Review Number 18 – July 2001

Walsham’s Two Medieval Windmills


Line drawing of a primitive post mill. A very rickety looking windmill that pivots with a large wooden lever sticking out from under it to do the pivoting with.
Primitive Post Mill

Of all the servile burdens bestowed on the peasant in the Middle Ages, one of the greatest was the lack of freedom to grind his own corn. His produce had to be taken to the lord’s mill to be ground; the lord, through the miller, kept a percentage as payment, known as multure. But, between 1316 and 1398 only thirteen people (Robert Godfrey, Richard of Wortham, Walter Osbern, Robert the chaplain, John Terwald, Simon Painter, Peter Jay, Amice Echeman, Nicholas Frances, Stephen Cooper, John Man, Nicholas Patel and John Spicer) were charged with milling their corn away from the lord’s mill. They were fined 2d, 3d or 6d each, the average day’s pay being 3d. In 1393 Robert Hawes was fined 12d for milling at Ashfield. Fines were really amercements ie: set ‘at mercy’ by two affeerers at each manor court and varied according to ability to pay, with other factors taken into account. Robert Hawes held the tenement Hawes (now the Rookery), which contained c. 40 acres and was one of the largest tenures. He could afford to pay more than the others and milling at a rival mill was probably considered a greater crime. So, were the peasants of Walsham extremely law-abiding or did they find a way round the problem? I suspect the latter. During the field walking survey pieces of broken hand querns were found on many medieval sites, indicating that milling was carried out in peoples’ houses. Peasants were accustomed to eating corn as pottage (broth), which required only roughly crushed grains well within the capacity of a hand quern. Oats would have been the most common cereal used. Wheat, if grown, was a valuable cash crop. Bread was given as part of the wages for work done on the manor and could also have been bought locally.

The Domesday entry for Walsham does not mention a mill so it is fairly certain there was never a watermill here. The Inquisition Post Mortem of Robert de Valoynes, one time lord of the manor, states that he held, on the day of his death in 1282, two windmills valued at £1 13s 4d.

Walsham had two medieval windmills both belonging to the main Walsham manor. East Mill was situated along Mill Lane, north of Riding Farm at about 200 feet above the valley bottom (TM 0155 7055). Until quite recently the site was surrounded by hedges and could be easily located; now just one hedge remains. Sherds of medieval pottery were found here during a field walking survey, indicating the presence of a mill house. West Mill was at about the same height, in what is now a small plantation to the west of a footpath called Rottells Lane that runs from Badwell Ash Road to Ixworth Road, ie: footpath no. 10 (TL 9942 7071). The remains of its ditch were located by Stanley West during the field walking survey. These mills were of postmill construction with the base buried under a mound of earth affording some protection from wind. Medieval illustrations all show them with a pointed roof, a stepladder to a door at the back of the mill and a long pole to turn the structure into the wind. They were surrounded by a ditch. The mechanism of the mill was made of wood; only the spindle and rynd being of iron.

Annual manor accounts, of which twenty-five survive, give information regarding leasing and repairs but, unfortunately, never state which mill is implicated. An account of 1390/1 shows one of the mills was leased to Thomas Hawker for 12 quarters of corn pa. and in that year 9½d was spent on repairs. John Manser, a carpenter, and his sons were paid 9d for 1¼ days’ work on the mill. Nails for the wallplates of the millhouse cost ½d. When, in 1395 John Miller leased one of the windmills from the manor for a term of three years, the rent was 11 quarters 4 bushels of ground corn payable to the lord pa. He had to ‘find for the sails of the said mill sufficient cloth at his own expense and he shall place cogs and staves on the back of the mill and on the trundle-wheels of the said mill’. Owing to the labour shortage after the Black Death of 1349, parts of the manor were gradually leased out: the mills were one of the first casualties.

In 1402/3 one of the mills needed rebuilding. The account for that period shows expenses of 16d for twelve men with six carts going to Haddiscoe, Norfolk to fetch timber for the mill. Haddiscoe is on the Waveney, on marshy ground with no obvious woodland so presumably the timber had come via Kings Lynn, which was importing boards from the Baltic at this time. Two bases were carried from the manor up to the mill at a cost of 2½d. A mill post was fetched from Hinderclay at a cost of 7d. Had Walsham already used up all its tall straight oaks? Various men were paid a total of 16d for digging the old mill post and poles (les powelyn) out of the earth. No doubt some of the parts would have been reused. The total cost was 3s 5½d.

John Miller was still leasing a mill in 1406/7. The mill costs were only 3d during that year, for a circular band to tie a millstone. The band probably encircled the stone to prevent it flying apart.

A consecutive run of accounts from 1426/7 onwards provides considerable information regarding the lease and repairs. From 1426 to 1430 a mill was leased to ‘certain men of Bury’ for 33s 4d pa. For the next five years it was leased for 26s 8d pa. first to Robert Curtes, then to John Margery and then to Gilbert Miller. The latter leased it for a further two years but the rent was reduced to 23s 4d pa. In 1440 it was reduced again to 20s and in 1449 to 17s. The account for 1451 states that it was ‘recently leased for 17s, now nothing because it is ruined.’

The repairs are to be found in the section Cost of the Mill and are as follows:

1426/7 In mending the sails and the cogs and staves (baclands) by the carpenter   8d
1427/8 In the stipend of Peter Rollesby, carpenter for 3 days’ piecework cutting timber for mending a sail-yard (virga) and openings (les thrushotys) for the mill sail and making the clamp (le clampe) for the said sail-yard and the said openings, taken per day 4d   12d
  Item in 3 iron chains bought for tying the said sail-yard   14d
  Item in spikes (les spykynges) and iron nails bought for the same   4d
  In iron nails bought for nailing the mill boards   1d
  Total 2s 7d

Note: The sail-yard was the wooden backbone or arm of the sail, the clamp reinforced the centre of the sails and the boards were probably weather-boarding on the mill buck, or floorboards. Among the building costs of this account was 8d for straw bought for thatching the mill house.

1428/9 In the stipend of Peter Rollesby, carpenter for 14 days piecework cutting timber for the shores (shorys) and making two mill sail-yards and making the clamps for other mill sail-yards, taken per day 4½d 3s 9d
  In the stipend of John Fletcher and Edmund Mollows for one day’s piecework cutting timber for the said mill   8d
  Item paid to Robert Vincent for carrying the said timber from Wyverstone to the mill   6d
  In bread and ale for the raising up of the said sail-yards   2d
  In two iron chains and picks (pykyngges) and iron nails bought for the same   12d
  Total 6s 1d

Note: Shores were additional struts in between the quarter bars to add extra support to the post. The bread and ale would have been the payment to casual manual workers.

1429/30 In a millstone (petra) bought for the mill 16s 8d
  Item paid for carrying the stone from Bricett   15d
  In mending the mill spindle (mellespyndyll) with a new collar (newcolyr)   12d
  In two iron chains bought for tying the mill axle   9d
  In nails bought for the same   1d
  In the stipend of Peter Rollesby, thatcher [sic] for two days piecework fitting laths to the sails and the mill hopper (mellehoper)   8d
  In board bought for the said hopper   4d
  Total 20s 9d

Note: The stone must have been a second-hand one, perhaps from a mill being demolished at Bricett; a new stone bought in Ipswich later was much more expensive.

1430/31 In the stipend of Robert Manser, carpenter, for one day’s piecework making a bridge-tree (breggetre) in the mill   4d
  Item in mending one mill spindle   4d
  In the stipend of the same Robert for two days piecework fitting laths to the mill sail-yard and making cogs for the mill   8d
  Total   16d
1431/32 In the stipend of John Wells for one day’s piecework mending the plaster of the mill-house   4d
  In one iron chain with a key bought for tying a sail-yard of the mill   6d
  Item in straw bought from John Robwood for plastering the mill-house with clay   1d
  Total   11d
1432/3 In the stipend of Robert Manser, carpenter and his son for 15 day’s piecework sawing the openings (thornshotes) for the mill and making the mill trundle-wheel (melletrindyll) and the sails, taken between them per day 8d 5s 2s
  Total   7s

Note: The 10s paid to Robert Manser and his son was deleted and 5s inserted. Perhaps he was considered too young to demand a wage. The rynd supported the upper millstone.

1433/34 In the stipend of Robert Manser, carpenter and his son for 2½ day’s piecework mending the mill-cote (mellecote), taken per day 8d   20d
  Item paid to John Baker for carrying the said timber up to the said house   2½d
  In the stipend of John Frances, thatcher and his boy for 2 day’s piecework thatching the said house, taken between them per day 5½d   11d
  In the stipend of the same John for 2 day’s piecework [putting] clay on the said house   7d
  Item in the wall-plate nails (le reswenayles) and eaves-board nails (evesbordnayll) bought for the same   1d
  Item paid for the mill trundle-wheel (melletrendyll) made with cogs (koggys) and in buying the said cogs 2s
  Total 5s 4½d

Note: The mill-cote was presumably the mill house.

1434/35 Item in one board bought for the mill   2½d
  In iron nails bought for the same   ½d
  Total   3d
1436/37 Item paid to William Hare, carpenter for making a new mill sail with his servant 4s 10d
  Total 4s 10d
1437/38 Item paid to the miller for cogs and staves and laths for mending the mill this year   13d
  Total   13d
1439/40 In the stipend of John Manser, carpenter for 3 day’s piecework mending the wyndewhow of the mill by carpentry, per day 4d   12d
  Item in boards bought for the said plastering   11d
  Item paid to John Smith for iron nails bought for the same and for mending the rynd of the same mill   7d
  Total 2s 6d

Note: Any suggestions regarding the wyndewhow would be appreciated!

1440/41 And in various costs made upon the lord’s mill this year shown in a bill 6s 1d
  Total 6s 1d
1441/42 In the stipend of John Manser, carpenter hired to make one new mill-house for 22 days, per day 4d 7s 4d
  And paid for fitting laths and daubing the same house, altogether 3s  
  And paid for thatching the same house, altogether 4s  
  And in straw bought for thatching the said house 6s  
  And paid for cutting down timber with carriage of the same   12d
  And in iron bands with nails bought from John Smith for tying the mill sail 2s 1d
  Total 23s 5d
1443/44 And in four iron bands bought from John Smith for tying the axle and sail-yard of the mill 2s  
  And in nails bought for the same work   2d
  And in the stipend of John Mollows, carpenter hired for 2 days to work on the new sail-yard of the mill, taken per day 5d by piecework   10d
  And in the stipend of Andrew Hawes, carpenter working upon the same work for 3 days, taken per day 4d by piecework   12d
  And in the stipend of John Manser, carpenter making cogs and staves for the mill trundle-wheel for 4 days, per day 5d   20d
  Total 5s 8d

Note: The iron bands were probably grapples around the mill shaft.

1445/46 And in the stipend [blank] hired with his cart to carry one millstone from Ipswich to the mill in the same town by a certain agreement [illegible but should be 4s]  
  And in the stipend of John Fish, carpenter hired with his servant for 8½ days to make one new trundle-wheel, laths, sail openings and shrouds (shrowdes) for the sail-yard of the said mill and to make the wyndwoghe with the new lower cog wheel (keggyng rote inferior) and other work, taken per day between them 9d by piecework 6s 4½d
  And in the stipend of Peter Umfrey and Thomas Page, sawyers hired for 2 days to saw planks of the lord’s timber for the sail openings of the said mill   12d
  And in 100 feet of planks bought from John Manser for the said wyndwough with the making of the same   22d
  And in nails bought for the said work   4d
  And in two bands bought from John Smith for tying the said trundle-wheel   10d
  And paid to the same for mending the spindle (fusil) of the same and the rynds   4d
  And in a support (bolstyr) bought from the same for the same mill   6d
  In the stipend of John Miller from Wattisfield hired to dress (verberand) and raise the said millstone by agreement 2s  
  Total 17s 2½d

Note: The ‘same town’ probably meant Walsham town; it cost 4s to bring the stone from Ipswich docks to Walsham mill. The shrouds were a protective addition to the horizontal sails. The support was probably the neck bearing. The word verberand means to beat or stamp a design; probably used in this case to mean dressing the stone.

1446/47 And in the stipend of John Frances hired for one day to cut and fell an oak tree in the lord’s wood at Westhorpe [illeg.] at Woodbites for the mill axle by piecework   4d
  And in the stipend of Peter Umfrey, carpenter hired for one day to trim and shape the oak for a cart by piecework   4d
  And in the stipend of John Rampley hired with his cart to carry the said mill axle by piecework towards the mill   6d
  And in the stipend of John Fish, millwright (millewrygthe) hired inclusively to prepare the said mill axle in placing the same in the mill 6s 8d
  And in the expenses of various men there viz: to help lift the said mill axle, in all expenses   3d
  And in the stipend of the same John Fish hired for one day to make a bridge-tree (breggetr) below the mill stone by piecework   4d
  And in the stipend of John Manser, \millwright/ and his servant hired to make cogs and staves for the said mill for one day– 8d And paid to John Smith, blacksmith hired to mend an iron collar to lie around the mill axle   4d
  And paid to the same John for mending the spindle of the mill   2½d
  And in nails bought to attach a band on the mill axle, price   2d
  And in a mill stone bought from Thomas Dennis of Ipswich for the mill, price 46s 8d
  Total 55s 7d

Was a special cart made to carry the axle?

In 1451 Alice de la Pole became lady of the manor. The windmill was said to be recently granted for 17s pa. but now lay ruined and no one wanted to hire it. The survey of 1577 does not mention West Mill. East Mill was no longer standing but the mound that had covered the base and trestles and the ditch were still evident, mentioned again in 1650. The survey describes the field in which it stood ‘in which said close it is said a wyndemylne sometimes stode whereof, as it is said, Mell Fyelde toke firste his name’

Note: . \ / = insertion.

Personal names and place names have been modernised

  1. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) Walsham Court Rolls 1316-1398 HA 504/1/1.3 – HA 504/1/9.17
  2. Suffolk Record Office (Bury) Walsham Accounts 1390/1 – 1451/2 HA 504/3/3 – HA 504/3/15.12
  3. E. Powell A Suffolk Hundred in the year 1283 (CUP 1910)
  4. R. Holt The Medieval Mills of England (Blackwell 1988)
  5. John L. Fisher A Medieval Farming Glossery of Latin and English Words
  6. J. O. Halliwell A Dictionary of Archiac and Provincial Words (1847)
  7. Compact Edition of Oxford English Dictionary (OUP 1971)

I am indebted to Peter Dolman of Stanton Mill, Suffolk for his patient help.

No attribution