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The Mills of Leominster

Mills need a steady supply of water to drive the wheels to turn the machinery, and the town of Leominster in the north-west of the county is not short of this resource. As early as the 11th century the monks who inhabited the Priory in the town decided to improve their water supply by digging a channel from just above the confluence of the Pinsley Brook and the river Lugg (to the north-west of the town) that ran into the centre of Leominster and back out again. This channel ran right under the Priory buildings and not only supplied water and flushed out waste but also powered one or more mills.

By the 18th century more channels had been dug in the vicinity of the town to power various mills. Mills were important buildings and landmarks, and as such were marked on most maps. The Bryant Map of 1835 shows nearly all the mills of Leominster, which amount to nine in total.

The Mills

Croward's Mill (HER reference 6925, Ordnance Survey grid reference SO 48 60)

This mill was known as Crowford's Mill in the late 14th century but could date from as early as the late 13th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries it belonged to the family of Lord Bateman, who lived at Shobdon Court. Originally there were two waterwheels. The mill was in operation up until 1948 as a grinding mill, and from then until 1974 it was used to pump water for Eyton Old Hall to the north-west. A newspaper account of 1885 records that an inquest was held at the mill after a two-year-old boy died by drowning in the millpond.

Osborne Mill

The first definite reference to Osborne Mill is in 1825, although it is considerably older than this date. In 1825 it was owned and run by John Morris. It was a three-storey brick building and was initially used as a flour mill. By 1851 it was being used as a "Printers Ink Mill" run by T & W Gilkes, and in 1870 it was described as "Gilkes Robinson & Co., lamp black manufacturers and charcoal and coal grinders for foundry blacking". In the early years of the 20th century it was run by F. Gillum but then passed to the Nosworthy family. It ceased to operate as a mill in the 1920s and the wheels were removed and sold. It was purchased by the Council who wanted to use the land for a tip, and the building was demolished in 1936. The bricks were re-used in the Leominster Sydonia Swimming Pool, which has since been demolished to make way for a new pool complex.

79 Bridge Street

Not much is known about this mill but it seems to have been established around 1800.

99a Bridge Street

The only references to this mill date from 1905 and 1909, when F.W.G. Gillum ran it.

Marsh Mill or Porter's Mill (HER 8909, SO 4937 5970)

This is one of the oldest mill sites in Leominster and, as with Croward's Mill, it belonged to the Hanbury-Bateman family. It had shared liability to pay for any repairs to the weir and floodgates belonging to Croward's Mill. During the first half of the 19th century it was run by the Froysell family, first by Joseph, then by his widow Hannah Maria, and then by his son Thomas. It was during their time at the mill that it was bought in rather unusual circumstances by John Arkwright of Hampton Court. The mill had been advertised for sale in 1849 and Mr. Sale (solicitor and Town Clerk) wrote to Mr. Arkwright to notify him of the fact that a Mr. Edward Manwaring intended to purchase it. At this time Mr. Manwaring was actually a tenant of Mr. Arkwright at Etnam Street Mill and Mr Sale pointed out that if he bought Marsh Mill it was likely that he would want to end his tenancy with Mr. Arkwright.

John Arkwright was displeased to hear that he may be losing one of his best tenants and so he instructed Thomas Sale to make an offer on his behalf for Marsh Mill to the sum of £2150. In the end the actual purchase cost was £2300 and Mr. Manwaring was forced to stay at the mill in Etnam Street.

The Froysell family were succeeded by the Batemans (George and Isaac), and then the Porter family took on the running of the mill in the 1880s. This family were still in charge of the mill during World War II, although the Arkwright family had sold the mill to a Mr. Page in 1907.

Pinsley Mill or Etnam Street Mill (HER 726, SO 5010 5906)

This is one of the original mills of Leominster, and is situated where the Pinsley Brook leaves the old monastic precinct around the Priory. The lease of 1675 mentions two sites at the bottom of Etnam Street. These are both marked on the Bryant Map of 1835, and it is the more northerly site that we are dealing with here. In the lease two "watercorne" mills under one roof are listed, but it had not been a corn mill for all of its working life.

On Taylor's Map on 1754 it is labelled as a "Cotton Mill". It may have been converted to a cotton-spinning mill as early as 1744 but the first mention we have of it being used in this capacity comes from 1748 in connection with a Daniel Bourn, when he put in for a patent for a carding machine for wool and cotton. This was probably the only cotton mill outside the control of Messrs Paul and Wyatt, who were at this time attempting to control all cotton milling in England and had their own patents with regards to milling machines. It is not known whether this equipment was installed in Leominster, as the mill burnt down in 1754.

The circumstances surrounding the fire raised some suspicion. The Manchester Mercury reported the details of the fire in its edition of 5th November 1754:

"We have an account from Leominster in Herefordshire that on Thursday last the curious Cotton Works erected there with great expense and skill by Mr. Daniel Bourn and which had been viewed with great pleasure and admiration by travellers and all who had seen them, were consumed by fire, together with the whole buildings wherein they stood; to the immense loss of the ingenious artist and to the poor who were employed therein from the town and adjacent country. We hear Mr. Bourn has by this sad calamity suffered (exclusive of the shares of his partners in these works) to the amount of sixteen hundred pounds and upwards."

One suggestion as to why a cotton mill should be placed at Leominster is that during the 18th century there were problems with transport of cotton and finished cotton goods between Bristol and Manchester. Bristol was the major port in the west of England and it would seem to be logical to ship both the cotton and the finished goods along the coast. However, the presence of pirates and privateers meant that ships had to wait for convoys and in 1766 it was reported that "150 packhorses and two broad wheel wagons went from Manchester to Bristol every week with goods for export and may well have brought back cotton". At this time the main route between Manchester and Bristol passed through Leominster.

The mill was later rebuilt as a corn mill, and in 1825 it was in the ownership of the Rev. James Colt and leased by William Ensoll. In 1844 it was purchased by John Arkwright of nearby Hampton Court and leased by Edward Manwaring. He was followed by Thomas Probert and Edwin Blundell.

In 1893 the tenancy of Pinsley Mill was taken on by Joseph Cooke who made considerable changes to the complex. The vertical wheel was replaced (or possibly supplemented) by a horizontal turbine of 2 ft 6 in diameter which produced 49 horse-power. This could also be supplemented by a gas engine with its associated plant to supply the coal gas, which could produce 21 horse-power, and was then used when the water was low in the summer. There were two pairs of millstones nearly four feet in diameter, as well as rollers. In 1907, not long after the death of John Hungerford Arkwright, the Leominster properties belonging to the Arkwright estate were sold at auction. The highest bid was £1,200 and the property was withdrawn to be sold privately at a later date. In 1910 the tenancy passed to D.W. Goodwin & Co. and then to Ben Williams some twenty years later. The mill continued to function until World War II.

Tucke Mill

The position of the Tucke Mill mentioned in a lease of 1675 was given as "situate of the side of the meadow adjoining the Corn Mills", and there is some doubt about its exact position. Both the Taylor and the Bryant maps show a mill opposite the bottom of Etnam Street which corresponds to the position of the White Lion Inn. The Arkwright sale map of 1907 shows the Pinsley Brook leading straight to it.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2005]

Last Updated: 08/01/2013 14:55:47