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Save our mill

1980/3 pp5–8


Save our mill


The earliest reference to mills in Ewell is the entry in the Domesday Book in 1086 AD. ‘The King holds Etwelle in demesne... There are two mills at 10 shillings’. There were also two mills recorded for Epsom Manor, and it seems probably that all four of these mills were on the Hogsmill river.


Whether these four were located on the four sites known today is not clear from the evidence. Certainly Taylor’s description in 1577 refers to a triple mill on the site of the ‘nether’ or lower mill – ‘two cornemylles and a fulling myll’, whilst ‘Fennelles myll’ is clearly the Upper Mill.


The four mill sites known today are:


Upper Mill (previously Fitznells and Gilberts)

Lower Mill (Chertsey Abbey and Epsom Manor)

Powder Mills (at Ewell Court)

Ruxley Mill (formerly Shalforde)


The greater part of our knowledge of medieval Ewell comes from the Fitznells Cartulary, a detailed analysis of documents dated between 1194 and 1476 (with additional documents up to 1538) relating to Fitznells Manor. These were transcribed and translated by the late C.A.F. Meekings and our own President, Philip Shearman (published by the Surrey Record Society in 1968, volume 26). The other main source for this period is the Register or Memorial of Ewell (c.1408) transcribed by the late Rev. Cecil Deedes (published in 1913) relating to a terrier or survey of Ewell in 1408, a rental and customal prior to 1290, a rental of 1411/12 and a list of fifteenth-century Merton Priory demesne lands.


The Fitznells Cartulary refers to mills in Ewell and mentions the dates 1212, 1218, 1239, 1249, 1250, 1255, 1263, 1265, 1331, 1386, 1408 and 1476.


The 1408 Register or Memorial of Ewell refers (on pages 19–20) to a ‘capital tenement with a close to the same called Fitzneeles, which Thomas Aylward holds. And then opposite the said tenement is a water mill broken down’. This is the Upper Mill.


A few lines later ‘a water mill of the fee of the Abbot of Chertsey, which Thomas Hayton holds, with a large closed garden attached to the same on the king’s highway, leading from Ewelle to the Court of Ewelle called Worthe Courte’. This is the Lower Mill.


At page 158 is a description of the manor house of Ewell, in an fifteenth-century list of Merton Priory lands, which states ‘also there is there a watermill’.


In the Fitznells Extent of 1476 there is reference to only a single mill, presumably now absorbing the Blench and Young mills (Cartulary nos. 311–2). By 1514 the rental from ‘a mill called Fenellys Mylle in Ewell’ was 40 marks (Abstracts of Surrey Feet of Fines, Surrey Record Society 19) The Gadesden papers held in the Surrey Record Office contain many references to Fitznells and in 1519 the mill was held by John Iwardby. In 1538 ‘Marton’ (Merton) manor rents include a mill in Ewell.


The Rental of the Manor of Ewell ‘recently part of the possessions of the recent Priory of Merton’, c.1548, which was published by N.A.S. in our Bulletin 3ii (1967), states that William Saunders ‘held a garden near his mill formerly of William Hayton and for this. per annum 16d’ and Jane Lady Saint John ‘holds a water mill in… Ewell for this per annum 6s 8d’.


In 1562 her son John St. John conveyed the ‘manor of Fytznelles or Fenelles’ for £300 to Edmund Horde, when it contained: 10 messuages; 10 cottages; 10 barns; 10 gardens; 10 orchards; 1 watermill; 160 acres of land; 50 acres of meadow; 200 acres of pasture; 50 acres of wood; and 100 acres of heath and furze, in Ewell, Epsom, Nonesuch or Cuddington, and Cheam.


In the 1577 Survey of Ewell, Elizabeth Horde (widow of Edmund) lived at Fitznells with her ‘Fennelles myll’ for corn. Memorial brasses to the Iwardbys and Hordes can be seen in St. Mary’s church. Remains of the timber frame of the medieval manor house of Fitznells survive within the buildings of the Fitznells School of Music.


The catalogue of references to the mills of Ewell continues up to the present day, always leasehold until Sarah Hall owned the freehold in 1802 (enclosure award 86, 86, 89). The mill continued in use as Hall and Davidson’s mill until 1952.


The sale particulars of 1929 contain illustrations of the ‘Upper Flour Mill’ and the ‘Old Mill House’ with plans detailing the grounds and including the Lower Mill as Lot 5. The unrestricted freehold commercial premises were built principally in brick, with a slated roof, and were fitted with a water wheel approximately 18 feet in diameter for driving power. The owners (Hall and Davidson) reserved the right to remove the fixed and loose machinery and effects prior to auction for sale separately. ‘The floor space is 8,650 square feet, all floors are well lit, corn bins are installed on the top floor and there is a compact suite of offices on the ground floor’. The range of brick stabling, outbuildings, small orchard and partly walled-in garden have long since disappeared. There was about 343 feet of frontage land and water to Kingston Road, and a stream and pond respectively on either side of Chessington Road. The Old Mill House, described as a picturesque house in an old world setting, contained six bedrooms, four other rooms and ancillary services, but this building has since been demolished.


Despite this auction in 1929 the mill continued in operation as a flour mill until 1952, and a number of our members remember buying their flour there. After 1952 the premises were used by a firm of antique furniture restorers until eventually the premises were acquired by the Epsom and Ewell Council. The mill machinery, corn bins, etc. have all gone, but the original wooden flooring, staircases, etc. show where the fittings were and the roar of water under the main staircase adds to the atmosphere of the eighteenth-century interior.


Holman Hunt, writing in 1840, described the scene , saying how ‘a stone’s throw off, the pulsing wheel drew one’s attention, and enticed one’s steps along a road to the face of the mill where whitened men bearing sacks of flour descended and ascended inclined planks between upper doorways and vans’. Holman Hunt’s famous painting, The Light of the World, and Millais’ Ophelia, were based on scenes along the Hogsmill nearby.


The building is listed as of special historic and architectural interest by the Department of the Environment, described by them as eighteenth-century, four storeys, with painted weatherboarding, three very wide gables to the north front, the left hand being mansarded. There is a central overhanging sack hoist with gabled top, various casements and doors. The canopied doorway on the first floor left has a wooden staircase down almost to ground level and was covered with planking to slide sacks of flour onto waiting vehicles. The ground floor is of brick construction.


Cloudesley Willis, writing in 1948, said the mill retained the water wheel at that time and the mill stones for grounding wheat into flour. The mill was well known for its wholemeal flour. He quotes Mr. A.D. Henderson who commented that the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV, was fond of calling on Mr. Charles Hall at the upper mill and looking at his white cattle. (The Duke, of course, had a mistress nearby!) Mr. Willis continues ‘Swallows will build their nests in the mill, flying in and out through an open window, without regard to the millers, or the noise of machinery’.


Many photographs of the Upper Mill survive in Bourne Hall library and in the Museum. Some dating from 1890 show the exterior view, while a set of nine photographs from Mr. D. Haiselden show the millers at work hoisting grain, cleaning the rollers and dressing the stones, the mill wheel in action and other interior views featuring the Hall and Davidson sacks. Mr. James’ more recent photographs show the exterior as we know it today, one of which shows a Rentokil van parked outside – was this for the antique furniture or did the Council have the timbers treated whilst the mill was in their care?

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