Mills in Fontmell Magna

August 4, 2004

MILLS IN FONTMELL MAGNA
Mills have been recorded in Fontmell Magna for at least 1000 years. They were Water Mills powered by the Fontmell Brook, a tributary of the River Stour. The Domesday Survey (1086) recorded three mills in the manor and these are almost certainly the Higher, Middle and Lower mills:

HIGHER MILL

Higher Mill (now Springhead)

Higher Mill (now Springhead)

The earliest mill was probably at Springhead, known as Higher Mill or Estmill, being situated at the east end of the village. In 1665 it was a fulling mill operated by Henry Monkton. Fulling was the process of cleansing and felting woollen cloth into material prepared for sale. However, by the late 18th century it was owned by Samuel Bishop and run as a corn mill by Samuel and his sons, Richard and Joseph until 1832 when the mill passed to Robert Hussey.
These two families were related through marriage and became highly influential

The Hussey family

The Hussey family

in the village. They were associated not only with Higher Mill, but also Middle Mill and Woodbridge Mill (see below). Both families have gravestones in the Parish Churchyard where the members of several generations are commemorated.

Springhead

Springhead

The present house and mill buildings probably date from the early 19th century. But by 1881 the mill was closed and the site used by the Eclipse Bottle Stopping Machine Company for making crown bottle tops. In 1933 Springhead was bought by the Gardiner family and in 1973 the Springhead Trust came into being for the promotion of the Arts and Environmental Studies.

MIDDLE MILL

Mill house, Middle Mill

Mill house, Middle Mill

Downstream from Higher Mill was a further millpond powering a grain mill operated at various points in the 19th century by the Bishop and Hussey families. The mill pond and its surroundings now form one of the major attractions of the village, a place where many visitors to the village enjoy the peaceful setting.
The mill house was burnt

Sluice gate, Middle Mill

Sluice gate, Middle Mill

down in 1907 but the dam and sluice gates can still be seen.

'Fontmell Falls', Middle Mill

'Fontmell Falls', Middle Mill

At the beginning of the 20th century the term Fontmell Falls was coined for the abandoned millrace.

 

 

 

LOWER [or TOWN] MILL

Town Mill and pond

Town Mill and pond


Watermill Cottage in Church Street is the site of another Mill.

It is not clear when the Town Mill ceased to be a conventional corn mill, but it continued to drive machinery well into the 20th century.

Sawmill in Church Street

Sawmill in Church Street

 

 

 

 

The undershoot wheel was also used as the source of power for a Saw Mill. It is thought to have provided power by means of drive shafts to farm machinery at Moores Farm.

The central position of its

Fishing in Town Mill pond

Fishing in Town Mill pond

millpond (just across the road from the church) served as a recreational attraction to many local people.

At the western end of the village there are three more mills:

PIPERS MILL

Pipers Mill

Pipers Mill

Pipers Mill has a long history, but the building we see now dates from only 1795 when it was described in a local newspaper as being newly built. It was probably used as a grist mill for processing animal feed stuffs. Earlier in the 18th century the miller was James Lawrence but on his death in 1788 his wife Barbara took over the running of the mill and the replacement of the old mill house with a new one. Two generations later the miller was Joseph Feltham Lawrence, but when he died childless in 1895 the mill passed to his wife’s Baker family.

J W Baker

J W Baker

In 1907 the miller was James Baker and the archive has a Bill of Sale from him to a Mr G. Hooper.

Machinery at Piper's Mill

Machinery at Piper's Mill

The mill has not been in operation for many years now, but this archive photo of some of the machinery tells its own story.

HURDLES MILL
Downstream from Pipers Mill was another Mill, originally called Hurls Mill. In the 18th century it was described as an Edge Tool Mill run by Isaac Vincent. These mills were used to power trip hammers for forging and grindstones for finishing and sharpening. It was also used as a Fulling Mill by George Vincent. Subsequently it was in the hands of Joseph Lawrence (1747-97), a cousin of James (of Pipers Mill), and then of Joseph Lawrence (1789-1853) and his wife Rebecca (nee Edwards). They had 7 children including 5 boys and their son Stephen Lawrence (1817-93) was living at Hurdles Farm in 1893.

WOODBRIDGE MILL

Woodbridge Mill

Woodbridge Mill

To the west of Pipers Mill is a further mill, powered by the Twyford Brook, another tributary of the Stour. In the 1841 census Richard Bishop, the son of Samuel Bishop (of Higher Mill) was living there, but the most famous miller in the 19th century was Job Rose, a member of a widespread Dorset milling family.

 Reputed to have weighed over 30 stones, he died at the age

Job Rose

Job Rose

of 56 and was buried in the Methodist Chapel at Hartgrove.
At the northern limits of the Parish there may have been a seventh mill at MANOR FARM. The only evidence for this is the continued existence of a mill pond, but we would be very interested to hear from anyone who can provide further information.

VILLAGE ECONOMY
Fontmell water mills drove the local economy for over one thousand years by providing power for the corn trade, power for the local cloth trade and power for the timber, forging and grinding trades. From the 11th to the 19th centuries the millers played a central role in the community and their contribution to the prosperity of the village cannot be over estimated.

The streams which still spring from the chalk uplands of Cranborne Chase to the east of the village not only provided Fontmell with power, but also the local villages of Melbury Abbas (4 mills), Compton Abbas (1) and Iwerne Minster (3). All these villages belonged to Shaftesbury Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.

Authors: Derek Marchington and John Smalley