The History of the Mill

    The tiny river Avill drove a surprising number of mills in the Middle Ages. Dunster was a market for corn and the mills also served the wider area. By the early 18th century records show eleven mills working on the Avill.

       

       A watermill has been in existence at Cowbridge, in one form or another since, at least, the days of Edward III in the early 14th century, when it was named in a deed concerning some land belonging to Dunster Priory. The rent at that time was £1.6s 8d – a sum which sounds quite small today but which must have been of great value in the 14th century.

 

      In1567 the Cowbridge mill was recorded as a flour mill forming part of the Knowle Estate.

        

      In 1728 Cowbridge Mills (plural) were leased for 99 years by Paul Orchard of Stoke, Devon to John Mudon. The original lease is held by the Somerset Records Office. The lease is for “dwelling house, Outhouses , Greist Mill, Fulling Mill and one Meadow called Bridge Mead containing three acres or thereabouts with the water and water courses that runneth or course from Timberford unto Cowbridge” . The yearly payment was still £1.6s 8d. The document states that the premises had previously been in the possession of Mary Portman (widow, dowager).

 

         In 1768 John Mudon died. A letter from a Mr Baker to a Mr Cox, held at Somerset Records Office, indicates that a Mr Blakes applied to take over Cowbridge Mills. Avis, the miller, was running a flour mill on the site and Mr Blake wished to rebuild the tucking mill alongside.

 

       The 1843 tithe map shows an additional building in the courtyard which was probably a grain drying kiln. The map also shows that the building now known as "The Dell" was part of the Mill compex.

        

        The last corn miller at Cowbridge appears to have been George Morgan. He is shown in the 1861 Kelly’s Directory as miller at Cowbridge Mills (plural). He remained there until his death in 1897. 

        

         Kelly’s Directory 1889, which is based on the 1881 census, shows Cowbridge Mills were also occupied at that time by James Phillips and Son, miller (water). The Phillips family originated from Bridgtown, Dulverton and were were originally carpenters and wheelwrights. Over the next 40 years the Phillips family occupied the Cowbridge Mills.The Phillips’ family business covered much of West Somerset with James Phillips and Sons working from Higher Hopcott, Minehead Town Mill, The Manor Mills Dunster and Bridgtown. Charles Phillips  (“Millwright, machinist, wheelwright, carpenter and agent to all kinds of agricultural implements”) ran his business from Dulverton and Cowbridge.

        

         In the 1909 Kelly's Dircetory Mr Thomas Phillips, a wheelwright and carpenter, is recorded as  working at the Mill with his son Henry. The 1911 census shows  Cowbridge as a hive of activity with carpenters, wheelwrights, hauliers, blacksmiths, labourers, a thatcher and a fishmonger living at Cowbridge. The Mills at that time had a manager living at the Mill House.

 

         Henry Phillips purchased the property from the Knowle Estate in June 1916.  At about the same time the water wheel and launder were renovated, possibly changing from a wooden wheel to a cast iron one but retaining the wooden shaft. The sale literature shows that the Workshop at that time was a three storey building, having a Loft over and “Roomy Stores” beneath.

 

          The Kelly’s Directory 1919 shows Charles Phillips and Sons, agricultural engineers, working from Cowbridge. James by this time had centred his business in Minehead and Taunton. He developed his business towards auctioneering, corn and seed selling and as a house agency. His son Albert ran the Minehead Mill business.

 

      

        

In 1911 Mr Sam Grabham, a blacksmith, came to work here. He built the original forge in 1933 and the blacksmithing operations moved here from the village centre. In 1969 his son Kenneth took over and developed the successful fencing and gate manufacturing  side of the business.

In the 1920s a petrol garage was built on the roadside, adjacent to and the same height as a two storey thatched building situated where the tin garages now stand. 

   Sam Grabham blacksmith at Cowbridge 1911 to 1969.       

 

 

In 1937 the ownership of the Mill passed from Mr Phillips to the Huxtable family. The tenant miller was Mr Ken Grabham (pictured right).

                                            

 

   
               

             

                      The Mill Wheel                               

Our progress so far.

 

          My wife and I purchased the site at auction in  May 1995 as we wanted to live in this beautiful part of Somerset. We also wanted to restore the mill to a working museum (not a commercial mill).

 

          We started renovating the house before my retirement in 2002. The majority of work was done prior to moving in, in November 2004. Since then we have finished the house, renovated the former village petrol garage, constructed a new garden and leat walls, installed drainage and access ramps, built the porch, the new forge and workshop.

           Our first task in the mill was to remove the 30 to 40 cubic metres of compacted sawdust from the basement which enabled us to access the area. We have reroofed the mill and inserted new beams. With much valued help from friends from High Wycombe, we have removed all the collapsed floors and rebuilt them at the original levels using the old beams as vertical supports.

 

                  We were able to obtain a fallen oak tree and with the help of many volunteers create a new shaft for the water wheel. An old bearing, found in Devon, was installed in the frame of the wheel and on 29th April 2007 the new water wheel turned for the first time .The new curved buckets, inner sole plates and new wooden launder were then fitted so that the wheel now operates by water power once again. A large celebration followed!

 

          Over the next few years we hope to generate electricity from the wheel. There is a collection of heavy, cast iron, belt driven machinery which will ultimately be connected to the wheel to create a working museum for all to enjoy.

 

          During 2010/11 the forge building was  demolished and rebuilt to form the new forge, workshop and loft area. This building is used to house the many artefacts which for many years were squashed into the outbuilding and mill. Local blacksmith , Mr Jim Horrobin, is now producing his goods from the Cowbridge Forge and passing on his craft for others to follow.

 

Our dream for the future.

 

           This is not a commercial project for personal profit. Indeed our life savings have been ploughed

            into  this project. Our hope is:

           To restore the Sawmill  to working order.

           To renovate the historic machinery and by installing shafts, pulleys and levers display the machinery

            

           To display a collection of historically interestingindustrial and agricultural

            artefacts in a museum open to all and free of charge.

 

 

 

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Visiting the Mill

 

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