Posted on

Watermills and Windmills of Middlesex (Second Edition)

Windmill gazetteer P


(1) Early mill

(2) Standing C18 according to folklore; possibly a successor to (1)

The existence of a windmill on the manor of Perivale in 1342 is regarded by local historians as evidence that the village at this time enjoyed a period of prosperity(1). Another may have existed here at a later date but the evidence is inconclusive. Martin T Mason mentions a record of a windmill in Perivale in 1600 but does not say where it occurs(2).

 According to J Allen Brown in The Chronicles of Greenford Parva, or Perivale, Past and Present (1890), a woman in her eighties then remembered being told in her childhood by very old people that a windmill stood in the area near an ancient oak tree. This indicates that it survived until at least the early eighteenth century. About the mill, if it existed, no more information appears to be available. The bulk of this section must consist of a story which is unlikely to add much to our understanding of Middlesex windmills, but which I couldn’t resist relating here. Windmills have often featured in, or been the subject of, tales of a romantic or supernatural kind; perhaps no book on them would be complete without one. I found this specimen in Allen Brown’s book, and reproduce it here in edited form. 

 Some 250 years before Allen Brown was writing there stood in the village a windmill. The miller was an unsociable sort of man named Abel Reed, who lived there alone. Nearby stood the cottage of Dame Gigs, an old widow who was regarded as a witch, and therefore shunned, by the villagers. Reed believed her to be a charlatan and took every opportunity to tell her so, with the result that no love existed between them. One day he happened to meet her while coming home from a drinking session at the inn. He was in a bold and argumentative mood from the effects of too much alcohol, and behaved threateningly towards her. She was so angered that she cursed him, declaring that within the next twelve months he would either be drowned in the Brent or crushed by his own millstones. From then on the villagers regarded him as tainted and would have nothing to do with him, so that his business fell off.

 About a year after this incident Reed disappeared, and a search was mounted for him. Mindful of Dame Gigs’ prophecy, the villagers were reluctant to enter the mill to seek him out, with the exception of the old woman herself. While climbing a tall ladder inside the mill she slipped, fell and was badly hurt. She was conveyed home while the others ventured fearfully in search of the missing miller, to make a gruesome discovery. Between the millstones were found pieces of rag and broadcloth, while pulverised bones, blood and hair told too plainly what had become of the unfortunate Reed. Dame Gigs died shortly afterwards from the effects of her fall.

 After these events no-one took on the mill and it became a ruin. No villager would pass the spot at night unless they had to, and those who did later told their friends how they had heard the moanings and shriekings of the ghosts of Abel Reed and Dame Gigs, and seen them pursue each other round the gallery of the mill.

 Eventually an old miser declared his intention of occupying the mill, despite the warnings of the villagers. Shortly afterwards he went missing, like Abel Reed before him, and all the old tales about the haunted mill were revived. However a few people, thinking he might still be alive but too ill to leave the mill in search of assistance, went there and called out to him. No answer was received. It seemed no-one could be found who was brave enough to go in, until a young man named Simon Coston, an orphan with no friends or relatives, was induced to undertake the task. He entered the mill, and a few moments later a groan, followed by a loud shriek, was heard from within it. Coston ran out exclaiming “The ghost! The ghost! Fly, fly for your lives!” The villagers ran off, not daring to look behind them.

 Soon afterwards it was found that Coston in his turn had vanished. A group of men, fortified by drink and armed with guns and pitchforks, returned to the mill and shouted out the names of the missing persons. They were answered by a hollow, sepulchral voice which bade them

“Bury me, bury me, ere you sleep,

In Perivale churchyard six feet deep.”  

Trembling, they ventured inside to find the dead body of the old man; of Simon Coston there was no sign.

 Some thirty years later, when these events were starting to be forgotten, a gentleman with his name purchased an estate at nearby Greenford and built himself a fine house there, where he lived with his wife and family. A few of the older villagers detected in him a certain resemblance to the poor orphan, but for the most part no-one suspected that he and the wealthy Squire Coston, as the newcomer came to be known, were one and the same.  Coston died shortly after 1665, apparently by committing suicide as will be seen below, and on examining his papers his executors found that he and the orphan boy were indeed the same person, and discovered the key to the mystery of the mill. When Simon entered the building he saw that the old miser had died while counting his money, and being a quick-witted fellow hit on the plan of frightening the others away from the place and then securing the money for himself. As we have seen he did this most successfully, and having conveyed the miser’s body to the place where it was found, he took the money and concealed himself until the search for him was over. When the neighbours came again he uttered the doggerell before quoted, and having seen them leave with the old miser’s body crept off in the opposite direction with his spoils. He went to London, from where he set sail for Flanders. In the latter place he gained employment in a merchant’s house, eventually becoming a successful trader himself through hard work and business acumen. Having made a handsome fortune with the aid of the miser’s savings he determined to return and enjoy it in his native place, which as we have seen he did.

 Although at one point so rich that his horses were said to be shod with silver, Coston seems to have run into financial difficulties later on. He also lost his wife in the plague, among other misfortunes, and eventually drowned himself in a pond in the grounds of his house (which one local inhabitant informed Allen Brown was said to have no bottom).

 There probably was a Simon Coston at Perivale in the seventeenth century, but how much else of the story is true is a matter for conjecture! According to Brown Coston’s house was destroyed by fire, but at the time he was writing the fishpond still remained, as did the avenue leading to the house, known as Coston’s Lane. Many of the local inhabitants had a strong aversion to going by the Lane at night, for fear of meeting Coston’s ghost which was said to haunt the vicinity of the former house, although an old waggoner said that he had gone along the Lane after dark many times and “never seen anything worse than hisself”. One man declared that on going to the field where the pond was to collect his horses he found them trembling in a state of abject terror, and saw “something white” hovering above the pond, making a great splash as it jumped into the water just as Coston was said to have done over two hundred years before. 

(1) Chanc.135/66/32

(2) M T Mason, Middlesex Windmills, Middlesex Quarterly 1953


(1) Early mill

(2) Standing C17 and after; latterly replaced by a smock mill  112903

In c1285 a windmill on the Manor of Harrow was worth five marks a year. It stood on the lord of the manor’s estate at Woodhall, to the north of the Uxbridge Road.(1)

 On May 7th 1619 the lord granted to William Crane of Stanmore an area of waste ground on Pinner Common for seventy years at a rental of twenty shillings a year on condition that he built on it within twelve months “One good stronge and substancialle wyndmylle”.(2) It seems likely that Crane worked the mill himself and that his descendants carried on the profession; in 1622 a house which had been built beside the mill was occupied by a Thomas Crane, and the family were well-known in the milling trade, owning and operating several windmills and watermills in the area(3). In 1691 the mill was in need of repair and the lord’s bailiff, Humfrey Henchman, wrote to him on 10th May informing him that a new millstone and “axle” (the latter presumably meaning the windshaft) were required, the millstone costing £10. The windshaft required only the trunk of a single tree “as David {the miller} had lately”, and this could be provided free of charge by the Steward of the manor.(4) Before the work could be carried out the miller, who was to have performed the task, died and the bailiff engaged a carpenter named John Pond to do it. It proved to be more extensive than envisaged, since the state of the mill had become much worse even in the few months which had elapsed since the need for repairs was first mentioned (it was now September), and the bailiff feared that if not rehabilitated the mill would either collapse or be pulled down by the poor inhabitants of the neighbourhood and used for firewood.(5) On 10th May the following year Pond took out a 41-year lease of the mill at a rent of £3 per year. Its terms show that he had to keep in good repair “all manner of iron worke, timber sayles, saylecloths, wheeles, milstones and all other things and utensills.”(6)

 A strong wind blew down the mill early in 1721 and the site was subsequently granted to John Blake, another carpenter, for £36 15s on condition that he built a new windmill(7). In 1733-34 he was assessed for the mill at £3 per annum(8). When he died in 1743 his elder son John took over the carpenter’s business while a younger, Samuel, became responsible for the milling side(9). The next three owners were William Jessup, who bought the mill from Samuel Blake c1752, Nehemiah Nesbit, to whom Jessup disposed of it two years later, and Thomas Nesbit, Nehemiah’s nephew and heir, who sold his inheritance to Joseph Dell in 1775. In view of their occupations – Jessup was a soap-boiler, Nehemiah Nesbit a merchant, and Thomas Nesbit a turner – it seems likely that each engaged another person as miller.(10) In 1777 Dell took out a mortgage on the windmill(11).

 There now occurred a revival of the apparent tradition of the mill being owned and operated by a carpenter. Dell, who died in 1784, was one, as were his sons (or grandsons) William and Daniel, who eventually took over the business from him(12). It was probably during the Dells’ ownership that the mill was rebuilt as a smock, with the work most likely being undertaken by a member of the family.

 Thomas Catlin of Watford acquired the site in 1826(13) and engaged the Jaques family, who hailed from Kent, as millers. Charles Jaques was miller in that year, to be followed by 1841 by James Jaques who was assisted by his two sons, Charles and James Jnr. By 1851 he had been succeeded by the latter, who appears to have run the business on his own. James was followed in his turn by his own son William.

 Shortly after buying the mill from the landlord in 1867 William installed steam-powered machinery(14), and it was probably some accident with the boiler which caused the mill to burn down one night in 1872(15). William then gave up milling, and the site of the mill became a farm, which was cleared away in the 1960s to make way for a council estate. One of the roads on the estate is named Mill Farm Close, while part of an old millstone is set into the base of a slide in a children’s playground.(16)

 From a watercolour painted in the year of its destruction we know that the mill stood on a fairly substantial brick base without a stage. The cap appears roughly similar to the Kentish type. The mill was equipped with a fantail, and the painting shows what appear to be the frames of four patent or spring sails. There is another illustration of the mill in existence, a sketch by B C Dexter which is drawn from the front and also suggests a Kentish-type cap, along with four double-shuttered sails also of Kentish design, with very narrow leading edges. Dexter was active in the 1890s, some twenty years after the mill’s demise, and I know nothing of his career before then, so it is difficult to say whether the drawing was done at first hand or copied from another illustration which has not survived. Of course it is possible that he drew the sketch entirely from his imagination.

 Druett in Pinner Through The Ages puts the site of the mill on the left-hand side of Pinner Hill Road, about five hundred yards from the crossroads, and states that another of the millstones supports the ditch at the corner with Potter Street(17).

(1)   Lambeth Palace MSS.2068

(2)   LMA Acc.76/77

(3)   Hearth Tax Returns; Frankum, see below

(4)   LMA Acc.76/1676

(5)   LMA Acc.76/1677

(6)   LMA Acc.76/193-4  

(7)   LMA Acc.76/2433; Acc.76/210

(8)   W W Druett, Pinner Through The Ages (1980), p140

(9)   LMA Acc.76/2434

(10) LMA Acc.76/1382, Acc 507/1

(11) LMA Acc.507/1

(12) Pigot’s Directory for Middlesex, 1824; Rates Book

(13) LMA Acc.507/4 p135

(14) LMA Acc.507/7 p81; Pinner Association newsletter no.32

(15) LMA Acc.507/7 p410

(16) Ibid; Frankum, see below

(17) As (8)

References obtained from W Frankum, “Windmills and Watermills of Pinner”, in The Pinn (Pinner Local History Society Journal) 1989

(62) Pinner smock mill, c1870 (Pinner Local History Society)


(1) Millwall; ten, possibly more, mills, standing between approximately 370805 and 375785

(2) Kerby Street 378814

(3) Blackwall; standing 19th century

Many must have often wondered at the origin of the name Millwall, given to the district on the west side of the peninsula known as the Isle of Dogs, and made famous by the local football team.  It lies in the fact that here, on the river bank or “wall”, there stood what were probably London’s best-known windmills. They had their origin in the expansion of commerce which occurred in the area after the Restoration, following the upheavals of the Civil War and Commonwealth. The low-lying, undeveloped and extremely fertile marshland was an ideal place for windmills. All were built near the river to take advantage of the opportunities for waterborne trade. 

 The number of mills increased, and probably fluctuated, over time; the maximum standing at any one point was probably twelve, the number shown in a 1768 painting by John Hood entitled “The Thames at Wapping”, and now at the National Maritime Museum. The first map to depict the mills is Joel Gascoyne’s of 1703, entitled “An actual Survey of the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney”, which shows seven. Nine appear on “A Prospect of Greenwich and London taken from Flamstead Hill in Greenwich Park”, drawn and engraved by Sutton Nicholls in 1723(1); all are open trestle post mills. A view of Greenwich by C du Box in 1731 with the Isle Of Dogs in the background(2) shows ten, and there are several references in insurance policy registers and sale notices to the “tenth mill”. The number is down to seven again on a map of 1750.

 Sorting out the history of the mills is not easy, since it is difficult to establish which one a particular item of information refers to. Their ownership/tenancy, and thus to some extent the names by which they were known, would have changed over the years. It also appears that some were known simultaneously by more than one name. The same person could own or hold several mills, as appears to have been the case with those called Smith’s.

 Gascoyne’s map lists the mills in the following order, going from north to south:

(1)  Brown’s Mill

(2)  Smith’s Mill

(3)    ”      “

(4)    ”      “

(5)  Baker’s Mill

(6)  Churn’s Mill (also referred to as Chinn’s, Chinner’s or China  Mill) called Tommy Tinker’s

(7)  Ward’s Mill called “Theobalds”

 In a plan contained in a report of 1796 on improvements to the Port of London eight mills are shown, and these are named as Nashe’s, Lewis’, Bingley’s, Saunders’, Pye’s, Kent’s, Stiles’ and “Oil Houses”. The three shown on a map of 1835 are Theobalds, Tommy Tinker’s and one called simply “Flour Mill”. 

 The majority of the mills were post mills, but at least two, one of which was probably the tenth (making the other the ninth), were smocks. One of the latter features in a pencil sketch of 1827 in which its site appears to be a timber yard, judging from the lengths of sawn wood which surround it. The mill has common sails and a hand-winded cap similar in shape to some on German and Danish windmills. A circular structure surrounds the base. A smock mill is also shown on a nineteenth-century print of the mills, now in the Museum of London. This also has common sails but is winded by tailpole and has a stage around its lower part on vertical supports. Confusingly a print of 1835(3) shows a smock like the Red House Mill at Battersea as depicted in an early nineteenth-century pencil sketch(4), with a domed cap at whose rear is a boxlike, pent-roofed structure for the winding gear, while another of the same year has two smocks one of which is that of 1827 while the other has a Kent-type cap with a large side-mounted chainwheel for winding(5). A possible solution to this puzzle is that there was a third smock standing at this date.

 The twelve mills shown in Hood’s painting are, from left to right, two post mills with roundhouses, one of unidentified type, four post mills, again with roundhouses, a smock mill with a stage, three more post-and-roundhouse mills, and finally another smock mill. The late T J Mason had two illustrations of windmills on the Isle of Dogs, the first depicting two post mills, one smock and one uncertain, the second again showing four one of which was a post mill with an open trestle. Presumably the mills are shown in order from north to south.(6)

 A fine watercolour painted by Miss H J J West in 1830 depicts one of the post mills in greater detail than other surviving illustrations. It is a smallish affair with a single-storey roundhouse and common sails on which the canvas is unfurled, indicating the mill is at work. There is a decorative finial on the rear roof gable. Also of note are the rope or chain which braces the tailpole to the body of the mill, and the sack slide running down one of the step strings. The lever on the tailpole is called a talthur, and is a feature of most post mills without automatic winding; it would have been hinged, enabling the miller to work it up and down and by means of a rod connecting it to the steps raise the latter off the ground thus allowing the mill body to be turned more easily into the wind.

 Some attempt will be made, based on the available (and often conflicting) evidence, to give individual accounts of each of the mills:

(1) First mill, Brown’s

The “two first windmills on Limehouse Wall” (this and one of those sometimes referred to as Smith’s) were offered for sale in 1762. In April 1781 Captain George Russell of Rotherhithe and Richard Unwins of Cripplegate Buildings, apothecary, insured their house at Marsh Wall in the tenure of Mr Brown, miller, for £175. They also insured a timber windmill nearby for £25.(7)

(2) Second mill (presumably one of Smith’s)

In May 1772 Ann Walford, who lived in Narrow Street, Limehouse, and is described as a corn chandler and slopseller, insured the windmill called the second mill for £240. Sarah Stile was tenant miller at the time.(8)

(3) “Middle” windmill

In October 1764 John Birch insured the “Hazardous Building being the Middle windmill with a Ware House under it on the wall on the east side of Limehouse Reach…in the possession of John Pyer” for the sum of £200.(9)

(4) “Fifth” windmill (Baker’s in 1703)

The Fifth Windmill on Limehouse Wall is mentioned in 1789, when a corn dealer named Philip Viner owned or rented properties nearby(10). In October 1804 the Reverend William Tooke took out an insurance policy on his “windmill called the 5th on Poplar Marsh Wall.” He paid £300 for the structure, £150 for the “standing and going gears, millstones, wire machines and dressing mills therein” and £200 for a brick-built warehouse nearby.(11)

(5) Sixth windmill

As well as the above the Reverend Tooke insured the sixth of the mills along the Wall, which he evidently also owned or tenanted, for a total of £400: £200 for the building and £100 for each for its contents and an adjacent granary(12).

(6) Chinn’s (seventh mill?)

In 1739 Ann Price and Elizabeth Coates of Wapping leased to John Mitchell, lighterman, of Stepney, for the sum of twelve pounds  per year “the windmill called the seventh mill or Chinner’s on Poplar marshland or wall facing the Thames”, the lease quaintly describing something of the fittings and machinery: “The windmill…with the culling runner 12″ thick 4′ 3 high, the culling bed stone 7″ thick 4’3″ high, the peek-runner 1/2″ thick and 5’2″ over the bedstone very much wore but 1 inch thick, brike on the neck for the shaffle, 2 top braces, a gudgeon brake, and six small box braces”.

 On Gascoyne, Chinn’s is the sixth mill; either he is mistaken as to its location or another mill had been built and was now the northerly of the mills. (That a mill is given a number, i.e. the “sixth” or the “eighth”, is not necessarily a clue to its identity since the order would have been changed from time to time by the disappearance of some mills and the construction of others. Again it is assumed that they were counted from north to south, which seems most likely).

(7) Ward’s Mill

All we know about this mill apart from its name is that at some point the lower part was converted into a beerhouse, being used for this purpose for many years and becoming known as “The Windmill”.

(8) “Tenth” mill?

In August 1779 John Beck insured a smock windmill in his ownership, which was in an uncompleted state, for £400. Perhaps it was the same as that advertised for sale in the Ipswich Journal on 28th August 1784:

“To be sold by auction by Mr Chapman (on the premises by order of the proprietor) on Tuesday 31st inst. at 12 o clock in 3 lots:

“A valuable leasehold estate, known by the Tenth Mill, on the river, situate on Poplar Walls 290 feet near the River Thames, consisting of a capital smock windmill (the compleatest in the kingdom) for grinding corn, which has 2 pairs French stones, a dressing mill, works by a horse[?], with sack tackle for unloading barges; also large and convenient granaries, which will hold 1,000 quarters; a convenient dwelling house, with some cottages,…at the same time will be sold, a large mill-boat, with sails, a skiff etc…”

 It is probable that this is the mill shown in the illustration of 1827. The mention of a “mill-boat” is significant, showing the importance of the river for the trade of the mills.

 Stephen Buckland believed that I had misidentified this mill as the southernmost when in fact it was the next one up (Ward’s, the seventh). This is quite possible as it doesn’t seem likely there should be no information about the latter apart from that given above, but leaves the question of which mill was the southern hanging altogether in the air. Mr Buckland thought Ward’s was the mill “the body of which survives” in the words of Cowper, although the latter describes a tower rather than a smock mill, unless, as I suggested, it was the brick base of the smock which remained. It is the subject of a c1840 watercolour in the Guildhall Art Collection, which can be can be consulted on computer(13).

 The following mills cannot be identified. The above-mentioned John Beck insured a brick and timber windmill, along with adjoining granaries, for £1,300 in 1788(14). Greenwood’s map of 1824-6 has two mills near Millwall Pier: one forty yards to the north of it, the other 150 yards and situated near the Catholic Church. One chronicler notes that a mill stood on the river bank opposite Strafford Street. Similarly, the identities of the mills where the following accidents occurred remain unknown. In 1738 the miller at a windmill on the Isle of Dogs had one arm and shoulder blade torn off when he was caught in the machinery; he made a good recovery in St Thomas’ Hospital and as a result became something of a celebrity, being feted by the local nobility and gentry. In July he was planning to undertake a tour of the country.(15) In February 1767 a Mrs Hewes was walking along the riverbank at Limehouse Hole, by a windmill there, when, the railing around the mill which kept people and cattle from going too close to it being down, she was struck on the head by a sail and killed(16).

 The advance of modernity in time rendered the mills obsolete, and as noted above only three were standing by 1835. A map of the Isle of Dogs published in the Illustrated London News ten years later marks only two, and one of 1859 none at all. Norie (Sailing Directions for the River Thames from London to the Nore) in 1847 states that just one mill, which was “compatarively in ruins”, remained. This more or less tallies with the situation as stated in B H Cowper’s History of Millwall in 1853. Cowper described the surviving mill’s remains, which stood on the premises of a Mr Weston, as an octagonal brick building of three floors. It had recently ceased grinding by steam, and still retained some of its machinery. The foundations of two or three other mills could still be made out. The surviving mill was actually the smock mill, which in fact still existed at the time of the 1859 map, a contemporary print showing it sailless and with a conical roof which either had replaced the original cap or was intended by the artist to represent it. If the mill was without sails the mapmaker may not of course have considered it worthy of inclusion.(17)

 At least one of the mills appears to have found its way into the writings of Charles Dickens. On page 63 of the Penguin edition of Our Mutual Friend is described the home of Gaffer Hexam, who makes a living fishing dead bodies from the Thames:

“The low building had the look of having once been a mill. There was a rotten wart of wood upon its forehead that seemed to indicate where the sails had been…the boy lifted the latch of the door, and they passed at once into a low circular room…there was a wooden bunk or berth in a corner, and in another corner a wooden stair leading above – so clumsy and steep that it was little better than a ladder…the roof of the room was not plastered, but was formed of the flooring of the room above.  This, being very old, knotted, seamed, and beamed, gave a lowering aspect to the chamber; and roof, and walls, and floor, alike abounding in old smears of flour, red-lead (or some such stain which it had probably acquired in warehousing), and damp, alike had a look of decomposition.”

 This is certainly an evocative, and not inaccurate, description of the interior of a windmill. But can we be sure the mill existed, and was not a figment of the novelist’s obviously rich imagination? It is impossible to say, but if it was a real windmill it is most likely to have stood at Millwall. The novel was written between 1865 and 1867, when nothing like the mill described by Dickens was standing in the area, but the author need not have used an actually existing building; the chances are that he was writing from memory.

 There is a second Dickensian reference to a windmill in the Millwall area on p351 of Great Expectations:

“All that water-side region of the upper and lower Pool below Bridge, was unknown ground to me, and when I struck down by the river, I found that the spot I wanted was not where I had supposed it to be, and was anything but easy to find. It was called Mill Pond Bank, Chinks’s Basin; and I had no other guide to Chinks’s Basin than the Old Green Copper Rope-Walk.

 After several times falling short of my destination and as often over-shooting it, I came unexpectedly round a corner, upon Mill Pond Bank. It was a fresh kind of place, all circumstances considered, where the wind from the river had room to turn itself round; and there were two or three trees in it, and there was the stump of a ruined windmill, and there was the Old Green Copper Rope-Walk…”

“Bridge” means London Bridge. The reviewer of the 1974 Pan edition of the novel, in which the passage appears, comments that the places mentioned all appear to be fictitious, although one of the Millwall mills was known as Chinn’s or China Mill, and “Chinks'” could be a corruption of either of these names.

 Great Expectations was published in 1860-61. As already mentioned a map of the area in 1859 showed no windmills, but Pip may have seen the body of the smock mill which could conceivably still have been standing when Dickens wrote the novel. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems that by the twentieth century all trace of the Millwall windmills had passed into history. Apart from the unsuccessful American-type example built at Shoreditch in the 1890s, and one or two wind engines for generating electricity, they were the very last to remain in use, and perhaps survive in a complete state, in London as opposed to the wider county of Middlesex.

 Elsewhere in Poplar, a windmill is shown on the 1844 Ordnance Survey map in the vicinity of Carmen Street. In the same year however what must be the same structure is mentioned in the London Gazette(16); William Hazael, miller, who was presenting a petition against bankruptcy, resided at a mill in Kerby Street off East India Road, on the west side of the railway line.

 It is not clear if the partially-completed smock mill which was insured by Thomas Luffingham for £400 in August 1779(18) was one of the Millwall mills or stood elsewhere in the parish.  

 A windmill also stood at Blackwall, and is shown in a pencil sketch of the riverside there, dated 1840. It is either a smock or a tower mill – as the sketch is unfinished it is impossible to say which – with common sails and a cap very similar to that on one of the Millwall smocks. A bulge at the rear of the latter may represent housing for manual winding gear.

(1)   British Museum, Crace Collection Folio 36 Crace Collection  Folio 36 sheets 20-24  

(2)   British Museum, Crace Collection Folio 36 Sheet 18

(3)   B Reynolds, “Windmill Hoppers” 20th October 2013

(4)   Reproduced in Farries and Mason, Windmills of Surrey and London

(5)   G Hughes, “Windmill Hoppers” 18th November 2013

(6)   Simmons Collection, Science Museum Library

(7)   Sun FIP vol.290 no. 441733, 5th April 1781

(8)   Sun FIP vol.214 no. 311114, 18th May 1772

(9)   Hand-in-Hand Fire Insurance Policy Registers, 1764, Guildhall Library Ref MS 8674/101

(10) MS11936/359/556054  

(11) Royal Exchange Fire Insurance Policy no.210588 10th October 1804

(12) Ibid

(13) Personal communication with author, March 1999

(14) Sun FIP no.541633, vol.351, 5th March 1788

(15) Stamford Mercury 27th July 1738

(16) Ibid, 26th February 1767

(17) In Samuel Carter and A M Hall, The Book of the Thames, From Its Rise To Its Fall (Virtue & Company 1859) (per Gareth Hughes, “Windmill Hoppers” June 2012)

(18) 27th February 1844

(19) Sun FIP no 417385 7th August 1779

Since the above was first published my attention has been drawn to the following material, reproduced by kind permission of Historic England, which supersedes my own research to some extent.

Survey of London volumes 43 and 44: Poplar, Blackwall and Isle Of Dogs (Hermione Hobhouse (General Editor), 1994), p375-87:

The Windmills

It was said in the 1850s that ‘when in other parts of London the wind is scarcely felt, it sweeps over this place with great strength’. (ref. 72) Even today, the Isle of Dogs is a noticeably windy place, and before development must have been ideal for windmills. Their number has been variously stated, seven being most often cited. Seven are shown on Gascoyne’s map of 1703, and Seven Mills School was named by the Inner London Education Authority to commemorate them. (ref. 73) It was thought erroneously that they dated back to medieval times.

 At the peak, in the mid-eighteenth century, there were 12 mills on the Mill Wall. There were also windmills north of these, at the lead works at Limehouse Hole and on the site of Union Docks; and there seems to have been a thirteenth mill somewhere in the marsh by the early to mid-1750s (Plates 145bb, 146b). (ref. 74)

 The earliest mill, built about 1679, was followed by five more in the 1690s and a sixth in about 1701. These were the seven mills of Gascoyne’s map (fig. 1, page 3). Two more appeared in 1710–12, a tenth in about 1718– 19, an eleventh in 1730–1, and a twelfth about ten years later. One was pulled down in the 1760s, another in 1785. Most, however, seem to have survived until the end of the eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, several were defunct or demolished, and by the mid-century none remained in operation. Cowper notes the existence of the foundations of two or three, as well as the sail-less body of Theobald’s Mill, the remains of which may have survived as late as 1884 when the site was swept by fire. (ref. 75)

 The mills, which with two known exceptions were of post type with circular or polygonal seats, were used mostly for corn-grinding to begin with, but oilseed crushing had taken over as the main activity by the late eighteenth century. Several were erected by millers and others living on the south bank of the Thames in or near Redriffe (Rotherhithe), and south-side men continued to be associated with several mills throughout the eighteenth century. There were already windmills on the Rotherhithe riverside when the first was built. (fn. e)

First Mill and Mill Adjoining (Site of Price’s Oil Works).

The First Mill – so called from its topographical position – was built on a 61-year lease of November 1730, granted by Thomas Hollis, citizen and draper of London, to Thomas Rawson, miller, of Poplar. Rawson had earlier obtained permission to build it from the Commissioners of Sewers, on providing £100 surety. The site, with 150ft of river frontage, covered three acres. (ref. 76)

 The mill was no longer in Rawson’s possession a couple of years later, and in 1735 it belonged to Nicholas Felton, miller, of Rotherhithe. A second mill, of smock type, was built on the site c1740. In 1746 Felton’s widow assigned the lease to Robert Sanders and Benjamin Carvill, millers, of Rotherhithe and Kent respectively. (ref. 77)

 In 1755 Carvill was described as a biscuit baker, of Limehouse, and by that time as well as the mills and their granaries, a brewhouse had been built. In 1770 the lease passed via Carvill’s widow to a Greenwich baker, George Wigzell, who in 1774 also obtained the freehold – to the conveyance of which the Shadwell butcher Samuel Mellish, uncle of William and Peter Mellish (see page 418), was party. Wigzell granted a 40-year repairing lease of the dilapidated premises in 1783, at a rent of £50, to George Frost of Poplar, a victualler. Part of the property, with one of the mills converted for oil-milling, was sublet by Frost the following year to Vaughan Lindsell, esquire, of Poplar. (ref. 78)

As well as the oil mill, Lindsell’s premises included a two-storey dwelling house with cellars, and a two-oven bakehouse and a granary. These last, 40ft by 30ft and 28ft by 14ft respectively, occupied the ground floor of a building, the upper parts of which were granaries used by Frost’s tenant Gray (probably Alexander Gray, the City baker who held a lease of the Second Mill), who appears to have occupied the other mill. Gray and Lindsell had joint use of the riverfront. (ref. 79)

A couple of years later, in 1786, Frost disposed of the original lease to John Garford, the prominent local oil and seed broker. The corn mill apparently occupied hitherto by Gray was subsequently used for crushing oilseed by William Garford. In 1791 he obtained a new 61-year lease of the whole three acres, later assigning the lease to John Bowman, a City brandy merchant, who also acquired the freehold from Wigzell in 1795. Eventually, the premises became Sir Charles Price’s oil mills, and the smock-mill seems to have been made into an oil refinery, probably surviving until the site was redeveloped in the 1870s. (ref. 80)

Robert Batson’s Estate: the ‘Second Mill’.

This was built on a 99-year lease granted in March 1710 by the then freeholder William Lea, citizen and fishmonger of London, to Robert Smith junior of Stepney, miller, for a consideration of £10 15s and at a rent of £2. The 80ft wide site had a river frontage of 150ft. A peculiarity of the lease was a clause denying access from the rest of Lea’s land, the intention being that the occupiers ‘are to Goe to and Come from the same from off the River of Thames only’; a further covenant banned ‘geese, ducks, turkeys, cocks, hens, or any other sort of fowls whatsoever’ from the premises. (ref. 81)

 Smith died about 1745, leaving the mill to his daughter, Rebecca, his nephew Charles Smith continuing to run it for some years. In 1764 Rebecca, the widow of a West Ham coal merchant, sold the mill, with its dwellinghouse, warehouse, kiln and granaries, to Edward Walford, a local miller, for £145. (ref. 82)

Walford’s administrator, Sarah Stiles of Ratcliff, granted a 21-year lease of the mill in 1778 to Alexander Gray, a Cheapside baker (see above), who in 1785 assigned it to John Hart, an oilman. (fn. f) Hart sold it in 1789 for £800 to his creditor Timothy Stansfield, a tobacconist, of Lower Thames Street, and in 1798 Stansfield let it to John Bowman, who a few years earlier had purchased the First Mill. Bowman’s lease expired in 1807, and it was probably then or soon after that the mill was pulled down. (ref. 83) (fn. g)

George Byng’s Estate in Northern Millwall: the ‘Third Mill’.

Thought to be earliest of the mills, the ‘Third Mill’ was built c1679 on a 61-year lease granted by Henry Williams of Rotherhithe, victualler, to James Cutting, also of Rotherhithe, miller. The site was 65ft wide with a river frontage of 100ft, and the yearly rent was 10s. The mill appears on Gascoyne’s map as ‘Browns Mill’, but it was later run by members of the local milling family, the Smiths. (ref. 85)

 In 1785 George Russell and Thomas Uwins, the then proprietors, had it pulled down and the dock serving the mill filled in. (ref. 86) The mill-seat, however, was still standing in 1798, when George Byng leased it – with a much enlarged site, giving a river frontage of 270ft – to Thomas Nairn of Wapping, baker. At 21 years, the lease was the longest possible under the terms on which Byng held the estate at that time. Whatever Nairn’s intention may have been, the mill was never restored, and a few months later he assigned the property to Thomas Spratley of Ratcliff, a boat-builder. Spratley built a dock and put down ways for laying ships and boats for repair, and in 1805 he sublet part of the site to a Wapping anchor-smith for a workshop. (ref. 87)

Richard Chevall’s Estate (Tooke Estate): Robert Smith’s Three

Three windmills were built here in the 1690s, all on 99-year leases granted by Chevall to Robert Smith, a Rotherhithe miller, probably the Robert Smith later known as Robert Smith senior of Poplar. The first was built about 1690, the second about 1692 and the third about 1697. The last two, let at a halfcrown a year each, stood on similarly sized plots, each having a river frontage of 132ft and a depth of 70ft. The plot size and rent of the earlier mill were no doubt comparable. (ref. 88)

 One mill, having become unsafe, was acquired in 1768 by a local carpenter, John Powsey, (fn. h) presumably for renovation. With the mill were a house and a 40ft-square warehouse of two storeys with garrets. Powsey assigned the property after a little over a year to William Kent, who had been running the mill for several years. In 1779 Kent also acquired the other two Smith mills, which remained in his family for some years. (ref. 90) At least one was a ruin in 1801, when its site was redeveloped as Mill Wall Foundry; the southernmost mill is shown as still functioning in a painting of 1811 (Plate 68a). (ref. 91)

William Mellish’s Estate in Northern Millwall: Baker’s Mill.

Baker’s Mill was built on a 99-year lease granted in 1694 by the then freeholder, Edward Leeds, citizen and mercer of London, to a Rotherhithe miller, Nicholas Baker, at a premium of £22. With a river frontage of 134ft, the 60ft-deep site was comparable in size to those of other local mills. The rent was 10s plus ‘one good sweet fat capon’ or a half-crown in lieu (but compare the covenant in the lease of the Second Mill, above). The intended mill was exempted from the usual covenant to maintain any buildings erected. (ref. 92)

 John Cooper the elder, a Poplar millwright, took over the lease of the premises (which included a house and granary) in 1768, but by 1770, when he and John Salter purchased the freehold of the estate, the mill had gone. The site later became the riverside portion of Mellish’s Wharf. (ref. 93) (fn. i)

George Byng’s Estate in Southern Millwall: Chinnall’s Mill.

The only one of three intended mills to be built on the ground in 1695, this was leased for 99 years to a miller called Luke Chinnall by John Lockey, the then freeholder. It is shown as ‘Chinns Mill’ on Gascoyne’s map of 1703. The plot was similar in size to those of Robert Smith’s mills to the north, built around the same time. In 1713, after Chinnall’s death, his family sold the ‘lately fallen down’ mill to John Frampton of Westminster, baker, who disposed of it a couple of years later, apparently after restoration, to John Stiles, miller, of Blackwall Marsh. (ref. 95)

 It seems to have remained in use until c1795, when cottages were built on the site by its occupier of some years, John Hart. (ref. 96)

The Ninth Mill

The Ninth Mill was built c1718–19 on a 99-year lease granted by William Lockey of Barking to William Chandler, gentleman, of Deptford. The rent of the ground, which had a river frontage of 200ft, was a half-crown a year. From 1762, when a later William Chandler, a farmer of East Ham, assigned his interest in the lease, the mill was held by a succession of Limehouse millers. One of these, Humphrey Wetton, also described as a corn chandler, dealer and chapman, occupied Chinnall’s mill too from the mid-1770s, going bankrupt about 1797. (ref. j) The mill was later run by a meal factor, Thomas Peacock, of Southwark and Shadwell, who in 1810 surrendered the property to George Byng for £800. It was still standing in 1816, when the much-reduced site was let on a short lease to a Rotherhithe shipwright, Thomas Seaton, at an annual rent of £45. He undertook to spend at least £75 erecting a cottage there.

 Generally called the Ninth Mill, this windmill was also known as Tommy Tinker’s or the Little Mill. Cowper seems to be confusing it with Chinnall’s Mill when he refers to Churn’s (that is, Chinn’s) Mill, ‘since called Tommy Tinker’s’. (ref. 98)

Theobald’s Mill

Theobald’s Mill was built c1701 on a 99-year lease granted by John Lockey of Barking to Daniel Mayhew of Rotherhithe, miller. The site had a long river front of 290ft. William Peace, another Rotherhithe miller, acquired the lease in 1763 and in the following year Peace assigned it to an oil-presser, William Smith of Poplar. In 1788 George Byng granted a new 90-year lease of the site, including the mill, apparently rebuilt as a smockmill, to a Wapping biscuit baker, Murty Cullen, at a rent of two guineas. Mayhew’s mill took the names of successive occupiers. It appears as Ward’s Mill on Gascoyne’s 1703 map, and a century later was known as Theobald’s Mill. By this time part of the ground was a shipyard, and in the mid-1830s the site became Weston’s cement and plaster works. (ref. 99)

Mill at Drunken Dock

This, the southernmost of the Mill Wall mills, was built in about 1712, probably on a lease from the freeholder, Simon Lemon. It seems to have been occupied initially by John Stiles, who also ran Baker’s Mill at this time, surviving until at least 1766. The site was later occupied by the Mast House (see page 467). (ref. 100)

Ref. 72; B = The Builder, from 1966 Building

Plate 145B View of the Isle Of Dogs from Greenwich in the 1730s

Plate 146B Painting: Limehouse Hole area looking SE in 1768, towards Batson’s Yard and the C17 mansion erected by Edward Gray

Ref.74 = RB Rate Books, Tower Hamlets Local History Library

Ref.75 = Cowper, op.cit, p18

(fn) Hart was probably the same John Hart who occupied Chinnall’s Mill for some years before developing the site, and was no doubt related to the Harts who occupied the Starch House, and later the Ferry House, at Potter’s Ferry in the first half of the C18.

John Vorsterman’s “Greenwich From One Tree Hill (before c1680), shows mills at Rotherhithe but none on the Isle Of Dogs.

Ref.76 MDR 1735/1/342; GLRO, PCS 64, p377

Ref.77 RB: MDR 1732/4/84; 1735/1/342; 1746/2/464; 1755/1/525

Ref.78 MDR 1770/5/319; 1774/404-5; TH 2609-10 (TH = Documentary collections in Tower Hamlets Local History Library)

Ref.79 TH2610

Ref.80 TH 2610-11; MDR 1788/3/317; 1791/7/167; 1793/7/348; 1795/3/74-5; OS 1867-70, 1895: GLRO, Plan of Riverside Properties to South of City Canal Entrance, March 1812, Drawer 1, Plan 7a

Ref.81 TH 2608

Ref.82 TH 2176

Ref.85 MDR 1712/2/22

Ref.86 GLRO, PCS 65, p308

Ref.87 MDR 1798/3/203; 1806/2/176

Ref.88 MDR1712/2/20; 1720/3/376, /6/39, /6/100; 1786/6/105

Plate 68a Millwall in 1811, showing Blackett’s Millwall Dry Dock and adjoining premises

Ref.91 RB:MDR 1801/1/475

Ref.92 GLRO Acc.2636/2/19

Fn.i = schedules of the contents in 1714 and 1751 survive (GLRO Acc 2636/2/11, 13)

Ref.95 MDR 1713/5/60; 1716/3/107; 1717/2/6

Ref.96 MDR 1797/4/198

Ref.i = ?

Ref.98 RB:MDR 1718/2/184; 1762/3/347, 477; 1764/2/327; 1770/5/242; 1794/1/529; 1797/3/337; TH6129, 6227; Cowper, op.cit, p18; GLRO, PCS PR2

Ref.99 MDR 1763/1/418; 1764/2/185; 1788/5/132: 50 George III, c200; MiD, TC Plan no.1190022: POD (MiD = Port of London Authority Collections, Museum in Docklands Project, Museum of London

Ref 100: RB

© Crown Copyright Historic England

(63) The windmills at Millwall (Museum of London)