Wootton Water Mill 1132
The earliest recorded entry is that of the foundation charter to Quarr Abbey, in 1132 AD, that the mill of Schaldflete (Wootton Mill) with all its mulcture1 in the Manor of Wootton was among their possessions. It having been granted to the Abbey by Geoffrey, son of Jordan de Insula, by his mother, Havise, during the lifetime of Earl Baldwin.
Very little is known of it aside from the fact that it was a source of dispute, between the Abbey and the incumbent of Wootton. The Abbey held that it was exempt from paying tithes on the Tide Mill. The Rector of Wootton did not agree. This resulted in several acrimonious disputed. One in 1262, and another in 1364. On the second occasion Abbot William accused Richard Atte Oke, the incumbent, of molesting the Abbey. The Dean of the Isle of Wight and Rector of Arreton were directed to see that the Rector of Wootton did nothing to aggravate the situation, which obviously he had been doing.
Early workings of the Mill are not known but since corn would have been the main crop of the area, it is assumed that the Mill did all the grinding, thereby, giving the Abbey its income. Cistercian Monks were known for their use of the type of technology in Western Europe during the period 1100 to 1350 AD.
Upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, the Mill reverted back to the Estate of the de Lisles. Leases of the next century bear the de Lisle name through to the 18th century.
On the 26 April 1690, Edward Lisle of the Middle Temple, London leased to William Moseley of Wootton, Miller, a Water Mill and part of the Bridge as far as the Middle Pier, together with the Mill House, stable and out houses in the Parish of Wootton and in the occupation of the said William Moseley for 52 years at annual rent of 50 Shillings.
On 25 August 1699, Edward Lisle gave him licence to assign his lease together with new Malt House to Colonel Edward Flemyng of Stoneham, County of Southampton2 'And to no other person besides.' and on the 15 July 1700 Moseley surrendered his lease.
On the 16 July 1700, a lease between Lisle and Edward Flemyng was drawn up stating the bridge, details of the property concerned, including Water Mill, Mill House, a dwelling house currently an Ale house, stable and outhouses and a plot of land enclosed out of Bridge ground belonging to Wootton Farm and now made into a garden near to and on the west side of the house of Daniel Kyte. This was leased to Flemyng for forty years. It included the right to keep two horses on Wootton Common. Also the title to the malthouse situated on the west side of the mill house.3
On 18 July, a document of sale between Lisle and Richard Holloway of North Stoneham, passing ownership to him of the watermill, mill house with mill stones, etc. and 3 yards of land in length and breadth on the south west side of Wootton Bridge and the fishing in Wootton haven.4
[Gristmill - a building where grain is ground into flour or simply referred to as flour mills. Grist Mills only grind clean grains that is grain from which stalks and chaff have previously been removed. Early Mills were almost always built and supported by farming communities, and typically a percentage of each farmers grain called a "Miller's toll" was set aside for the miller in lieu of wages. Local farmers brought their grain and received flour from it minus the "toll".]
Tide Mills were usually powered by undershot wheels set below the level of the floor. As it was more resistant to rot, elm was usually used. At very high tides the water may have lapped at the floor boards. The miller's day was determined by the tide, although he would have been ensured of two periods of work, no two days would have been the same. It was said that the water held back in the millpond at Wootton could drive the machinery for about four to five hours at a time.
From extracted records, we find James Perry taking over the mill sometime around 1750. Although he remained a tenant of the mill, ownership of the property had passed to Millicent, the wife of John Langton, yeoman beadle of Cambridge University. She was a descendant of Richard Holloway. In 1774 they sold the mill properties to John Fleming of North Stoneham, Hampshire. Sometime after this James Perry erected a brick dwelling house, as it was included in a lease dated 1781. Phillip Ballard, a merchant of Newport, paying Perry £2,200 for the lease. Ballard was in fact, his son-in-law, having married Perry's eldest daughter, Jane. Perry died 1786 and Ballard before 1789.
After the executors of the wills was proved. In 1789 James Vick paid £2,600 for a new lease 'All that Water Corn Mill and Mill House commonly called and known as Wootton Bridge Mill together with the Mill stones, mill wheels, cogs rongs dams bays floodhatches botting mills sack tackle and other furniture and appurtances thereunto belonging'. Flood hatches were essential to allow excess water to escape. Rungs would have been floats of the water wheel. Bolter was a cylinder of cloth used in dressing the flour. Also included in the lease was two cottages, one lately a brewhouse, the other unoccupied and converted from a stable and known as The Greyhound public house.5,6
In November 1797 John Cooper, a carpenter of Wootton Bridge, leased the mill premises from Henry Budd for £3,350. He also purchased two tenement buildings and insured them for £2,550. The price of wheat was 45s. a quarter but within two years the price had jumped to £8 a quarter [c.360%]. In 1820 John Cooper died, leaving a will with three codicils. His son, William Cooper mortgaged the mill in 1829 to bankers in Newport for £1600. However in Pigot's Directory of 1830 it is George Cooper who is listed as miller and baker. When one of the bankers [Sir Richard Bassett] died the other two bankers served notice for repayment of the debt on William Cooper within six months or the property would be sold at public auction.
In 1857 James Cooper is listed as being a corn miller7 and by the census of 1861 as living in Lower Kite Hill as a widower. Sometime around May Benjamin Arnell supplied him with wheat. However a few days later Cooper stopped working the mill as he was in financial difficulties. Arnell demanded the return of the wheat, but Cooper refused. Arnell threatened him with bankruptcy, as he considered it a case of gross fraud. Cooper had already paid Arnell £2787 in cash and the outstanding debt was only £55 17s, although he had outstanding debts amounting to £2000. Arnell served his warrant.
The mill was obviously out of use for some time as in 1863 OS map. It is not known what happened to the workers during this time. But to make matter worse the Highway Commissioners decided to renew the bridge and create a new road layout in front of the mill. Mr. Fleming was consulted about the floodgates and hatchways, which he had to maintain in any case.
Work dragged on due to difficulties and in the Minutes of the Highway Commissioners for 2 August 1865 sent to Mr Dennett, the tenant of the mill offering compensation of £10 per week' only during such time as the Mill is actually closed'. In November he was paid £50, plus in January following a further £90. In March 1866 a payment of £100. A couple of months later the Commissioners held talks and withheld the June payment of £110, which sum was finally paid in July of that year.
More problems arose led to a solicitor’s letter to the Commissioners in December. He was then paid £20 owing, finally in August 1867 they agreed to pay Dennett £211, but argued about his costs of £42 12s. for another month before paying up.
Around 1869 William Souter was the miller and in July 1870 saw something in the water of the mill pond. On taking a boat out it was found to be a body, so the police were summoned. At the inquest Ann Merwood identified the body as her brother James, aged 59 who was at the time unemployed. The verdict of 'Found drowned' was recorded.
In the 1871 census, Henry Lillywhite was running a grocers shop with his wife, and Morris Woods was listed as a miller. By the 1881 census, William Souter was employing nine men and two boys also running a large acreage of farmland. Millers listed in the village at that time were Henry Lillywhite, Thomas Lillywhite, Henry Guy and James Garland, aged 64 who passed away in 1893.
William Souter's wife Louisa died leaving him with four children. In 1884 he married Mitilda Barton and they had three more children. In 1888 Leonard Souter became of age and a large party was held8 Mr Souter Snr also hired two conveyances and took his employees and families to Shanklin for the day.
In 1892, Mr Souter introduced the new system of roller milling9 from 1895; thanks to steam there was now always plenty of hot water at the mill. Leonard, William's son was now in partnership and possibly brought new ideas. In August 1909, after failing health, William Souter died at Newnham Farm, Binstead. As a much-respected man he was greatly missed.
There were two undershot wheels closely housed within the mill. These wooden wheels were clasp-armed 24 ft in diameter, and 6 ft wide. The floats were 3 inches deep. The sluice was adjusted by a double spur wheel, which raised or lowered the leaf on a rack and pinion final drive.
In 1936 only one pit wheel remained; this was a cast iron wheel with wooden teeth, made by Rogers of Sandown. This wheel was made in two halves bolted together around the 20-inch square wooden main shaft. There were eight T-sectioned spokes to this wheel, and these tapered from 11 inches by 7 inches at the hub to 7 inches by 7 inches at the rim; The rim was 3 1/2 inches thick by 10 inches deep. Both wallowers were identical in that they were all cast iron and each had 48 teeth. The upright shaft associated with the working part of the mill carried two great spur wheels. The lower great spur wheel was installed to take a supplementary drive from a gas-engine in conjunction with the water wheel. This was no longer in use in 1936 owing to the unsatisfactory working of the hit-and-miss governor. The lower great spur wheel was compass-armed, whilst the other, one inch above it, was clasp-armed. Both these wheels were made entirely of wood, and had 96 teeth of 2 3/4 inch pitch, 5-inch face, and 1 3/4 inch depth. The three pairs of composition stones were driven by all iron stone nuts with 22 teeth to each. The stones were disengaged by raising the stone nut on its shaft by means of a ring on two racks and pinion driven by a hand crank. A similar arrangement was used at St Helens tide mill. The stones were raised by means of iron stone cranes mounted beside each other. The upright shaft had a crown wheel mounted above the stone floor, from which further machinery was driven. This crown wheel was made of wood, and mounted on four compass arms. The wooden pinion for the lay-shaft was engaged or disengaged by means of a lever arm. Other machinery was driven by belting off the lay-shaft. The sack hoist was driven by tightening the slack belt with a jockey pulley on a lever arm. The magnificent sack balance with its large sack-cage is stored at Bembridge Windmill.10
Leonard Souter let the mill to Messrs. Joseph Rank Ltd by 1941. Whereas he continued to farm, but one Sunday evening in May, on returning from his gardener’s cottage, he suddenly collapsed and died outside Kite Hill. Once again the community had lost a prominent member.
The mill continued to produce flour, at the rate of eight and a half sacks an hour, until 1945, when it ceased production. The 1951 Kelly's directory lists Agrifor Products Ltd producing animal feeds but the business did not last long and by the early 1960s were in a semi-derelict state.
Plans were put forward for the development of the site. Would the mill be converted? Turned into a hotel or nightclub? The Isle of Wight Count Press of 1 September 1962 confirmed that the mill had been sold. Messrs. Marvin's estate agents confirmed that outline planning permission had been granted for eight residential units and that plans had been prepared by a mainland firm of architects. But it will mean pulling down the whole mill.12 By December 1962 demolition work was under way, and so a chapter of history of Wootton came to an end.
1. Charter of Quarr Abbey. 1141-42. Worsley. app. liv.
3. IWCRO FLM/151
5. History of Wootton Bridge, The Mill by Hilary Gosden
6. IWCRO FLM/146-153
7. Craven's Directory
8. See entry under People
9. See entry under Newport - Flour production
10. Wootton Mill from The Mills of the Isle of Wight by J. Kenneth Major. Skilton 1970 and from notes made by Mr Rex Wailes in 1936
11. See also the paper on Newcomen Society on Tide Mills by Rex Wailes.
12. Isle of Wight County Press, 1 September 1962. (Future of the Old Mill).
13. Evening News Portsmouth, 11 December 1962
Isle of Wight County Press, 5 January 1963 (An old mill of many memories)