Ivybridge Corn Mills

The earliest known references to the Ivybridge corn mills appear in the 16th century. Corn Mills such as those in Ivybridge were generally water-powered with a sluice gate controlling the flow of water either onto, or under, a vertically mounted water wheel to generate rotation. A large gear wheel on the same axle as the water wheel would drive a smaller gear wheel. This system of gearing ensured that the main shaft turned faster than the water wheel.

Mill Stones

Millstones are used to grind the grains. The heavy stones were laid one on top of the other with the bottom stone fixed to the floor, while the top stone was driven by the main shaft. The distance between the stones could be varied to produce the grade of flour required, moving the stones closer together produced finer flour. The top stone was generally slightly concave, while the static bedstone was slightly convex. This helped to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it was gathered up.

 

The best stones in the mill were typically a siliceous rock called buhrstone, often referred to as ‘French stones’ in English mills as this is where they were sourced. It was believed that these French buhr millstones made a superior wheat product because of the stone’s hardness and its ability to grind much whiter flour.

The Ivybridge Mills continued for over 200 years, operated by a number of different millers. Each farmer from the local area would have brought his grain to the miller for processing. He would receive back meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll.” Communities were of course dependent on their local mill as bread was a staple part of the diet.

 

By the early nineteenth century however, the corn mill was leased to the Devonport Union Mill Society. Established by dock workers in 1814, it was set up initially as a wholesale bread supply society. This cooperative was able to provide flour more cheaply than a local miller. Each shareholder was permitted to take a weekly allowance of flour or bread relevant to their shareholding. It was recorded that the society had 650 members and by 1817 it was thought prudent to have their own bakehouses to supply the members with bread. The business was so successful that the society expanded operations which led to the acquisition at Ivybridge in 1821, taking on the existing Manor Mills and naming the site “Union Mills” in recognition of its cooperative status.

Negligent in not covering over the open leat …

The mills in the centre of Ivybridge at this time relied on water from the River Erme to provide the motive power for their machinery. A leat, basically an open watercourse which diverted water from the Erme Road via a sluice gate, ran under the new road bridge which was built in 1833 and alongside the top part of the main street. In 1830, following the passing of the Beerhouse Act, a new inn was established a short distance away from the mill site. The King’s Arms, the name thought to commemorate the accession of King William IV, was run by John Seldon. This gentleman made frequent requests to the mill owners claiming they were negligent in not covering over the leat which ran directly in front of his inn. It must be assumed that some of the inn’s customers failed to avoid the leat on departure (their predicament having nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol!)

Image: The King’s Arms from a later period

Negligent in not covering over the open leat …

The mills in the centre of Ivybridge at this time relied on water from the River Erme to provide the motive power for their machinery. A leat, basically an open watercourse which diverted water from the Erme Road via a sluice gate, ran under the new road bridge which was built in 1833 and alongside the top part of the main street. In 1830, following the passing of the Beerhouse Act, a new inn was established a short distance away from the mill site. The King’s Arms, the name thought to commemorate the accession of King William IV, was run by John Seldon. This gentleman made frequent requests to the mill owners claiming they were negligent in not covering over the leat which ran directly in front of his inn. It must be assumed that some of the inn’s customers failed to avoid the leat on departure (their predicament having nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol!)

Image: The King’s Arms from a later period
Erme Road – the sluice gate to the leat (centre) can clearly be seen

At Stowford, a little further upstream, records of a mill reappear during the 18th century after a very long absence. The first record of a grist mill appears in 1713. The word grist refers to grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding, whilst a Grist Mill describes a mill where the grain is crushed but not finely ground to flour.

 

The Barton of Stowford, along with the corn mill, was acquired by William Dunsterville in 1787 who went on to establish a paper mill. Stowford later passed into the ownership of Henry Rivers, a local inn keeper and proprietor of the London Inn. However, this entrepreneur did not want to get involved with the day to day running of these operations and leased both mills. Francis Fincher, an experienced paper maker from elsewhere, took the lease for Stowford Paper Mill, whilst Stowford Flour Mills came under the occupation of William Saunders, also one would assume, under a lease agreement.

 

By 1816, the enterprising Rivers appears to have over stretched himself having invested heavily within the village and was declared bankrupt. Francis Fincher took on the paper mill, whilst William Saunders, one imagines, did the same at the flour mill. In 1834 Saunders died and a year later his son Samuel put the mills up for sale.

‘Water Grist Mills, called Stowford Mills,

Comprising an excellent Dwelling-House, Cow-Houses, and all other necessary Outbuildings. The Mills consist of three pairs of stones, with sufficient room for six, one Bunt and Smut Machine, Hoisting Gear, and all other conveniences. There is also a Walled Garden, and 2 acres of prime Orchard, and 6 acres of very rich Meadow Land, adjoining the Mills.

The above Mills … are plentifully supplied with water from the River Erme and are eligibly situated near the Great Western Road from Ashburton to Plymouth, twelve miles from each of those places, four from Modbury, and twelve from Kingsbridge, both excellent market towns’.

Cereal smut and bunt are the names given to diseases caused by fungi and produce dark, soot like spores in the leaves, grains or ears. Diseased grains were usually removed in a smutter. Individual grains were dispersed in such a way that diseased grains were broken open. Being lighter than the good grains they were then removed together with the fungal dust.

The immediate period after 1835 is not well documented but Thomas Mason is listed in the directories as miller from 1839. Samuel Saunders had married in 1835 and moved to Teignmouth. During Mason’s tenure at Stowford Flour Mills, he borrowed a substantial sum of money from the local bank to presumably expand his business. This unfortunately was to prove an unwise decision as by 1842 he was declared bankrupt. The bank went on to seize all his assets to cover the debts owed to his creditors. Strangely, on 14 May 1842, he left with his family, his wife Mary and five children, for Canada and pursued a life managing mills there. The voyage across the Atlantic, which took until 2 July, was described in detail in a diary kept by one of his daughters. His son Herbert went on to become one of the most respected and influential businessmen of his day.

 

Stowford Flour Mills continued to operate with a James Adams recorded as miller in 1857. However, the mills finally closed in 1861 when John Allen, the proprietor, required the flour mill for the extension of his neighbouring paper mill. The 14-foot diameter water-wheel was put up for auction shortly after. Mr Allen had purchased the paper mill in 1849.

 

In 1877 the Union Mills in the centre of Ivybridge were rebuilt. An external plaque reading “Devonport Union Mill Ltd, Ellacott & Son, Engineers, Plymouth Foundry. Rebuilt 1877” recorded the event. The lessee miller during this period was Richard Pooley. He was to continue at the Union Mills with his wife Jane until its sale.

 

It is recorded that the dissolution of the Devonport Union Mill Society occurred in 1893 with the disposal of its assets. The site at Ivybridge raised a total of £610. The sale details documented in the local newspapers stated that:

‘The premises are exceedingly well built, are in good condition and with the cart house, two-stalled stable with loft over, and the extensive garden in the rear, contain in all about one acre more or less. The Mills, which are driven by a powerful stream of water, are fitted with four pairs of stones, a No.1 Victor Smutter, and all necessary machinery and fittings for grinding 100 sacks of corn a week’.

Given that shortly after, Samuel Head, the proprietor of the neighbouring tan yard was advertising the mill ‘To be Let’, it is logical to assume he was the purchaser. Sometime during the ensuing years Henry John Fice Lee, a baker by trade, took up the lease at Union Mills.

 

Alongside Union Mills was Ivybridge Paper Mills, established by William Pym in 1814. Following Pym’s tragic death the business continued under his sons but it was eventually sold to Benjamin Holman, a gentleman already operating a paper mill at nearby Lee Mill. By the time Henry Lee was operating Union Mills the neighbouring paper business had passed down to Benjamin’s son, Francis. Unlike Stowford Paper Mills, this site produced paper which was termed as ‘thin browns’. This was a description of a category of wrapping papers which would have been made from poor quality rags, old ropes, netting and canvas. When Francis died in 1900 it passed to the third generation of the family, Baldwin Holman. However, with poor trading conditions, chiefly the result of cheap imports, it was decided to put the business up for sale in 1903. At the auction, which took place at the London Hotel, Mr Henry Lee was the successful bidder. Over the next few years he converted the premises into a corn and provender mill. He later extended his operations at Yealmpton, where he founded Lee Bros with his brother Samuel Fice Lee.

In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry Lee went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting.

 

After the death of Henry John Fice Lee in 1931, the business became a private company, before his widow (who died in 1950), sold the business. In 1964 the mill was being operated by the British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM). In the latter years the mill came known as Glanville’s Mill taking the name of the then proprietor. However, in 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development and soon afterwards the old mill buildings were demolished. Corn milling which had existed in Ivybridge for centuries finally drew to a close.

Ivybridge Corn Mills

The earliest known references to the Ivybridge corn mills appear in the 16th century. Corn Mills such as those in Ivybridge were generally water-powered with a sluice gate controlling the flow of water either onto, or under, a vertically mounted water wheel to generate rotation. A large gear wheel on the same axle as the water wheel would drive a smaller gear wheel. This system of gearing ensured that the main shaft turned faster than the water wheel.

Mill Stones

Millstones are used to grind the grains. The heavy stones were laid one on top of the other with the bottom stone fixed to the floor, while the top stone was driven by the main shaft. The distance between the stones could be varied to produce the grade of flour required, moving the stones closer together produced finer flour. The top stone was generally slightly concave, while the static bedstone was slightly convex. This helped to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it was gathered up.
The best stones in the mill were typically a siliceous rock called buhrstone, often referred to as ‘French stones’ in English mills as this is where they were sourced. It was believed that these French buhr millstones made a superior wheat product because of the stone’s hardness and its ability to grind much whiter flour.
The Ivybridge Mills continued for over 200 years, operated by a number of different millers. Each farmer from the local area would have brought his grain to the miller for processing. He would receive back meal or flour, minus a percentage called the “miller’s toll.” Communities were of course dependent on their local mill as bread was a staple part of the diet.
By the early nineteenth century however, the corn mill was leased to the Devonport Union Mill Society. Established by dock workers in 1814, it was set up initially as a wholesale bread supply society. This cooperative was able to provide flour more cheaply than a local miller. Each shareholder was permitted to take a weekly allowance of flour or bread relevant to their shareholding. It was recorded that the society had 650 members and by 1817 it was thought prudent to have their own bakehouses to supply the members with bread. The business was so successful that the society expanded operations which led to the acquisition at Ivybridge in 1821, taking on the existing Manor Mills and naming the site “Union Mills” in recognition of its cooperative status.
At Stowford, a little further upstream, records of a mill reappear during the 18th century after a very long absence. The first record of a grist mill appears in 1713. The word grist refers to grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding, whilst a Grist Mill describes a mill where the grain is crushed but not finely ground to flour.
The Barton of Stowford, along with the corn mill, was acquired by William Dunsterville in 1787 who went on to establish a paper mill. Stowford later passed into the ownership of Henry Rivers, a local inn keeper and proprietor of the London Inn. However, this entrepreneur did not want to get involved with the day to day running of these operations and leased both mills. Francis Fincher, an experienced paper maker from elsewhere, took the lease for Stowford Paper Mill, whilst Stowford Flour Mills came under the occupation of William Saunders, also one would assume, under a lease agreement.
By 1816, the enterprising Rivers appears to have over stretched himself having invested heavily within the village and was declared bankrupt. Francis Fincher took on the paper mill, whilst William Saunders, one imagines, did the same at the flour mill. In 1834 Saunders died and a year later his son Samuel put the mills up for sale.
‘Water Grist Mills, called Stowford Mills,
Comprising an excellent Dwelling-House, Cow-Houses, and all other necessary Outbuildings. The Mills consist of three pairs of stones, with sufficient room for six, one Bunt and Smut Machine, Hoisting Gear, and all other conveniences. There is also a Walled Garden, and 2 acres of prime Orchard, and 6 acres of very rich Meadow Land, adjoining the Mills.
The above Mills … are plentifully supplied with water from the River Erme and are eligibly situated near the Great Western Road from Ashburton to Plymouth, twelve miles from each of those places, four from Modbury, and twelve from Kingsbridge, both excellent market towns’.
Cereal smut and bunt are the names given to diseases caused by fungi and produce dark, soot like spores in the leaves, grains or ears. Diseased grains were usually removed in a smutter. Individual grains were dispersed in such a way that diseased grains were broken open. Being lighter than the good grains they were then removed together with the fungal dust.
The immediate period after 1835 is not well documented but Thomas Mason is listed in the directories as miller from 1839. Samuel Saunders had married in 1835 and moved to Teignmouth. During Mason’s tenure at Stowford Flour Mills, he borrowed a substantial sum of money from the local bank to presumably expand his business. This unfortunately was to prove an unwise decision as by 1842 he was declared bankrupt. The bank went on to seize all his assets to cover the debts owed to his creditors. Strangely, on 14 May 1842, he left with his family, his wife Mary and five children, for Canada and pursued a life managing mills there. The voyage across the Atlantic, which took until 2 July, was described in detail in a diary kept by one of his daughters. His son Herbert went on to become one of the most respected and influential businessmen of his day.
Stowford Flour Mills continued to operate with a James Adams recorded as miller in 1857. However, the mills finally closed in 1861 when John Allen, the proprietor, required the flour mill for the extension of his neighbouring paper mill. The 14-foot diameter water-wheel was put up for auction shortly after. Mr Allen had purchased the paper mill in 1849.
In 1877 the Union Mills in the centre of Ivybridge were rebuilt. An external plaque reading “Devonport Union Mill Ltd, Ellacott & Son, Engineers, Plymouth Foundry. Rebuilt 1877” recorded the event. The lessee miller during this period was Richard Pooley. He was to continue at the Union Mills with his wife Jane until its sale.
It is recorded that the dissolution of the Devonport Union Mill Society occurred in 1893 with the disposal of its assets. The site at Ivybridge raised a total of £610. The sale details documented in the local newspapers stated that:
‘The premises are exceedingly well built, are in good condition and with the cart house, two-stalled stable with loft over, and the extensive garden in the rear, contain in all about one acre more or less. The Mills, which are driven by a powerful stream of water, are fitted with four pairs of stones, a No.1 Victor Smutter, and all necessary machinery and fittings for grinding 100 sacks of corn a week’.
Given that shortly after, Samuel Head, the proprietor of the neighbouring tan yard was advertising the mill ‘To be Let’, it is logical to assume he was the purchaser. Sometime during the ensuing years Henry John Fice Lee, a baker by trade, took up the lease at Union Mills.
Alongside Union Mills was Ivybridge Paper Mills, established by William Pym in 1814. Following Pym’s tragic death the business continued under his sons but it was eventually sold to Benjamin Holman, a gentleman already operating a paper mill at nearby Lee Mill. By the time Henry Lee was operating Union Mills the neighbouring paper business had passed down to Benjamin’s son, Francis. Unlike Stowford Paper Mills, this site produced paper which was termed as ‘thin browns’. This was a description of a category of wrapping papers which would have been made from poor quality rags, old ropes, netting and canvas. When Francis died in 1900 it passed to the third generation of the family, Baldwin Holman. However, with poor trading conditions, chiefly the result of cheap imports, it was decided to put the business up for sale in 1903. At the auction, which took place at the London Hotel, Mr Henry Lee was the successful bidder. Over the next few years he converted the premises into a corn and provender mill. He later extended his operations at Yealmpton, where he founded Lee Bros with his brother Samuel Fice Lee.
In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry Lee went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting.
After the death of Henry John Fice Lee in 1931, the business became a private company, before his widow (who died in 1950), sold the business. In 1964 the mill was being operated by the British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM). In the latter years the mill came known as Glanville’s Mill taking the name of the then proprietor. However, in 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development and soon afterwards the old mill buildings were demolished. Corn milling which had existed in Ivybridge for centuries finally drew to a close.