The Mills and Millers of Peldon

Peldon Mill, also known as Went's Mill, was a windmill situated on the north side of Mill House, east of the Colchester Road and immediately south of the junction by The Peldon Rose. It appears on the 1777 Chapman and Andre map and the Ordnance Survey one inch map of 1805 named as 'Strode Mill' and later appears as 'Strood Mill' on Greenwood's map of 1825. The last map it appeared on was surveyed in 1904. According to local knowledge it was demolished circa 1906 and all that remains to indicate its presence are Mill House and Mill Cottage. Much of the information here comes from the research at the Essex Records Office by Kenneth G Farries in his book Essex Windmills, Millers and Millwrights published in 1985.

Peldon Mill looking towards the Rose

Peldon steam mill and the post mill, looking towards the Rose

The mill was a post mill which was the earliest type of windmill, its main feature being that the whole body of the mill that houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind. Post mills dominated the scene until the nineteenth century when tower mills began to replace them.

The earliest references to the mill are documents pertaining to the insurance of the buildings, stock and equipment. It was insured with 'The Sun' in 1788 and 1789. [This insurance company was founded in 1706 and became Sun Alliance Insurance in the 1950s, and now RSA Insurance]. In 1788 the mill was insured by John Worls of Colchester, miller and baker, who paid £300 to cover the stock and utensils. It is described as a Post Wind Mill and Roundhouse... Brick and Timber and Weatherboarded.

In June 1789 Thomas Wilsmore, junior, of Peldon, who was a farmer, insured the mill structure and contents for £480. The mill was at that time in the tenure of William Wilsmore, miller, (probably Thomas' son), who later appears as a miller in West Mersea.

In 1800, John Bentall, miller, deceased, was described as late of Peldon, apparently related to Arthur Bentall of Felsted, miller.

In 1820 James Digby of Birch, miller, grants a 14 year lease to George Cooper of Peldon, miller, at a rent of £80 per annum; as a tenant he is obliged to keep the mill in good repair. George Cooper is listed in the Pigot's Trade directories as the Peldon Miller in 1827, 1828, 1832 and 1835. An earlier document Essex Poll Book and Election Register of 1810 gives James Digby as living in Little Birch with a freehold in Peldon - the land or building not specified. The Essex Poll book of 1830 records James Digby senior, as the mill owner and George Cooper as occupier. James dies in 1834 (the year the lease to George Cooper expires) and in 1840 Mrs Martha Digby, his widow is listed as both owner and occupier. She dies in 1844 and Joseph, her son, appears in the Kelly's Trade Directory that year as running Peldon Mill.

In Trade directories and censuses between 1844 and 1906 there are three millers named, Joseph Digby, William Went and George Frederick Smith (who was also the miller at West Mersea).

Kelly's Trade Directories

1844 Joseph Digby - Miller
1855 Joseph Digby - Farmer and Miller
1863 Joseph Digby - Corn Miller
1874 (Joseph Digby is listed as a farmer) William Went - Miller
1882 William Went - Miller
1894 George Frederick Smith - Miller (steam and wind) and at West Mersea
1902 George Frederick Smith - Miller (steam and wind) and at West Mersea
1914 no miller listed in Peldon, by now the mill has been demolished.

Joseph Digby

In 1841 Joseph Digby aged 25 is a Miller in Peldon as is Henry Miller aged 27, his brother. During the 1840s, Henry was to go on to lease Bourne and Cannock Mills in Colchester, both newly changed from fulling to corn mills. Both Joseph and Henry were sons of James Digby. In this census they are also living with Joseph's wife, Anne aged 24 and two children Ann and Joseph.

In 1851 the address is given as Mersea Road and Joseph is listed as having been born in Birch and Ann Eliza in London, Middlesex. They also have Ann's mother, Jemima Birkin aged 66, children Joseph, Samuel and Emily plus son Henry Birkin Digby aged 5, a carter called Joseph Digby aged 17 from Bloomfield and a servant Mary Ann Finch.

In 1861 Joseph is listed as a Miller and Farmer as is his son Joseph - all three children, Joseph, Emily and Henry are listed as born in Peldon. Charles Mortlock from Peldon aged 22 is also employed as a miller and they have a female servant.

In 1864 Joseph, who had occupied the freehold premises for nearly 30 years offered them for sale together with the mealing business and oat, corn and pork butchery trades. The superior Strood Mill has three pairs of stones, modern iron bridgings and going gears, a pair of patent sails, self-acting winding apparatus' and a substantial brick roundhouse.

In 1871 Ann E Digby is described as a farmer's wife aged 54, born in Lizard St; Middlesex living with her son Henry B Digby aged 24 and a female servant. They are living in Moor Farm while just up the road William Went is now living in Mill House. Joseph isn't at home for this census.

By 1881 they have moved to Camberwell and Joseph aged 65 is described as a retired farmer. He dies in 1884.

William Went

In 1841 William Went is living with his parents in the St. Giles area of Colchester. He was born in Ardleigh in around 1832.

In 1851 William, an apprentice miller aged 18 is living with his mother and four sisters in the St. James area of Colchester.

In 1861 he is 28, living at Mill House, St James, Near East Street, married and a miller/journeyman

In 1871 he has moved into Mill House, Peldon, aged 38 he employs two men and has his wife, Amelia aged 37, a daughter and two sons, the youngest Edwin R is 6 months old and was born in Peldon. Maria Greenleaf is a servant (born in Abberton).

In 1881 he is 48 and still at Mill House, Peldon employing two men, with his wife Amelia Harriet, three sons and a daughter - the two youngest boys born in Peldon. William employs two men and they have a female servant from W Mersea.

William dies in 1884 aged 51. Amelia had just lost her husband when the 1884 earthquake struck her home and business as we learn from this report.

Perhaps the saddest case of loss and discomfort - in the midst of thousands of illustrations of damage done by the shock - presented itself at the residence and business-place of Mrs Went (recently made a widow), Peldon Mill. The house was so far cracked and beaten about that access to the upper rooms could not be obtained by reason of the debris. The south wall bulged in a most threatening manner. The scene at the time of the shock must have been alarming, for furniture and glass were thrown about as if the building had had to resist a cannon ball. The mill itself was not damaged but the round house (brick) on which it rested) had deep fissures in the walls. The shaft of the engine house had been cut in halves about midway up as if by a sword, and the upper portion was considerably twisted. A miller's cottage adjoining was so much damaged that only the kitchen - and that not with safety - was available for shelter day and night, and this was all that nine persons had for household accommodation! 1884 Essex Earthquake Report Pages 36 and 37 Mersea Museum

Raphael Meldola's report on the earthquake goes into considerable detail

Peldon Mill, south east of the village, on the Mersea Road, opposite The Rose Inn, and the adjoining buildings were considerably damaged, the upper part of Mrs Went's house having been choked up with brickwork and debris on the morning of the disturbance. Mr Wilson Marriage, in a letter dated April25th [1884] states that the house was cracked in all directions, and it will probably have to be entirely rebuilt. The inmates described the sensation as being thrown 'against the walls and inducing a clinging to anything for support'. Glass and crockery was thrown down and broken, bedsteads, piano and furniture moved about 9 inches from their positions. A square, slightly tapering engine chimney-shaft, about 80 feet high and 4 feet square at the middle, well and strongly built of brick, and standing detached from the other buildings, was fractured transversely at about 10 feet from the top, and the upper part left standing, but twisted round about an inch or more in the direction from W to E. The woodwork of the mill itself did not appear much injured, but the circular brick foundation was cracked in several places. A cottage near the mill was rent all over, one crack at the North end running transversely through the brickwork, with an inclination towards the East of about 30 - 40 degrees with the horizon.

Amelia dies in 1886.

In the 1891 census Arthur Henry Went, William and Amelia's son, (born in 1864) is living with his wife, Emilie, in Mill Cottage next door to Mill House where his sister Emma Went and brother Francis Went are living. Francis is also described as a miller.

According to Edith Smith's Diary (Mersea Museum), in January 1893 Arthur moves to the Abberton Lion Public House and by November 1895 the White Hart Hotel, West Mersea. He appears in the 1901 census at the White Hart while brother Francis is lodging in Colchester; he is still working as a miller. Arthur Went stayed at the White Hart at West Mersea until he died in 1932. His grave is in Barfield Road cemetery.

George Frederick Smith

George and his wife, Mary Overall Smith are the millers and bakers at West Mersea and they take over Wents Mill by 1894. Mary appears aged 7 in the 1861 census for Peldon at Brick House Farm, her maternal grandfather's house, farmer Stephen Overall. In the 1901 census George and Mary are living in Mill House, Mersea. He is 51 and born in Nayland. She is 48 (censuses differ as to whether she was born in Peldon or Mundon). They have seven boys and 5 girls; two sons, Preston Grove aged 19 and Frederick George aged 22 are both bakers. George is named as the Peldon miller in the Kelly's Trade directory of 1902.
George dies in April 1902. Mary continues to run the West Mersea Mill but the Peldon Mill is sold and subsequently demolished around 1906.

Evidence of another windmill

In Philip Morant's History of Essex printed in 1768, he describes what Peldon Manor consisted of in 1282 one messuage [house and outbuildings], 260 acres of arable and one wind-mill. On the 1838 tithe map a field near Peldon Hall is named as Mill Field.

The Peldon Water Mill

In his book Essex At Work 1700 - 1815, Arthur Brown mentions that Peldon Hall Farm has a quay [at The Strood] and refers to a tide mill

convenient for the shipping of corn or landing manure...Strood tidal mill, at Mersea, could load its flour into ships of considerable burden as could the tidal mills at Fingringhoe, St Osyth and Heybridge.

and in Some Essex Water Mills, Hervey Benham gives more detail

Another mill that fell down was the less ambitious, or at least, less successful, venture at Mersea Strood. Here at the [Peldon] end a long muddy pool between the road and the sea wall still fills and empties each tide through a culvert beside a little quay. This was part of a tide-mill built about 1734 according to an advertisement 35 years later (1769) for the sale of 'the late Stroud Mill' with the right to build a new tide mill on the site of a mill lately demolished having 'recently had the upper buildings fall down'.

It is of course possible there was an earlier tide mill on this site but it is nowhere referred to; the nearby mill house was associated with the better-known post mill which stood nearby. If not this mill must be given the doubtful distinction of the shortest life-span of them all.

In their book of 2004, Garon and Fautley found records giving the history of the tide mill and an explanation as to how it worked.

The mill must have dated back to before 1551 because records show that the buildings were demolished in that year. It was rebuilt in 1560 and again in 1734. Part of the mill soon collapsed, and the whole structure had to be pulled down in 1769. However, the mill quay continued in commercial use for many years and was used just after the Second World War to offload Kentish ragstone for sea-wall defences.

Beside the road you can still see the remains of the mill-pond. This pond was filled by the rising tide and this head of water turned a water wheel as the sea subsided again. The machinery could therefore only operate for a few hours after each high tide and therefore....there was an accompanying windmill to provide more power.

The Essex Coastline - then and now J.H. Garon and M.P.B. Fautley

There is a reference in the Strood Charity Accounts for 1559 to repairs to the roadway at the furthest end of the Strood against the Mill House. It seems most likely the Mill House was for a Tide Mill at this site, as it is some distance from the Post Mill mentioned earlier.

It[e]m to John goodin for makyng of a watterwaye on the Este syde of the pyls & for beatyng in of the cartrakes at the furdest Eend of the strowd agenst the mell howsse
[ERO ref D/P 77/25/1]

Translation
Item: to John Goodin for making of a waterway on the East side of the piles and for beating in of the cartrakes [ruts] at the furthest end of the Strood against the mill house

More details of this Tide Mill appear in a West Mersea Court Roll c1564. The following is translated from the Latin.

John Harvey & Alice his wife for a license to lease from Richard [P]order [?] Clerk, & Elizabeth his wife the total mill together with the appurtenances called Strood Mill containing 1 corn mill & 3 fulling mill stooks & I tenement called the fulling house and 2 crofts of land called Vale & Southwoods containing by estimation 12 acres, 1 messuage or tenement called Pulfyns & 5 parcels of meadow and pasture, appertaining to the messuage, called Lookers, Apes Close, Pulfyns meadow, Wickfields & Bermans.

However a West Mersea Court Roll c.1569 contains the following

"It is presented that the water mill called Strood Mill is in decay & ruinous and is not preserved or maintained". It then goes on to say that it was ordered at the last court that it should be repaired.

The Strood 
 looking south towards Mersea

A photograph looking south towards Mersea showing the Strood with the mill pond on the left and a barge at the now redundant quay just beyond. c1930

North end of the Strood looking towards Peldon

An aerial view around of the millpond alongside the Strood. A tide mill stood here until 1769, just off the bottom of the picture. View looking north around 1960.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project June 2018

Thanks to
Ron Green
Sue Howlett
Tony Millatt
Wendy Smedley

Mersea Museum references

Report on East Anglian Earthquake of 1884 by Raphael Meldola and William White Report on Essex Earthquake MAW
1884 Essex Earthquake Report JB01_EREP
Edith Smith Diaries MMC_P765

Author: Elaine Barker
June 2018

Related Images

 Earthquake 1884. Went's Mill, Peldon.
 From left, Peldon Steam Mill, Windmill and Peldon Mill House damaged by the Colchester Earthquake of 2 April 1884 which was centred on Langenhoe. The mills were not damaged by the earthquake. [AS]  ALS_C20_063ALS_C20_063
Earthquake 1884. Went's Mill, Peldon.
From left, Peldon Steam Mill, Windmill and Peldon Mill House damaged by the "Colchester Earthquake" of 2 April 1884 which was centred on Langenhoe. The mills were not damaged by the earthquake. [AS]
cMay 1884
 Peldon Steam Mill and Windmill, looking towards the Rose Inn. Posted to Miss Smith at the Fountain, West Mersea - it has no date on it.
 The windmill was demolished 1906.  MMC_P755_117MMC_P755_117
Peldon Steam Mill and Windmill, looking towards the Rose Inn. Posted to Miss Smith at the Fountain, West Mersea - it has no date on it.
The windmill was demolished 1906.
Before 1900.
 Peldon windmill was was on the main road almost opposite the Peldon Rose. The windmill had double shuttered anti-clockwise Patent sails driving three pairs of 4 foot burr stones. We do not have details of the steam mill. 
 The windmill was demolished in 1906. We do not know when the steam mill was demolished. [Alan Smith]
 The Mill House is still there.  RG03_399RG03_399
Peldon windmill was was on the main road almost opposite the Peldon Rose. The windmill had double shuttered anti-clockwise Patent sails driving three pairs of 4 foot burr stones. We do not have details of the steam mill.
The windmill was demolished in 1906. We do not know when the steam mill was demolished. [Alan Smith]
The Mill House is still there.
Before 1900
ID: PH01_PML
Source: Mersea Museum