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1044-Wooden flour Mill
1086-was recorded in the Doomsday book as Woodford Mill
1329-Recorded as Wylewat Mills
1544-Recoded as two mills working on the site
1562-Belonged to Crowland Abbey
1623-Paper was being made at the mill
1782-Owned by the Shuttleworth family
1830-James Fernelly papermaker lived there.
1830-34 William Mitchell paper miller (All three mills)
1835-1840 Geroge Ivens was grinding bones for fertilizer (we don’t focus on this too much!)
1879-Moses Eady ground corn
1906-  William Dodson,Miller from Little Addington, Tithe farm owner, post office
1938-James & Vera Hawes lived there , Mill stopped running
1951-Converted into Guest house
1955-Was in full residential use
2005-Clive & Emily Hodgson converted property into holiday flats and tea room.
2015-extra room added-real ale served

2017- Ben and Iona opened the tearoom as “The Water Mill Tearooms”

Black and white Watermill front

History of Woodford Upper Water Mill (Willy Watt Mill).

Woodford Upper Water Mill (Willy Watt Mill).

To begin with, and to avoid any confusion, The Water Mill Tearooms were once known as Willywatt Mill and later as Woodford Mill. The largest part of the building is in the parish of Woodford. There is also Ringstead Mill, which once stood below Station Road, Ringstead. (approximately half a mile away).

At various times over past years both Mills were owned by the same person.

Willy Watt Mill is built of limestone with pleasing bands of ironstone blocks and consists of three floors. Under the mill wheel arch is a large undershot water wheel which is made of iron and has wooden paddles.

To the left of the wheel was the usual eel trap where, in times gone by, as much as half a hundred weight of eels would have been caught overnight, at certain times of the year. The eels were deflected into a well, caught then packed and sent to markets in London via Ringstead Railway Station. The eel well/trap was eventually filled in.

The water wheel is connected, by an iron axle, to the pit wheel inside the building; this wheel revolves vertically within a narrow slot for nearly half of its depth.

The cogs engage the “wallower” which turns the main shaft which goes up through the mill and this in turn engages the mill stones thus creating the power to grind corn.

Two types of mill stones were used, two pairs of Derbyshire Peak stone for grinding barley, oats, etc., whilst a pair of French Burr stones were used to grind flour from wheat.

It’s been said that that Raunds Windmill “mill stone” stood in the garden as decorative use for many years.

At the bridge end is another water wheel, which once powered two stones for grinding corn and continued as a working flour mill until 1937. The smaller wheel on the end of the building was still in use, to generate electricity, up until the early 1960s after which an electric cable from an electricity supply from Great Addington installed to the building.

Willywatt Mill, as part of the Woodford possessions, has had, as have many other mills, a ‘roller coaster’ existence over the centuries. The Mill was part of the Abbey of Croyland (now Crowland) in Lincolnshire at the time of the Norman Conquest.

The Mill then came into the possession of the Crown, after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. In 1544 Henry VIII granted Willywatt Mills to Lord Parr of Horton, who was the uncle of Catherine, Henry’s last wife.

With the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 Willywatt Mill reverted back to the Crown and in 1560 Elizabeth granted them to miller William Gerrard, but after only two years he surrendered them and they were then granted to two men, Sir Robert Lane and Anthony Thorock-Morton, whose niece married Sir Walter Raleigh.

In 1567 they sell the mill to Henry Clark of Stanwick Mill and when Henry dies in 1574 his two sons William and Gabriel inherited ownership. Gabriel in 1604 decided to re-style the mill layout and renamed it Williat Mills.

In 1723 a house is constructed with 250 tons of Collyweston slate for the roof, along with timbers from the ship Arcadia, which had sunk in 1660 just of the East coast, and these timbers were used for the roof beams.

In 1765 Francis Tidbury, Ringstead’s first paper maker, was now the tenant, not only of Willywatt Mill but also the Ringstead Cottons Mill. Both Mills were now owned by Henry Shuttleworth, who resided in Great Bowden, near Market Harborough.

Francis Tidbury also owned Perio Mill, near Southwick, the oldest water mill on the River Nene.

He also took on the tenancy of Ringstead Windmill, which once stood, behind the farm on Station Road, which is currently owned by the Foster family.

In the ‘History of Northamptonshire’ book written in 1720 by John Bridges the Mill was then named as Willywatt Mills although the name differs from Willet Mill & Williat Mill over time.

In 1836 the Mill was advertised in the Northamptonshire Mercury as a newly erected bone crushing Mill house. This is how we know it today.

​As mentioned on the enclosure map of Ringstead this new use of a Mill for bone crushing was fulfilling the need for farmers who used the crushed bones as a phosphate fertiliser, for growing crops.

1861 Saw the Mill now producing paper, but this was short lived, as competition from Ringstead Cottons Mill (just half a mile up river) was possibly too great as the cotton rag pulp from Ringstead Cotton Mill was top quality and the cotton rag paper made from this pulp was sold to writer Jane Austen from 1814

By 1874 the Mill was known as Woodford Mill (even though Ringstead was just a short walk away). The millers at this time were Samuel Allen and Moses Irons Eady.

Mr. Eady sold the mill in 1880 for £795 to land-owner George Capron. Eady returned to his birth town of Burton Latimer and worked the towns Windmill whilst Mr. Allen continued tenancy with a new partner Alfred Cockerton.

One story that reached the Mercury newspaper told how Moses Irons also kept livestock and it was recorded at one time kept 48 sheep and 41 lambs on the land surrounding the mill. One day twelve-year-old Great Addington shepherd boy, Freddy Sharp, drove all the livestock to Kettering market to sell. Of course the staff at the market were suspicious and he got found out.

The case went to court but kind hearted Moses didn’t want to have the boy prosecuted because of his tender age and he was let off with a stern telling off.

Over time there have been many deaths connected with both Ringstead Mill & Willywatt Mill, In 1874 a baby was scalded to death after falling from her mother’s tethering into a boiling vat of rag pulp. 20 Ringstead people died from treading bark to make paper causing gangrene via any cuts on their legs or feet.

The bridge outside the Mill during the 19th century was a common place to commit suicide and many people were recorded in the Mercury newspaper as drowning.

In 1897 Little Addington Baker William Dodson bought not only Willywatt Mill but Ringstead Cotton Mill, even though the latter mill was in terrible shape and on its last legs. The extra head of water up stream made it more profitable for William to grind flour at Willywatt Mill.

William then went on to buy Tithe Farm and Ringstead’s Post Office and concentrated on farming, leaving his main miller Frank Hart of Ringstead in charge, who even worked up to the age of 100.

It must be noted that the house got flooded on many occasions, but the worst recorded flood was in 1947 when the flood water reached ceiling height in the ground floor rooms.

After William Dodson the mill went to James Hawes, a coal merchant from Woodford, James then in turn passes it on to his son William J Hawes.

In 1937 the Mill ceased to work and the many bedrooms in the Mill were let to holiday makers using the rooms as guest chalets.

The Mill was sold to Clive Hodgson-Jones in 2005 and restored lovingly by local craftsmen who still come in to check how their work is holding up.

In August 2017, Ben and Iona opened The Water Mill Tearooms and offer breakfasts, lunches, afternoon teas and a variety of events throughout the year all put together with love! Excellent service and creating a “home from home” feel is at the heart of what they do. People who continue to visit and share their memories of The Mill which is fascinating to hear.

With thanks to Jon Abbott from Ringstead Heritage site writing this information for you all. For further information on the village and The Mill, please visit their website.

Jon Abbott – Ringstead Heritage

The building of the Watermill
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