay 34s; meadow, 12 acres; woodland 1 league long and ó league wide; in Bath 2 houses, one which pays 7 ód & the other dwelling empty. 3 cobs; 40 cattle; 200 sheep; 90 pigs; 60 goats. [Value] formerly £10; now £12.” 2
The locations of the two mills are not given, but since Hinton is on a high plateau, they must have been, then as now, in the valleys on the edges of the manor. In later medieval documents, three mills occur: Midford, Abbey mill, and Eckford. Eckford has not been identified but may refer to Iford mill, which belongs with Hinton Charterhouse in post-Reformation manorial records. The Abbey mill probably equates to the slight and ruinous Late Medieval remains of a mill at the hamlet of Friary, c. 1 mile east of the monastery.
Since Friary was established wholly as a residential site for the lay brothers after the foundation of Hinton Abbey in 1232, this leaves the most likely locations for the two Domesday mills as Eckford and Midford.
The Midford mill site makes use of the natural terrain. Since we also know from the structure that a significant building was present here by the 14th or 15th century, it is possible to speculate that the present mill is on the site of an Anglo-Saxon mill owned by Wulfwynn and acquired after the Conquest by Edward of Salisbury.
One should not imagine that Wulfwynn lived here, or even at Hinton: he was a wealthy and powerful man, who paid tax on 104 hides across Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.
Edward of Salisbury was even wealthier, having been awarded lands by William I in 159 locations stretching from Cornwall to Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire to Kent. He was also Sherriff of Wiltshire. He is even less likely ever to have visited Midford himself, but would have leased his lands and mills at Hinton to a local manorial lord who in turn sub-let the mill. Edward’s descendants maintained ownership of the manor of Hinton for five generations; in 1196, his great-great-granddaughter Ela (1187-1261) inherited the manor upon her father’s death, as well as the title Countess of Salisbury.
The Mill under Hinton Charterhouse Priory – 1232 to 1539 Ela (known as Ela de Longespée after her marriage to William de Longespée in 1196) founded the Augustinian nunnery at Lacock Abbey (begun 1229-30, first nuns veiled in 1232) and took over the patronage of a Carthusian Priory founded by her late husband at Hatherop, Gloucestershire, relocating it to her manor of Hinton. By tradition this was consecrated on the same day as Lacock, in April or May, 1232. The manor and village became known as Hinton Charterhouse.
At the same time, the monks pleaded that their lands and property holdings given by William Longespée were insufficient to support them. In response, Ela endowed them with her manors of Hinton and Norton (later Norton St Philip).
From 1232 until the Dissolution of the Priory in 1539, Hinton Charterhouse Priory owned the manor of Hinton and its mills, one of which was conjecturally the mill at Midford. That this conjecture is correct is further supported by the fact that at the first explicit mention of Midford Mill in the survey of 1638 (see below), it was owned by Sir Edward Hungerford, whose predecessors had purchased part of the abbey lands after the Dissolution. All deeds and papers relating to Priory business were looted at the Dissolution, as witnessed by Sir Walter Hungerford’s complaint to Thomas Cromwell that he “knew not where they were”.
The Mill from 1539 to 1686 Hinton Charterhouse Priory and all its lands were surrendered by a Deed of Dissolution signed by Prior Horde on March 31, 1539. The surrender was accepted by John Tregonwell (d.1565), a lawyer, judge and principal agent of Henry VIII in the dissolution. Tregonwell sold the property, probably almost immediately.
Secondary sources give varying accounts of the succession of owners, however all seem to agree that by the 1580s it was in the hands of the Hungerford family of Farleigh Hungerford castle.
It seems that the major part of the manor was sold to Lord William Craven in 16308, but this sale did not include Midford mill. Craven sold these lands back to Sir Edward Hungerford in 1663.
A survey of the manor of Hinton Charterhouse was made by Samuel Parsons in 1638. The original is at Somerset Record Office in Taunton.
Its full title is:
”The booke of Survey of ye Mannors of Norton St. Phillip, and Henton, Lying in ye Countie of Somersett, Distant betwixt 2 and 6 Myles Southward from the Cittie of Bathe The Right Honourable, William Lo; Craven Cheefe Lorde of the Same, Taken Ano: 1638.
By Samuell Parsons”
Hinton was a scattered parish, stretching from the Wellow brook to Iford, and from Midford to the outskirts of Norton St. Philip. Its area was some 2,365 acres, of which Lord Craven then owned 1,644 acres and Sir Edward Hungerford 575 acres.
The survey gives the first categorical evidence of the mill’s ownership: it states that Sir Edward Hungerford also owned woodland at Midford and "the water Corne Mylne there called Midford Mill" which was let to Robert Flower. Parsons notes ’’At this hamlett or towne called Mydford the water doeth part the Counties of Somersett and Wilts.”
Robert Flower was in all likelihood related to the Flower family of Norton St. Philip. They were Royalists with Catholic sympathies, and the head of the family, Jeffery Flower, was engaged in the 1630s and 1640s in the task of substantially remodelling Norton St. Philip church. The family leased and lived at Norton Grange, a large, high status house (it still exists, as rebuilt later in the 17th century) and from 1523 held the leasehold of Fair Close where the lucrative cloth fairs were held behind the George Inn.
The Hungerford estates were dispersed in 1686 and the manor of Hinton Charterhouse was purchased by Henry Baynton of Spye Park, Wiltshire, who reportedly sold it shortly after to John Harding of Broughton Gifford, Wiltshire.
No further owners were traced until the 19th century. William Oborn ran the mill from at least 1883, and the mill may have been in the family’s ownership significantly earlier. Thomas Oborn had taken over by 1897, and continued until c. 1910. William Sherring and then Alfred Vigar ran the mill until c. 1920-3, when Thomas Victor Oborn returned. He was still running the mill in 1935.
At Somerset Record Office:
- DD\RG/36; Survey of the Manors of Hinton Charterhouse and
- Norton St Philip..., 1638.
- DD\BR\rh/2; Deed of sale of lands at Midford to Sir Edward
- Hungerford, 1663.
- Thomas Thorpe, Map of Five miles round Bath, 1742, Bath Library Service.
- Online sources:
- The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, (2010, King’s College
- London and the University of Cambridge) http://www.pase.ac.uk
- Published sources:
- Alcock, Barley, Dixon and Meeson, Recording Timber-Framed
- Buildings; an Illustrated Glossary, York, 2002.
- Colin J. Brett, The Fairs and Markets of Norton St Philip, Proc.
- Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, v. 144, 2002
- Linda Hall, Period House Fixtures and Fittings 1300 – 1900,
- Newbury, 2005.
- Local Studies Pack for Hinton Charterhouse, Bath Local Studies
- Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, v. 41,
- 1895, pp. 92-8.
- Somerset and Dorset Notes & Queries, XXXIV, 2000.
- Victoria County Histories:
- Houses of Carthusian monks: The priory of Hinton, A History
- of the County of Somerset: Volume 2 (1911), pp. 118-123.
- Houses of Augustinian canonesses: Abbey of Lacock, A History
- of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3 (1956), pp. 303-316.