Syleham Mill
River Waveney



c.1910
c.1910

Syleham Mill was a three storeys high and built of weatherboard over a brick base with a pantiled roof. In 1779, when insured by William Mann, it was described as brick and tiled, which means it was probably a much smaller structure. In the 1830s the mill had two wheels powering six sets of stones using a 6 foot head of water. During the 1860s a steam engine was installed along with the characteristic tall chimney.

At least one of the wheels was cast iron with phosphor bronze bearings and was a low breast or Poncelet design, this larger wheel was 16 feet in diameter. The pitwheel and several other gearwheels were also of the normal cast iron. Parts of the iron wheel buckets were still supporting the mill bank in the 1980s.


c.1920
c.1920

Syleham water was a corn mill up until 1839, at which time it was mainly converted to manufacturing drabbet with the installation of several water powered looms run from lay shafts and pulleys. However, 4 pairs of millstones remained and the mill continued in a dual trade until 1849, when the corn milling machinery was removed.

Drabbet was a coarse cloth with a linen warp and a cotton weft that was used for making smocks and huckaback was a coarse variety of linen for making towels etc. A dye house was also built on the premises thus giving a greater sales flexibility.


The wheel & gearing after the fire of 24th May 1928
The wheel & gearing after the fire of 24th May 1928

Mill remains - 1928 Mill remains - 1928
Mill remains - 1928

To be sold or let for a term of years. All those Water Corn Mills, mansion residence, stable etc., and the Tolls arising from a Gate near the Mill, situated at Syleham, in the County of Suffolk. The mill, which has 6 feet fall of water, has two Water Wheels, two pit wheels, 6 pairs of stones, and all gears, capable of manufacturing 20 lasts of wheat per week. Possession at Michaelmas next.
Ipswich Journal - 2nd September 1826

N.B. 20 lasts = approx. 41½ tons


... the entire FITTINGS of the MILL, which is converted into a factory; including 11 French burr 4-feet Millstones, in excellent preservation and of good quality; flour mill, jumper, vats, with hoppers&c; face and spur wheels, hoop iron, oak shafts,and an assortment of cast-iron and wood wheels; stone-nuts, with wrought- iron spindles, and other effects, the property of Mr. HENRY WARNE.
Suffolk Chronicle - 20th October 1849


In 1838 Henry Warne had a factory in Mere Street, Diss where he employed 40 men, 3 women and 20 boys making drabbets, huckabacks, sheeting and shirting. Some of the men worked for up to 16 hours a day in their own homes for about 16s a week. Around 1840 Henry Warne closed the Diss factory and moved to Hoxne Mill.


I give and bequeath unto my said wife and my son Charles - my Executrix and Executor ALL the Machinery in the Mill of every description also everything belonging to the Dying House Bleaching House Drying House and Calender together with all carts waggons gigs horses and harness to enable them to carry on the business now conducted by me at Syleham Mill under the firm Sarah Warne & Son...
I further direct that in case my said wife should cease to remain my widow by marrying again or by death all her interest in the business shall cease and the Machinery in the mill with everything belonging to the Dying House Drying House and Calender together with all carts waggons gigs horses and harness and the entire business shall belong to my son Charles for his own absolute use and benefit and disposal.
Henry Warne's will - 3rd July 1851


March 1968 Mill site March 1968
March 1968
Mill site March 1968

In 1872 the mill was offered for sale by auction but remained unsold. The mill was described as a ....substantial structure with spacious floors, the greater part being occupied by Weaving looms. The Particulars also describe the premises as including an engine and boiler house, a 16ft diameter wheel, counting house, warehouse, three pairs of stones for grinding corn and accommodation for dyeing and drying. A building across the road from the mill was used for drying, the floors being slatted and it had tenters on which dyed cloth was stretched to dry. In the mill building the looms were on the ground floor and spinning machines on the first floor. The second floor was used for preparation purposes and the corn mill area was at the western end of the premises. Both water and steam power was used to drive the machinery but steam power was used only when the water level was too low to operate the wheel.

The mill was then leased by the Executors of the late Henry Warne
to Messrs. E.A. Holmes & Co., the lease expiring on the 11th October 1899. At some time during the term of this lease, the property was offered for sale again, the particulars stating For upwards of 60 years successfully carried on by the Proprietors the late Messrs. H. & C, Warne, and at present in the occupation of Messrs. E.A. Homes & Co, whose lease expires on October 11th 1899 when possession will be given.

Apart from the details of the premises and other parts of the estate the particulars also state,
N.B. - The mill and Factory are now in full work and employ from 80 to 100 hands, and the present tenants are willing to treat with intending hirers or purchasers for the taking over of the business as a going concern, also for the goodwill, Book Debts, Stock-in-Trade, Machinery, &c, &c. The returns based on an average of the past 3 years are about £9000 per annum.


In 1899 William Emms bought the mill and the business became known as William Emms & Sons. In 1900 and 1904 Kelly's listed the business as Syleham Drabbett Co., Frederick George Emms, manager. Linen & Ready Made Clothing Manufacturer, Syleham Mills. Later William's son Ernest Richard Emms took over, preferring the business to be known as Richard Emms & Co. Eventually Ernest Richard Emms' son Ernest George, who had been working with his father took over the business.

Drabbet sales declined during the early 1900s and production of the material finally ceased at the outbreak of the first world war in 1914.

Both Ernest Emms snr and Ernest Emms jnr were in Ipswich on Empire Day, 24th May 1928 when they received word that the mill was on fire and they should return immediately.


The fire of 24th May 1928 was attended by Harleston Fire Brigade with Captain Robert Pipe in charge. Captain Pipe was unfortunately injured when a wall collapsed trapping his legs. Robert Pipe died in hospital a week later at the age of 57. On Monday 23rd November 1987, a citation and photograph of Captain Robert Pipe was unveiled at Harleston Fire Station by the Norfolk Chief Fire Officer in the presence of amongst others, two of Captain Pipe's grand daughters and Ernest George Emms.


Wheelraces 11th April 2004 Tailraces 11th April 2004
Wheelraces 11th April 2004
Tailraces 11th April 2004

In East Anglia when the word “Mill” is mentioned we think of wind or water mills both connected with grinding corn. In Northern England the word “mill” is associated with huge Victorian structures built to spin cotton, originally powered by water wheel but soon converted to steam power with line shafts carrying the power then belt drives to each machine. Hundreds of women toiled in the noise and heat to keep the mill owners profits rolling in. For a while Cotton milling was carried out at Syleham mill
The first mention of Syleham Mill appears in 1779 when it was insured by William Mann for £800 . Ownership passed to Henry Warne & Sons in 1838. In the following year a large portion of the mill was converted to weaving Cotton , Linen and Drabbet. By 1851 the mill had 96 employees.
Drabbet was a coarse cloth with a linen warp and a cotton weft used for making smocks and huckaback a coarse variety of linen for making towels etc. Sales declined during the early 1900s and production of the material finally ceased at the outbreak of the first world war in 1914.
A dye house was also built on the premises thus giving a greater sales flexibility.
In 1872 the mill was offered for sale by auction but remained unsold. The mill was described as a ....substantial structure with spacious floors, the greater part being occupied by weaving looms. The Particulars also describe the premises as including an engine and boiler house, a 16 ft. diameter wheel, counting house, warehouse, three pairs of stones for grinding corn and accommodation for dyeing and drying. A building across the road from the mill was used for drying, the floors being slatted with tenters on which dyed cloth was stretched to dry.
In the mill building the looms were on the ground floor and spinning machines on the first floor. The second floor was used for preparation purposes and the corn mill area was at the western end of the premises.
Both water and steam power was used to drive the machinery but steam power was used only when the water level was too low to operate the wheel.
In 1899 the mill was bought by William Emms the mill and business became known as William Emms & Sons.
In 1900 it was listed as Syleham Drabbett Co., Frederick George Emms, manager. Linen & Ready Made Clothing Manufacturer, Syleham Mills. Later William's son Ernest Richard Emms took over,
preferring the business to be known as Richard Emms & Co. Eventually Ernest Richard Emms' son Ernest George, who had been working with his father took over the business.
Both Ernest Emms snr and Ernest Emms jnr were in Ipswich on Empire Day, 24th May 1928 when they received word that the mill was on fire and they should return immediately. The fire was attended by Harleston Fire Brigade with Captain Robert Pipe in charge. Captain Pipe was injured when a wall collapsed on him he died in hospital a week later at the age of 57.
The mill was completely destroyed in the fire, only the dye works fronting Syleham Road could be saved. It was decided the mill would be used solely for the manufacture of clothing therefore the old dye works became the clothing factory. Power was supplied by an Oil engine to line shafts running at low level with belt drive up to the machines.
Patsy Kelling started work at Syleham Mill in 1937 and remembers the belt drive as when no one was looking the belt was pushed off the pulley bringing the machines to a halt which meant stopping and re-starting the engine this could take some time giving the women a welcome break!
Often the women would join in a sing along to the latest tunes as they worked
The bridge crossing the Waveney was subject to tolls with the toll house situated by the Mill South of the river. The toll gate keeper was Mr Todd whose daughter became Daisy Flaxmer her son Michael and wife Greta now live in Scole.
By 1950 the factory was relocated to a Prefabricated building on the opposite side of the road.
In 1955 Jenny Clarke started working as a machinist at Emms, she also now lives in Scole. In those days the toll bridge was operated by Mrs Reeve the 1d. (old penny) foot or cycle charge was waived for Mill employees. At that time the old mill was used for storage of imported rolls of fabric, packing and offices with most of the work being carried out in the new factory “over the road.”
This was a prefabricated building of no architectural merit but fitted out as a fully operational clothing factory powered by electricity direct to each machine.
Electric sewing machines were arranged in rows, the machinists operating a production line passing the item on for the next process. To the rear of the machinists, material was cut out, steam irons and presses were operated. In all when working flat out it was a noisy place but a happy factory with respect between staff and management.
Emms had factories at Diss (on Victoria Road now Ridgeons) and Wilby Road, Stradbrooke. Altogether they were major employers but as the 60’s drew to a close increased competition from the Far East was eating away at their margins they also found it difficult to recruit machinists.
In 1971: F.W. Harmer & Co. Norwich bought the whole of Emms business. Harmers, who were well aware the business was in decline, introduced the latest management techniques. The time & motion man appeared along with his stop watch. The clothing boxes were replaced with a rail, staff bonuses suffered. But they struggled on until December 1989 when F.W. Harmer closed down Syleham with the loss of 100 jobs.
In 1975 Harmers had celebrated its 150th anniversary. They were then one of the largest privatelyowned clothing manufacturers in the country.
In 1983, Harmers exhibited its range of trousers and school blazers at the International Men and Boys Wear Exhibition in London and also invested £100,000 in a new computer which prepared work for the cutting room.
In January, 1989 Frank Short was appointed Managing Director, the first time this post had been held other than by a member of the Harmer family. Mr. Short found himself at the head of a company in decline: the country was in recession, foreign competition was increasing, and a declining work-force housed in a large factory building with high running costs. The firm suffered badly and eventually went into voluntary liquidation. By August 1990, the bulldozers had moved in to demolish the Norwich factory.
In 1997 the remaining part of the mill was sold for conversion to cottages.
Chris Earl - 1st November 2010


Tea-break for Margaret Wallace, Jean Gower (with flask) and Diane Pretty c.1965 Machinists at work. Manager Mr. Nunn overseeing the work.
Tea-break for Margaret Wallace, Jean Gower (with flask) and Diane Pretty c.1965
Machinists at work. Manager Mr. Nunn overseeing the work.
Margaret Marjoram in foreground c.1965

Staff photo at factory closure December 1989
Staff photo at factory closure December 1989

I've been tracing my distant relatives in Norfolk & Suffolk.
Henry Warne, of Hoxne and Syleham Mills was my GGG Grandfather, his daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Coleby at Diss in 1841, so it is more than likely Henry & Thomas were in partnership. Thomas & Elizabeth (Both Born 1820) lived in Hoxne for a few years & in the 1841 census are listed as living at the 'Factory', Hoxne.  They moved to Northenden, about 7 miles south of Manchester some time in the late 1800s (Thomas was listed as a Cotton Yarn Merchant and had a business in Manchester). They went on to have 12 children!!! One of their sons, Thomas Henry Coleby B.1844 (My G Grandfather) is listed in the 1851 census at Syleham House. I actually have a photo taken 1880 of the house with several family members.

Ian Warburton - 8th August 2014


O. S. Map 1884

O. S. Map 1884
Courtesy of NLS map images


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

Kirby's map 1736

1779: William Mann, miller, corn merchant and farrier, also Weybread mill

1779: William Mann insured the mill for £800, the stock for £700 and the mill house for £400

1784: William Mann, also at Bungay Wainford and Weybread mills

2nd September 1826: Mill advertised for sale or let
by order of the Assignees under Harvey & Hills bankruptcy

1838: Mill advertised as being let

1839: Large portion of the mill converted to weaving with water powered looms

White's 1844: Henry Warne & Sons, Cotton & Linen Manufacturers, Syleham Mills

Census 1851: Henry Warne, drabbet manufacturer employing 96 persons

8th November 1852: Henry Warne died leaving the business to wife Sarah and son Charles

c.1861: Charles Warne entered into partnership with Frederick Payne

29th July 1862: Press announcement that the partnership between Charles Warne and Frederick Payne was dissolved

Harrod's 1864: Charles Warne, linen manufacturer and corn miller

Kelly's 1865: Charles Warne, drabbett, linen and smock manufacturer by water and steam power

1872: Charles Warne became insolvent

1872: Mill put up for sale by auction but remained unsold

1872: Messrs. George Chase & Edward Adlophus Holmes. George Chase was a farmer, landowner, merchant and miller at Mendham mill in partnership with John Munnings

White's 1885: Messrs. George Chase & Edward Adlophus Holmes

Kelly's 1888: Syleham Drabbett Co., linen and smock manufacturers. Edward A. Holmes, manager

Kelly's 1892: Syleham Drabbett Co., Linen and smock manufacturers. Edward A. Holmes, manager

c.1898: Sale particulars stated that the mill employed 80-100 hands and returned approx.£9,000 p.a.

11th October 1899: Expiry of lease owned by executors of Henry Warne to Messrs. E.A Holmes & Co (Edward Holmes Lord Mayor of Southwold for 2nd term of office in 1909)

1899: William Emms & Son

Kelly's 1900: Syleham Drabbett Co., Frederick George Emms, manager. Linen & Ready Made Clothing Manufacturer, Syleham Mills

Kelly's 1904: Syleham Drabbett Co., Frederick George Emms, manager. Linen & Ready Made Clothing Manufacturer, Syleham Mills. N.B. Business

O.S. map 1904: Drabbet Manufactury and Corn Mill

1914: Drabbet production ceased and men's ready made garments were produced

24th May 1928: Mill destroyed by fire due to an overheated bearing, along with part of the drabbett factory and the Toll cottage

1959: Richard Emms Ltd, Clothing Manufacturers

1969: E.G. Emms sold the business to Robert Hurst of the Carrington Viyella Group

1971: F.W. Harmer & Co

December 1989: F.W. Harmer closed down with the loss of 100 jobs at Syleham

July 2004: Apartment No. 4 in one of the remaining buildings offered for sale by Bidwells at a guide price of £255,000


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