Middle Mill – a short history

September 7, 2014

Middle Mill was a grain mill powered by a millpond downstream from Springhead (Higher Mill). Middle Mill was operated at various points in the 19th century by the Bishop, Hussey, Lawrence and Ralph families.
In about 1797, Samuel Bishop moved to Fontmell and rented both Higher Mill and Middle Mill from Mrs Alexander. In 1801, Samuel became the proprietor of both mills and may have rebuilt all or part of Middle Mill in 1811 – there is a plaque next to the dam with the inscription ‘JC 1811’.
In 1815, Samuel gave control of the mills to his two eldest sons: Richard Bishop ran Higher Mill, while Joseph Bishop ran Middle Mill.
Samuel died in 1819, leaving Middle Mill to his youngest son, John Bishop (possibly to ensure that the rent provided enough income to pay for his education). It is not known how long John continued to own the mill. It was intended that he should be a lawyer, but at the age of 25 he was induced by his cousin, John Tucker of Bridport, to become a doctor. He entered St George’s Hospital, London and never returned to Fontmell. In 1824 he qualified as a surgeon. He became one of the original 300 Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons (F.R.C.S. 1843, F.R.S. 1844). He died aged 81 on 29 September 1878 at Strangways, Marnhull.
Although John owned the mill, Joseph continued there as the miller until 1826 when he moved into Higher Mill.
James Lawrence, from Piper’s Mill, temporarily came in as tenant of Middle Mill and in 1833 Robert Hussey became the tenant.
The 1841 census shows Ann Salkeld (45) and Sarah Brookes (55) to be living at Middle Mill.

Cottage at Middle Mill with No 33 Mill Street in the background

Cottage at Middle Mill with No 33 Mill Street in the background

The 1851 census shows that William Ralph (born in Stour Provost) was the miller at Middle Mill. He lived there with his wife Martha, daughter Jemima and three sons, William, Robert and Frederick. By 1861, William and Frederick Ralph were the millers and they were still the millers in 1871.
By 1881, the mill no longer appears to have been operational – there are no further references to any millers. Rather, Julia Pope and her sister Ellen, both of independent means, lived there with their servant Alice Chick, and their lodger, Arthur Dobie, the curate of Fontmell. John Hall, an annuitant, and his wife Sarah are also recorded as living there. John and Sarah Hall were still living there in 1891.
The 1893 Cottage Book, compiled by W. R. Day, Sir Richard Glyn’s estate factor, records that Middle Mill (numbered 47 in the Book) was occupied by Mr Short. There is no reference to Mr Short in either the 1891 or 1901 census.

Cottage at Middle Mill

Cottage at Middle Mill

The mill house burnt down in 1907. At the beginning of the 20th century the term Fontmell Falls was coined for the abandoned millrace.

The Spillway at Middle Mill

The Spillway at Middle Mill

 

Spillway at Middle Mill seen through trees

Spillway at Middle Mill seen through trees

In 1921, an iron collecting pipe was installed by the springs feeding the Springhead mill pond, and these provided water for two hydraulic pressure pumps (‘rams’) housed in a brick and slated hut to deliver water through another pipe to Ashmore. Both pipes ran along the south side of Springhead and the first half of the stew ponds, and then crossed over the ponds opposite The White Cottage and ran below the road until reaching the Middle Mill site. At the same time a water tower was built at Manor Farm, Ashmore to store the water pumped from the rams at Middle Mill.

Plan from Deed of Title for Middle Mill Dam

Plan from Deed of Title for Middle Mill Dam

On 11th January 1923, Sir Richard Fitzgerald Glyn leased the water rights to Shaftesbury Rural District Council for 99 years from 31st July 1922.  The rent was £25 a year, with a minimum royalty of £15 a year, plus royalties on the quantity of water (up to a maximum of 10,000 gallons a day) pumped as may be above £15 a year.
Both the Middle Mill dam site (lot 30) and Middle Mill itself (lot 29) were included in the Glyn sale of 28th May 1926.  As well as the water rights, lot 30 is described as an area of about 0a. 1r. 2p. being Ordnance No. Pt. 210 (.260 acres).  The lot is recorded as having been  bought by Shaftesbury R.D.C for £500.
Lot 29 is described as “An Accommodation Paddock with A Small Range of Farm Buildings extending to an area of about 0a. 1r. 8p. being Ordnance No. Pt. 273 (.300 acres)….The range of Farm Buildings is built of brick and tile, and comprise: Two Cart Houses, two-Horse Stable and Chaff House”.  At the time of the sale, Mr F. W. Merrifield was the tenant.  The property was bought for £45 by an unknown buyer.
In fact, the 1926 Glyn sale was a ‘Burges’ sale.  Three days before the sale, there was a Conveyance dated 25th May 1926 between Sir Richard Fitzgerald Glyn (1) Ralph Coke and Richard Montague Glyn (2) and Thomas Ravensdale Burges (3).  Under this Conveyance, Burges appears to have bought all the Glyn Estate included in the ‘Glyn’ sale for £34,700 (equivalent to nearly £2 million in 2014).  Despite the change of ownership, the estate sale went ahead on 25th May.
By a Conveyance dated 21st September 1926, the Middle Mill dam site (lot 30) was sold by Burges to Charlotte Susan Cullen of ‘Glenville’, Martock, for £580, subject to the 1923 Lease granting water rights to Shaftesbury RDC.  The above map is taken from this Conveyance.  On 5th December 1931, Miss Cullen sold the site to Shaftesbury RDC, also for £580.  It is not clear when Wessex Water acquired the site.
In the late 1930’s, an electric pump was installed and the site became known as the Ashmore Source and Power Station.  The pumps became redundant in 1960 when Wessex Water installed a pumping station at Stubhampton.  The abstraction licence was revoked in 1983 and the site has not been operational since.

Press cutting about Middle Mill Dam repairs

Press cutting about Middle Mill Dam repairs

The footpath over the dam, including the crest, spillway and sluice gate, was refurbished in August 1998 by North Dorset District Council under Section 64 of the Land Drainage Act 1991. A new overflow weir was also constructed and the existing drawoff chamber modified.

Harold Stainer on Middle Mill Dam

Harold Stainer on Middle Mill Dam

 

Author: Chris Bellers