Burgh Mill
River Bure



1904
1904

Burgh Mill was recorded in Domesday in 1085. A brick built mill was erected in the 1500s and further enlarged c.1790, possibly making it the oldest mill in the county. Parts of the brick section still remain and were utilised in the new structure and some of the timbers bear ancient markings. Up until 1980 this mill was reputed to be the oldest working mill in the country. Apart from the old brick section, the building was mainly constructed of white weatherboard with a pantiled roof. The roof design was unusual, having five distinct gables on the western upstream side and six on the eastern downstream side. The above 1908 photo shows that originally there was another gable on the southern end but this was removed c.1909.

The machinery was renewed c.1828 - according to an advert in the Norfolk Chronicle.

1908
1908

1928
1928

1963
1963

To be Sold, Either together or in Lots, the several following Norfolk Estates, viz.
Lot 1.
A Very eligible Farm, consisting of about 212 Acres of Land, and a capital Corn Mill, situate in Aylsham Burgh, upon the new Navigation from Aylsham to Yarmouth, under Lease to Mr John Miller, at the yearly Rent of 160 pounds for the former, and 60 pounds for the latter.

For further Particulars apply to Mr Alderman Gay, of Norwich; or to Mr Samuel Wright, at Taverham; or on a Saturday, at the White Hart Inn, in St Peter's of Mancroft, in Norwich.
Norfolk Chronicle - 19th April 1783

Possible original mill site March 1967
Trees centre left mark the possible original mill site
Part of the new river course March 1967

Years ago a Dutchman redesigned the course of the river, the original River Bure lying to the west of the current course. Older mills would have been on the original line were probably built of wood and so are untraceable. Only signs of the ancient road across the meadow gives a clue to the original location.

Mill Cottage in 1950 James Thomas Grix c.1939
Mill Cottage in 1950
James Thomas Grix c.1939

The waterwheel, which is 12 feet in diameter and 9 feet wide, was used into the 1950s to provide power for crushing oats, operating the sack hoist and generating electricity for lighting. A 22hp diesel engine was used for powering the grinding machinery that took over from the millstones.

Fred Grix with the delivery waggon c.1928 Ford Thames Trader delivery lorry c.1960
Fred Grix with the delivery waggon c.1928
Ford Thames Trader delivery lorry c.1960

At one time Burgh ground corn from America and Russia that had been unloaded at Yarmouth before being brought up the river in wherries via the 11 mile Aylsham Navigation. The yellow mimulas that line the river banks inn the summer are though to have originated from seeds in the Russian barley.

Burgh lock 1927 Burgh lock 2003
Burgh lock 1927
Burgh lock 2003

Robert Spratt carved his name and the date on a beam at the top of the mill in 1842. He also carved a picture of a wherry on the Mill Cottage's privy door, although it has long gone.

Robert Spratt's name carved in 1842
Robert Spratt's name carved in 1842

Burgh Mills
TO BE SOLD OR LET
WITH IMMEDIATE POSSESSION

An excellent WATER CORN MILL, (capable of manufacturing at least 20 lasts per week), with a convenient Messuage, Granary, Drying Kiln, Stable, and other requisite Outbuildings, in good repair, situate at Burgh, next Aylsham, in the county of Norfolk, now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Boulter, together with about 13 acres of Land, the greater part of which is Meadow of a superior quality.

Also a convenient new-built Messuage, with offices and garden attached, situate at Burgh aforesaid, late in the occupation of Mr. Boulter, jun.

The Mill is situated on a fine Stream of Water, which is navigable to Yarmouth, and by means of which a large business, may be carried on without keeping any horses, and the Machinery of the Mill is entirely new.

For further particulars apply, (if by Letter post-paid) to Messrs. Sewell, Blake, Keith and Blake, Solicitors, Norwich.

Norfolk Chronicle 1828


The old privy May 2003
The old privy May 2003
A privy was situated in the corner of the stone floor, it had no bucket and was positioned to empty into the river directly in front of the wheel...

In the 1890s William Browne & Son owned and ran three wherries: Royal Charlie, Volunteer and Oxnead.
Burr & Slapp of Burgh also owned and ran the
Endeavour, which was used for transporting bricks.

Still in wartime camouflage paint in 1951
Still in wartime camouflage paint in 1951

Mill dam March 1963 Millpool c.1969
Mill dam March 1963
Millpool c.1969

Occasionally during the 1800s and even into the 1900s a stock frost would occur in the winter. At these times the river would turn to ice below the surface with the water appearing as frozen wet snow. The immobilised river was then unable to flow through the old lock gates and would overflow into the local meadows until they appeared as a broad. This phenomena occurred maybe only three or four times since the 1800s, the last times being in 1947, 1953 and 1996.

The most recent stock frost, the only one Michael Grix (the mill owner) had ever seen in daylight, occurred during Old Year's Night, 1996. On waking in the morning in his cottage by the mill he was struck by the absolute silence. The River Bure had stopped flowing through the lock cut with the sluice gates open, and ice in the lock pool below had formed into circular floating "flan-dishes" up to 24 inches in diameter.
Rosemary Tilbrook, Eastern Daily Press, 8th February 1997

The stock frost of 1st January 1997
The stock frost of 1st January 1997

The first headmaster of Paston Grammar School (Horatio Nelson was taught there for a time) lived at the Mill House from about 1590-1610. Sir William Paston himself lived a little further down the river at Oxnead Hall.

Dust extraction March 1967 Wheelhouse and wheel March 1967
Dust extraction March 1967
Wheelhouse and wheel March 1967

Part of the 1989 - 1990 BBC television series "Campion", was filmed at Burgh Mill. In the plot the waterwheel killed the villain - a bottle of "blood" still remains. Also interior shots for "The Mill on the Floss" were filmed there in October 1996, the film location being shared with Bintry Mill.

Michael Grix repairing the wheel c.1952   C.R. Cushion recogging the gearing in 1953
Michael Grix repairing the wheel c.1952
 
C.R. Cushion recogging the gearing in 1953 - see below

The last miller was the current owner, Michael Grix who was born in the Mill House and took over from his father, James Thomas Grix.

Mr. C.R. Cushion of Marsham, fits new cogs to a gear wheel in the water mill at Burgh-next-Aylsham, believed to be the oldest in the county. Each of the 114 Hornbeam cogs has to be fitted individually into its socket. Some of the old cogs are believed to be the "originals"; Mr. Michael Grix, the present owner, recalls that in 1900 the cogs of this particular wheel were badly worn, yet they have lasted the intervening half-century!
Norfolk News - 1953


March 1967 23rd April 1977
March 1967
23rd April 1977

Watercolour by John Watson in 1986
Watercolour by John Watson in 1986

Grinding floor c.1970 Ball governors 1960
Grinding floor c.1970
Ball governors 1960

The original building was built on the natural course of the River Bure some two hundred yards south west of the present mill. It used the natural flow of the water to drive a very basic pair of millstones directly coupled to the wheel. In the 16th century Dutch engineers constructed what was virtually a new river. Raising the banks to get an artificial fall, far greater force was obtained from the same volume of water. The power roughly varies in relation to the square of the fall - 2' could give 4 hp, 4' could produce 16 hp. From Aylsham mill pool to Aylsham lock there is a natural fall of 5' and in all probability there was a mill here at one time. To get the fall at Burgh the engineers built new banks, starting by Burgh Hall, lined the bed with clay and on reaching the east end of the village a fall of 4'6" had been achieved. As a result of this alteration to the river the drainage system had to be completely re-designed and this can still be seen today working perfectly (with a little help) after 500 years.

The Norfolk Chronicle of 1828 advertised Burgh Mill for sale (or to let) with entirely new machinery. This is I think a slight exaggeration. The 16th century wheel and gearing would have been of all wooden construction. It was not until the 17th century that parts of the wheel and the gearing were constructed of cast iron. In the middle of the 18th century the upright shaft was extended to the second floor. A new crown wheel and pinion with a square cross shaft enabled various ancillary machinery to be driven. A grindstone to sharpen mill bills and a sack hoist to lift the grain up and then be tipped into hoppers to feed the millstones. Burgh's vertical shaft was extended with the aid of a very elementary universal joint consisting of a strengthened collar, held in place with metal wedges. This was a constant source of trouble and was not replaced until the early 1970s when the centres of two large sprockets (which had been exported to Russia) were welded to the top and bottom of the shafts where they connected and series of studs set in rubber provided a slightly flexible drive.

The pit wheel cogs were in poor condition at the start of the 20th century but managed to last until 1953 when they were replaced with a new set of hornbeam teeth. Owing to subsidence and unequal wear on the waterwheel bearings the pit wheel and the wallower did not mesh perfectly and the new cogs were put under considerable stress before the fault was discovered and corrected. This set of cogs was stripped in 1985 when running unattended, operating at full power generating electricity for the swimming pool. A new set was fitted (this time at leisure) by Mr. Grix and Peter Gowing using electric tools.

The larger (driving) gear wheels in the mill were all fitted with wooden teeth (of either apple or hornbeam) and were fitted with a "hunting" tooth thus making the wear more even over the entire set. The main spur wheel was re-cogged in 1929 and ran every day (apart from Sundays) until 1980 and yet it shows very little evidence of wear.

Insurance - The fire insurance on the mill was always high as it had wooden spindle beams (i.e. the mill stone shafts rested on brass bearings located on a heavy wooden support). In spite of the millstones being removed in 1951 and replaced with "hammer mills" premiums could not be lowered. The sack hoist was insured by the corn mill group in the early part of the 20th century. Every year an inspector would come to Buxton station, walk over the fields, inspect the chain for wear and hardening, return to his office in London and post off the yearly bill for the princely sum of 16/8d!

Construction - The basic 16th century mill is of brick construction and over the centuries has been enlarged several times with timber framed alterations. In 1790 the single gable roof was heightened by a series of gables running at right angles to the original roof. For some unknown reason it had seven gables on the east face but only six on the western side. The southernmost gable was removed in 1907 owing to deterioration. Two "lucums" were constructed, one over the mill yard for unloading sacks of corn from the horse wagons and one over the river, for unloading the wherries, which became navigable in 1797 with the construction of the Aylsham-Coltishall navigation scheme. The internal sack hoist was connected to chains running over pulleys and rollers to their respective lucums. A short pull on the activating rope would quickly bring an 18 stone sack of wheat to the top of the mill (by courtesy of the waterwheel) but the chain had to be returned manually for the next sack (a real muscle builder for the arms and stomach).
Michael Grix - 7th May 2003



Wheel 1960
Wheel 1960

Wheel 7th May 2003 Pit wheel 7th May 2003
Wheel 7th May 2003
Pit wheel 7th May 2003

Ancilliary machinery gearing 7th May 2003
Ancilliary machinery gearing 7th May 2003

... and one of our jobs, if the cogs got worn, we had to re-cog the wheel. We preferred to use either hornbeam or beech, and in fact a few years ago Michael Grix of Burgh Mill at Aylsham contacted me, could I re-cog his waterwheel because the BBC wanted to use his mill for one of the episodes in the Campion series, and they wanted the wheels all going round. So I went over, and with Michael Grix we re-cogged the wheel. I even got my photograph in the Eastern Daily Press and the Evening News for doing it. And I got the vast sum of £8 an hour from the BBC for doing it, which is more than I ever earned in my life! And I was told at the end that if I'd have asked for £10 I could have got that. That was quite an enjoyable job.
Peter Gowing, millwright, F. Flowerdew & Son, NIAS Journal - 5th December 2008


Mill dam 7th May 2003 Millpool 7th May 2003
Mill dam 7th May 2003
Millpool 7th May 2003

Mill dam 22nd April 2007 Millpool 22nd April 2007
Mill dam 22nd April 2007
Millpool 22nd April 2007

27th January 2007
27th January 2007

18th April 2007
18th April 2007

O.S. Map 1885
Courtesy of NLS map images

O.S. Map 2005
O.S. Map 2005
Image reproduced under licence from Ordnance Survey

Mill recorded in 1086 Domesday

c.1700: current mill built

1783: John Miller, miller & farmer

April 1783: Mill advertised for sale along with the adjoining farm of 212 acres

White's 1836: Robert Jones - miller. Charles Bacon


1842: Robert Spratt (employee) carved his name on beam

White's 1845: Robert Browne, miller

1851 census: William Browne aged 49, miller employing 5 labourers, Burgh-next-Aylsham
John Spratt (60) journeyman miller, Village, Burgh
George Edwards (45), miller's carter, Village, Burgh
John Faulkes (27), journeyman miller, Village, Burgh
Henry Spratt (19), journeyman miller, son living with John Spratt (60), Village, Burgh + 1 other unnamed

1881 census: Robert Browne (79) master miller employing 6 men, Mill House, near Skeyton Road, Burgh
James Key (50), journeyman miller, Mill Cottage, Burgh
Henry Davison (22), journeyman miller, lodging with E. Dyball (53), Skeyton Road, Burgh
George Hinsley (21), journeyman miller, lodging with E. Dyball, Skeyton Road, Burgh + 2 others unnamed

Kelly's 1883: William Browne & son

Kelly's 1892: William Browne & son - miller, water, Burgh

Kelly's 1896: William Browne & son - corn merchants, The Mill, Burgh, also at Oxnead & stand 15, Corn Exchange, Norwich

Kelly's 1900: William Browne & son - millers (water) & merchants, Burgh Roller mills, & Oxnead Roller mills & stand 15, Corn Exchange, Norwich

Kelly's 1904: Edward Mayhew - miller wind & steam & grocer

Kelly's 1922: James Thomas Grix - miller (water)

Kelly's 1937: James Thomas Grix - miller (water) Telephone Aylsham 217

1957: Mill wheel powering a crusher the sack hoist and a generator for lighting

1957: Grinding machines powered by a 22 h.p. diesel engine

Tel. directory 1970: Michael Grix


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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2003