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Eleventh century water mills

In total the Domesday Book refers to seven mills in lands held by Robert Malet in and around Barrowby. They would have been water-powered and used for grinding corn. The earliest windmills and fulling mills in England are thought to date from at least a hundred years after 1086.

Anglo-Saxon mills were fairly small. The water flowed down a sluice which had a moveable 'gate' to enable to volume of water to be adjusted. This needed to be done carefully to prevent the millstone rotating too fast and creating excessive vibration. A 'leat' allowed any excess water to bypass the mill. The water from the sluice impinged on a simple horizontal 'wheel' made from a thick timber shaft with four or more blades around the base. The top of the shaft was connected to the upper millstone, causing it to rotate. The lower millstone was static. A simple but effective wooden wedge enabled the gap between the two millstones to be finely adjusted, depending on the quality of flour required.

Sketch of typical horizonal watermill.

Horizontal water mills ceased to be built once vertical wheels – with gears to transfer power more efficiently to the millstones – had been invented.

The annual value of the mills was given in Domesday Book as:–

    Sedgebrook  3 mills   16 shillings
    Barrowby     1 mill       5 shillings
    Stenwith      1 mill       4 shillings
    Casthorpe    2 mills      4 shillings

This tells us that not all mills were equal – for example, the two at Casthorpe together did not generate as much income as the average for the three at Sedgebrook. Size of the grinding wheels may have differed, possibly the state of repair was variable and – perhaps the main factor – the flow of available water would have been different.

As already stated, I doubt very much that it was simply coincidence that Robert Malet had a monopoly on the water mills. Milling grain by hand is simply too laborious. Yet the cost of building a water mill and adjusting the watercourse accordingly was seriously expensive. So 'centralising' milling at a small number of mills made sense.

It is not any coincidence that the Old English word for 'lord' was hlaford which is a contraction of hlaf ward or 'loaf ward(en)'. From the perspective of villagers, Anglo-Saxon lords really did 'give us this day our daily bread' as they maintained granaries to mitigate against famine if weather or pests reduced grain yields.

    Old English translations of the Bible used hlaford to translate the Greek kyrios and Latin dominus ('lord' or 'master'; frequently used to refer to Christ). This was especially apt as the transubstantiation of bread into the body of Christ is the purpose of the Eucharist rite. Hlaford evolved into two modern English words:- 'lord' and 'loaf', although the associations of lords with bread have been lost.

Quite reasonably the mills in and around Barrowby were already in existence before Godwin held most of the lands in the mid-eleventh century, although substantial repairs would no doubt be needed every decade or so.

As all the watercourses available are comparatively small then it must have made sense to have at least seven to call upon. The value of the mills given above indicate that the watercourses associated with Sedgebrook were the most suitable (there are two north-flowing streams, one passing near the manor and the other through the site of Newbro abbey) while those at Casthorpe maybe only operated intermittently when the water flow was sufficient.


Barrowby's mill was almost certainly in the lowest part of the parish to the east, between High and Low Roads. More probably it was to the south, close to Low Road. The sheep wash shown on 1887 map just might be the successor to a mill pond, mill leat, or even the mill itself.

In the medieval period the flow of water along these streams was sufficient to supply Grantham with water (see conduit.htm).

Detail of the 1887 OS map showing the watercourses to the north of Low Road.


The Old Beck flows almost due north, passing close to
Casthorpe House Farm, then on to the eastern side of Sedgebrook.

The 1888 OS showing the location of Casthorpe House Farm close to the course of the Old Beck. While there is no direct evidence, in all probability one of Casthorpe's eleventh century mills was close to where the Old Beck crossed the road.

Casthorpe Farm (not to be confused with Casthorpe House Farm) is also in close proximity to watercourses. This may have been the location of the second mill referred to in the Domesday Book.


The waterside property known today as 'Stenwith Mill Farm' at the side of the River Devon is quite likely to be on the site of the mill mentioned in Domesday Book. In addition to the twentieth century farm buildings there is the lower part of a brick windmill, probably built in the nineteenth century. Yes, a windmill in the bottom of a shallow valley. Photograph taken August 2021.

There's another example of a windmill in a shallow valley near Gaddesby in Leicestershire. The water flow along the brook was too erratic for reliable milling so the proprietor built a windmill on his land. In the last decades of operation the windmill was converted to a stationary diesel engine. Presumably something similar happened at Stenwith.

L.R. Cryer provides a list of the owners of Stenwith mill from the nineteenth century onwards. At one time there was a bakehouse nearby. And in the grounds of the farm a Mission Hall; this was demolished, seemingly around 1960. (Cryer 1979 p42–3.)


There are two watercourses running from south to north either side of Sedgebrook village. Both are likely to have once had watermills.

The village name tells us that the area once was known for sedges growing along a brook. Sedge and brook are both Old English words. But, significantly, the watercourse nearest to Barrowby is known as the Old Beck – and 'beck' is the Scandinavian word for a brook. Presumably Sedgebrook had fewer Scandinavian settlers than Barrowby or Stenwith (see place-names).

Although there is no direct evidence for such mills there are two places where such mills are likely to have once existed.

Mills need to be near water and roads. So the Washdike Bridge, where the Old Beck is crossed by the A52, is a likely location.

Manor houses were also likely to have a mill nearby – both for practical and 'status' reasons. The moated site and manor to the north of Sedgebrook church would almost certainly have had a mill.

These two maps indicate that the natural watercourses had been straightened, presumably to improve the flow of water. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815 a great many French prisoners of war were 'kept busy' by digging drainage ditches and other such heavy labour. Whether or not this was the case at Sedgebrook is, however, an open question.

'Sedgebrook Mill', Muston

According to the 1887 OS map a watermill was still operating to the south-east of Muston. It is shown as 'Sedgebrook Mill (corn)' – even though it is some distance from Sedgebrook and on the River Devon, which does not flow through Sedgebrook.

Presumably this is a successor to a watermill in Sedgebrook – the name was retained even though the location changed.

Modern maps show it as Mill Farm – although the farm buildings are now about 500 yards to the east, away from the risk of flooding.

A slim possibility of a hammer mill for iron-making?

The mention of a mill in the Domesday Book is usually taken as evidence for a corn mill. Because of the availability of iron ore around Barrowby there is just a possibility that one or more of these mills was used for converting iron ore into iron using the 'blooming' process, which required extensive hammering. The place-name Hammerwich in Staffordshire is taken as evidence for an Anglo-Saxon 'hammer mill' used for iron-making. However a hammer mill could have been powered by a draught animal rather than water. Other than the availability of iron ore there is no reason to think that the Barrowby mills were hammer mills rather than for grinding corn.

Excavating old mills

For some idea of the difficulties of excavating old mills see this Time Team episode, recorded in Devon.

Later windmills in Barrowby

The 1888 Ordnance Survey map shows a windmill to the north of the field which is north of what is now the recreation ground.
See Google Maps if you're getting a tad confused.

The only evidence now is two houses known as The Mill House and Mill Grange. The land where the mill once stood is currently a pony paddock, shown in the photograph below.


The 1888 Ordnance Survey map has the name 'Mill Hill' to the north of the junction of Rectory Lane with the A52. Clearly there was no longer a mill there by this date. There was a mound in the nineteenth century but this has since been completely ploughed away. Such mounds are evidence for a wooden post mill.

What do we know about these two windmills?

Successive editions of White's Directory give the names of the millers in Barrowby. In 1848 it was George Morris, in 1856 William Grosse, 1861 William Rawdings and in 1868 George Heald. Why did they not stay very long? Was it not a very profitable mill?

And why only one miller when there might have once been two mills operating in Barrowby? This seems to be confirmation that the one north of the A52 went out of use around the time the one near Casthorpe Road was built in 1870. Indeed it might have been the same structure moved to a new location.

There is no record of when the windmill on Mill Hill was built. But it goes back to the seventeenth century as the miller was paying two pounds a year in rent in 1666. This mill is shown on the Enclosure Award map of 1763, although the mill structure may have been replaced one or more times during the decades since 1666. (Cryer 1979 p45–6; also the source for the next few paragraphs.)

Constructing and maintaining windmills was a big business as historians have estimated that by the eighteenth century there were at least 10,000 operating in England.

L.R. Cryer discovered a will dated 1 April 1770 in which there is a reference to an 'Oatmill Mill' in the tenure of William Alton. The mill had been purchased by the deceased's father, so presumably in the early decades of the eighteenth century. Quite probably this is the same mill referred to in 1666. (Cryer 1979 p26)

Cryer established that the windmill near Casthorpe Road was erected in 1870. The millwright was W.F. Swallow. It was a four-bladed post mill with a fantail. The design was invented in 1745 by Edmund Lee. (Cryer refers to an illustration of this mill, although does not reproduce it nor indicate where it might be found.)

Conveniently there was a bakery, run by T. Musson, adjoining the mill. It was still operating as a bakery in the 1970s, although the mill had long gone.

According to Cryer a steam engine was installed to provide power when the wind was insufficient. Facilities to dry the corn were also installed. However when the miller (Cryer does not name him) died his son, Frank, moved the business to Grantham (first to Wharf Road and then Bridge End Road). As a result the sails were removed in 1916 and the rest of the structure a few years later. Possibly the wood was used for an Armistice Day bonfire in 1918 – the fate of timber from many a derelict building at that time.

See also Stenwith windmill above.

More about Anglo-Saxon water mills in this video:

  • Evolving Anglo-Saxon agriculture.

    If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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  • what's new?

    Articles about Barrowby

    Barrowby's location and geology

    summary of prehistoric Barrowby

    summary of Roman Barrowby



    Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

    Nineteenth century

    nineteenth and twentieth century population

    Twentieth century

    guided walks in and around Barrowby

    there's more could be said...


    index of surnames in Cryer 1979

    Articles and web links for nearby places

    rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020

    Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
    YouTube video

    Wyville's wells

    Harston's Anglo-Saxon carvings

    Bottesford's effigies

    Grantham Canal Society

    The Grantham Canal
    All you need to know – and more – from Wikipedia

    Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations
    photos and brief details from Leicester Mercury.
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    Harlaxton History Society

    Bottesford History Group

    Grantham Civic Society

    Grantham Museum

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