The History of the Mill

With our thanks to Mark Barnard of Suffolk County Council

Holton Post Mill occupies a fine windmill site above the village and a mill has probably stood here since medieval times. As the mill and its half-acre plot of common land were held copyhold of the manor of Wissett and le Roos, changes of ownership over the years were recorded in the court books. Eleven court books, covering the period 1652-1894, as well as the mill deeds, are deposited at the Suffolk Record Office (Ipswich branch) and have proved invaluable in compiling this history.

The earliest reference which has been identified in the manor court books is in July 1702, when Francis Nocke was admitted as copyholder upon surrender of John Goodell. (Prior to this date the entries are illegible except to a specialist.) In October 1721 William Leeder was admitted as copyholder. The association of the Fiske family with Holton mill started in October 1722 with the admission of James Fiske, and continued with Thomas Fiske who became copyholder in July 1732. Thomas and Susannah Fiske surrended copyhold to Henry Fiske of Colchester in April 1742. His nephew, William Fiske, was in turn admitted copyholder on 29th August 1759, when it was stipulated that the half-acre mill plot was ‘not to be enclosed or ploughed’.

The mill was advertised for sale in the Ipswich Journal of 28th March 1761, being described as a ‘Well- accustomed WINDMILL with all the Sails, Stones, Gears, Implements, and Appurtenances thereto belonging‘. It could not have been sold, for on 1st March 1763 William Fiske mortgaged the mill to Henry Negus the younger of Bungay for £47 12s Od, the sum to be repaid by 1st June the following year. In October 1764 Fiske again mortgaged the property to Henry Negus for one year, to the sum of £40, and at the same time granted rights to the mill in perpetuity to Brame Oxford, a miller from Old Buckenham in Norfolk.

This was in effect a change of ownership, and Oxford was admitted as copyholder in March 1765, at the same time enclosing an area of waste land near the mill. In 1773 Oxford used Holton mill, together with another windmill he owned at Old Buckenham, as security for a loan of £300 from Henry Negus.

The earliest surviving insurance certificate, Sun Fire Office No.327542, of 1766, is endorsed with the names of Negus and Oxford. In 1773 the mill was insured for loss or damage by fire for the sum of £100, and a ‘stud and tiled’ house also for £100.

A little light is thrown on the trade of Brame Oxford as a result of his bankruptcy in 1778. He had been in partnership with Thomas Rockhill of Wenhaston for two years as a corn and flour merchant. They bought large quantities of grain, re-selling the majority of it wholesale, and grinding the rest into meal and flour. Like some other millers, they also dealt in coal. They became indebted to one Richard Dresser of Blyford to the sum of over £154 for wheat he had delivered to them.

In 1779 the mill property was bought by James Tillott, a carpenter from Halesworth, for £370. In the ‘Bargain & Sale of Copyhold’ it is described as

‘all that Messuage or Tenement late of the said Brame Oxford with the Stable and all the Granarys Outhouses Yards and Appurtenances thereto belonging – And also of All that Piece of Land situate and being in Holton aforesaid being Parcel of the Common Pasture of Holton called Holton Hills containing by Estimation half an Acre together with the Windmill now standing and being thereon…’

Samuel Barrell is recorded as miller at Holton in the Register of Baptisms in 1816 and 1818, and in 1829 William Taylor was miller. In 1820, on the death of James Tillott, ownership passed to his son, John Tillott, of Wissett Lodge. Subsequently his son, also John, became owner.

In 1835, following the death of the second John Tillott, the mill was advertised for sale by auction as part of Tillott’s estate. Lot 6 comprised

At HOLTON – A capital POST-WINDMILL, with Brick Round House, two pair French Stones, 4ft. 7in., and one pair, 4ft, Flour Mill, and the usual going Gears. Also, a Brick and Tiled DWELLING-HOUSE, divided into Three Tenements, lean-to Sheds, and other Outbuildings, Yards, and Garden, in the occupation of William Taylor, Scrutton and Butcher.

The reference to two pairs of 4ft 7ins stones is clearly wrong. All other descriptions (including another the same year) mention just two pairs in total and the mill is too small to have contained three pairs. The dwelling house referred to is the most northerly of the four detached cottages fronting Mill Road immediately below the mill. The miller, William Taylor, lived in the tenement at the south end, still called Mill Cottage. Lots 7- 9 comprised the other three cottages, each of which was divided into two tenements. Unlike the mill and its half-acre plot, all the dwellings were freehold.

At the auction the mill was bought by Samuel Wilkinson, a miller from Blythburgh, for £600. To raise the money he obtained a mortgage of £550 from Mrs. Julia Barnby of Halesworth, and in 1842 he arranged a further mortgage of £115 from Rev. Benjamin Philpot of Great Cressingham, Norfolk. William Taylor continued as miller during Wilkinson’s ownership.

By 1835 the mill structure (including sails) was insured for £200, and the machinery, namely ‘Standing and going gears two pair of mill stones wire machines and Dressing Mills’, for £50.

Unfortunately, by 1842 Wilkinson was unable to meet his debts and Julia Barnby, as mortgagee, assumed ownership. In the following year his land holdings at Blythburgh and Holton were advertised for sale by auction. The miller, William Taylor, had just over seven years of his lease granted by Wilkinson to run, and paid a rent of £30 a year for the mill and house. By this time he was assisted by his son, also William. The mill did not sell, and when William Taylor senior died in 1845 his son became sole miller, although the 1851 Census also records a young journeyman miller, Thomas Beckett.

The mill property was finally sold in 1851 for £390. The buyer was John Youngs of Wenhaston, who installed his son and trustee in the sale, Edward Gotta Youngs, as miller and copyhold tenant. When John Youngs died in 1861 the mill was again put up for auction, being described as ‘an excellent Post Wind-mill, brick round house, and spacious granary, stable and outbuildings, all in thorough repair…’.

Both the mill and cottage below were bought by Andrew Johnston of Holton Hall and became part of the extensive Holton Hall estate. Edward Gotta Youngs remained miller until about 1870 when he went to Blackheath post mill, Wenhaston. His successor, John Cox, was in turn replaced by William Gipson in 1873.

The Holton Hall estate was offered for sale at a major auction in July 1886. The vendor was Thomas Buxton, who had been Andrew Johnston’s mortgagee. The mill was offered for sale freehold, having been enfranchised in 1873. The mill and miller’s house were on a yearly tenancy at an annual rental of £27 10s Od. As well as the house there was a stable and engine shed, steam power being recorded as an auxiliary power source in trades directories from 1883. These outbuildings, some of which still stand, were directly behind the miller’s house.

The mill was probably not sold at the 1886 auction, for on one auction catalogue the mill lot is annotated ‘£300 withdrawn’. William Gipson is recorded as miller in trades directories until 1896, but the mill is marked ‘disused’ on the 1903 revision of the 25-inch Ordnance Survey map. A Suffolk miller, Mr. Cole of Stradbroke, is recorded as stating that it stopped about 1904 when in good order. Gipson could not have retired, for he was only 51 in 1896, so exactly why the mill ceased work is unclear. Notes collected by Stanley Freese record that the mill was damaged in a gale in c.1895 and repaired by Ted Friend, a millwright from Wenhaston. It is also recorded that the mill was worked on Sundays to annoy churchgoers!

The mill as it stands today is the result of a great deal of alteration over the years and was accurately described by Neville Martin’s workers who carried out the 1960’s restoration as ‘all bits’. The original buck is framed in oak and is 11ft 8ins long by 9ft 3ins wide overall (measured on the spout floor). The side girts have several carved inscriptions, the earliest of which appears to be ‘T H 1745’. This is followed by ‘F + Swan 1749’, ‘M Chandler 1752’, ‘? x Swan 1753’, ‘I x Lungley 1753’, ‘John Swan 1754’, ‘I x B 1755! and ‘James Brown 17?7?’. A further carved name, ‘W + Bedwell’, has lost its date, but from its position it is likely to be earlier than 1750. No other 18th century dates, or carvings of comparable quality, have been found in the mill. The reason for the carving of all these dates within a ten year period is unclear. While they may indicate a rebuilding of the mill, this must remain speculation. None of the names has been definitely linked to the parish (although a John Swan, one of a Family of Halesworth millers, died in 1771), and at least some are likely to be journeyman millers. All the inscriptions are on the rear 3-4ft of the side girts, close to the original floor level, while the centre and front portions of these timbers are completely clean. One interpretation is that during this time the mill contained only a single pair of stones, on a half-floor in the head, leaving the centre and tail more open, providing ample opportunity for the carving we see today.

The increase in the insured value of the mill from £100 in 1773 to £250 in 1835 reflects a modernisation which was carried out during this time. The extent of this work can still be made out today. Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of the brick roundhouse. Its semi-basement provided additional storage without increasing the overall height of the mill, saving on the cost of a new ladder and sails (which had to be reached from the ground). The base of the post just above the horns is heavily weathered, convincing evidence that prior to the construction of the roundhouse the mill had an open trestle. The lower half of the post was octagonal, but when enclosed it was made round, and much of the weathered face was removed in the process. Most probably this was a deliberate attempt to ‘clean up’ the post, to match the cross-trees and quarter-bars, for these timbers must have been renewed at this time as they are entirely unweathered. The post is small for the size of the buck, the top of the upper section, also octagonal, measuring just under 16ins across flats.

Another principal component which has been renewed is the crowntree. The old crowntree was tenoned into the side girts, and to remove it the tenons were sawn through, leaving the blocked mortices, 20ins long by 3kins wide, visible today. It would seem that the mill was not dismantled to carry out this major task, as the peg holes in the side girts and upper side rails align exactly. The side girt – corner post joints, as far as can be seen, also appear undisturbed. The new oak crowntree, 23ins square and still in perfect condition, was lap-dovetailed into the underside of the side girts in the normal manner. As the original side girts, weakened by the mortices at their point of maximum stress, had started to fail (the right hand one is cracked), they were reinforced by secondary oak girts set immediately above.

The buck was extended at the head by 2ft 4ins (as measured along the side of the spout floor) and at the tail by a similar amount, to give an overall length of 16ft 4ins. This provided space for a second pair of stones and the auxillary machines referred to in the 1835 insurance policy.

The head extension tapers back to the end of the original upper side rails, giving a distinctive forward-sloping breast, thought to be unique in surviving English post mills (although recorded at nearby Middleton and Sibton mills). The addition is well-framed, with pitch pine false corner posts supported by diagonally-braced oak sub-framing at each side. Some of the oak is nicely shaped and clearly re-used..As built, the upper side rails extended beyond the corner posts by about 15ins, probably once carried on curved brackets like the jetty of a house. The weatherbeam thus projected well forward of the breast. This is a feature of older or more primitive post mills, designed to allow sails to clear crosstrees when the windshaft was inclined at a shallow angle.

The top side rails also carry on beyond the rear corner posts, supporting an oak transverse beam, apparently original and in situ, more or less on the line of the later extension. This transverse beam contains pegged mortices for one central stud above and three studs below. On the spout floor the corner posts contain the mortices for the transverse beam which formed the head of the original doorway, at a near-identical height (approximately 5ft) to the present doorway. Unfortunately the rear false corner posts are now boxed-in with 1960’s timber, but are said to be pine. From the evidence it would seem that the roof and upper part of the buck projected at the rear. The sheers carry on under the tail extension where they would have formed the basis for the rear platform, perhaps with some sort of open porch. There are photographs of other Suffolk post mills with similar rear overhangs: for example, Earl Stonham, Stonham Aspal and Kent’s Mill, Mendlesham. Such an excrescence could have housed an auxillary machine such as a bolter, and the oak transverse beam referred to above has score marks from a large pulleywheel within a cut-back section on its right hand forward face.

It seems likely that much of the intermediate framing of the original buck was renewed during this early 19th century modernisation. Almost certainly dating from this time are the unique diagonal braces in each side frame, extending down from the ends of each side girt and halved over each other. Unlike the original studding, the side girt mortices for these timbers are not pegged. Only the right hand pair of these crossed braces now Survive, and even these are faced with the 1960’s softwood which is so characteristic of the interior. Such was the extent of renewal in the 1960’s that very little secondary framing survives with certainty from the mill’s working days. The roof, which would have been raised and enlarged in the 19th century to permit the construction of a bin floor, has been entirely rebuilt.

The only photograph to show the mill in working order is an undated view from the road. The poll-end is projecting well in front of the sails, indicating a wooden windshaft. The old clamps in place until the 1960’s were cut to clear a wooden poll-end. As the present shaft is iron, it must have been replaced fairly late in the mill’s working life. The tailbeam is of pitchpine, and seems contemporary with the installation of the windshaft. The sprattle beam, of oak, could also be late; it contains the heavily oil-stained glut box for the stone spindle. The brakewheel is of all-wood clasp-arm construction, with a diameter of 7ft QYins. The bearers for the head stones are still in place, a very neat and well-finished piece of work in pitch pine. This is clearly a replacement floor as there are blocked mortices in the crowntree for earlier joists. The tentering arrangement for the head stones (fairly conventional) can still be worked out, but all of the parts, with the exception of a hanger for the brayer, have long gone.

Physical evidence for the tailstones all but disappeared when the tail half of the stone floor was rebuilt at a lower level in the early 20th century (the assumed date for the removal of all the machinery except windshaft and brakewheel). The only evidence of tailstones that can be seen today is a mounting for a tailwheel on the windshaft, cut-aways for the tailwheel cogs on the tailbeam (giving an approximate diameter of 5ft 10ins for the wheel), mortices for tailstone bearers in the crowntree and a small wooden pulley fixed to the right corner post, below the old stone floor level, presumably for a crook string. The last tail stones were set well back and the final form of the rear half of the stone floor is unclear. As much as can be gleaned from visible evidence is shown on the accompanying plan. In 1965 the remnants of the sack-hoist could still be seen in the roof, but this disappeared when the roof was rebuilt the following year.