Bridgham
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MILL HOUSE, MILLERS & THE WINDMILL IN THE 19th CENTURY

Although this is very well documented period in Bridgham’s history the occupation of Mill House is a confusing one. This is due in part to the fact that for the first 75 years of the century, there was a working mill with named millers. However, the millers did not always live in Mill House. It becomes more confusing as the owners of Mill House were not always millers and they may or may not have lived there either. Finally, the occupiers are the most difficult group to discern as most of the censuses from 1841 to 1901 fail to list the name of the house. It is not safe to assume that because a man is listed as a miller in the census, that he is living in Mill House. On some occasions the occupier is neither the owner nor the miller. If one consults the trade directories of the time, the name of the miller can be a big surprise as there is no evidence of the person living anywhere in Bridgham. But as censuses are only every decade, we can’t be sure whether they commuted to work in Bridgham or lived here.

THE OWNERS, 1805-1905

One branch of the Ruddock family first appears in the Bridgham parish registers in the 1780s. William Ruddock is the first named owner in 1805. He was married to Sarah Aylett and had at least five children: Elizabeth (born 1803), William Aylett (1806), Sarah (1808), John (1810), Robert Henry (1811). The John and Mary Ruddock who appear in 1780 are probably his parents as they are living in Mill House prior to enclosure. (So the house was built some years before the mill was new built c.1808 - which may hint at a rebuild)

1804 saw the passing of the Enclosure Act for Bridgham. Enclosure was the fencing off and redistribution of land. It took a few years to sort out all the implications of the Act, the Award being produced in 1806. William Ruddock, carpenter, already held (other) land in Bridgham as the Manorial Court Book record for 13 th February 1807 makes it clear that he is receiving Mill House and Mill Field as a copyhold tenant for ever ‘in lieu of his former lands and tenements holden of this manor’ for a quit rent of 2d annually. The copyhold fee is a guinea. Clearly he had lost some land and property as a result of enclosure and Mill House and Mill Field were his compensation. He also had to pay a proportion of the fee for enclosing the lands of Bridgham. His contribution was £4/5/-. To get this in perspective, the total was £1,494 17s 6d with the two main landowners paying over £1,400 between them and the remaining ten men all paid less than £20.

The Enclosure Award of land contains the first written description of Mill House and moves on to Mill Field:

William Ruddock, carpenter - a copyhold tenant .

"First, one piece containing 23 perches bounded

by the Town Street Road towards the North,

by land allotted to Robert Algar the elder towards the East,

and land thereby allotted to John Pilgrim towards the South and West.

Second, one other piece containing 3 acres and 16 perches bounded

by the Larling Road towards the North,

by land allotted to John Brame in part towards the East,

by the aforesaid Town Street Road in part towards the South,

by lands allotted to John Sterry in part towards the West and another part of the South, by land allotted to Robert Algar the elder on other parts of the South and East,

by land allotted to John Sare on other part of the south and on the remaining part of the East (should this be west?)

by the aforesaid Town Street Road on the remaining part of the South, and

by the Roudham Road on the remaining part of the West."

For some reason only 2 acres 2 roods and 29 perches of the field are copyhold for ever, leaving 1 rood and 27 perches unaccounted for. This is an area three times the size of Mill House land. The description of Mill Field sounds very complicated. Basically, it is a rectangular field which at the East end comes down to the The Street, but in the south-west quarter there is an incursion of three other smaller plots. These are also rectangular but of different lengths and breadths, allotted to Robert Algar, John Sare and John Sterry.

Thirty years later William’s daughter, Sarah, married a John Seare – perhaps his neighbour’s son. A messuage is property law term for a dwelling-house together with its outbuildings and surrounding land. Copyhold is where the evidence of tenure of house/land is recorded in a court roll. The ‘tenant’ is able to buy and sell but only by coming before the court and paying a fee. The Court Book states that:

In this court William Ruddock did by the rod surrender out of his hands of the Lord of the manor all and singular his messuage lands, tenements and herediaments whatsoever holden of this manor by copy of court roll.

At the same court sitting, he obtains a mortgage on Mill House for £150 from John Smith - nearly double its value of a century later! The court book makes no mention of who the miller is.

William Ruddock died on 12 January 1812. He was 35 with five children under 10 years of age. His widow, Sarah was clearly grief-stricken. His gravestone in Bridgham churchyard is one of the oldest that can still be read:

Time swept by his o’erwhelming tide,
My faithful partner from my side
And you of yours depriv’d maybe
As unexpectedly as me.
Set then your heart on things above,
Death soon will end all mortal love.

The manorial court did not meet regularly, so it is over two years before it addresses the inheritance of Mill House. On 10 August 1815, the court accepts that William’s eldest son, William Aylett Ruddock, inherits the property, but as he is only nine his mother is given wardship of both him and Mill House until he is 21, in 1826.


Life expectancy at the time was not high, but the Ruddocks seem particularly unfortunate. Sarah remarried on 1 st August 1816. Her new husband William Self was five years younger than her. Two years later, Thomas, probably their first child, died aged 8 months. William Ruddock the elder’s likely parents, John and Mary reached their allotted span of three score years and ten, dying in 1821 at 70 and 1825 at 74 respectively. But a year after reaching his majority, William Aylett Ruddock dies at 22 in 1827. His epitaph is also intact:

Affliction some long time I bore
Physicians came in vain.
Death did ease and God did please
To rid me of my pain.

The next eldest brother, John, should now inherit but he is only 17. He fails to attend the first court meeting and so the decision is held over until 25 June 1828. He has to pay an inheritance fee and a fine for his previous non-appearance totalling £23. This seems a hefty amount considering most of the village were considered poor enough to be eligible for charitable status. For this they had to earn under £21 a year! John was unable to pay the £23, so it was loaned him by his step-father William Self with John promising to pay him back before his 21 st birthday. Further sorrows are in store, for both John’s mother, Sarah, dies in August 1833 at 52 and her second husband, William, follows her that November at 47. The rector of Bridgham throughout this woeful period for the Ruddocks was the Revd. Stephen George Comyn, whose main claim to fame was as chaplain to Nelson on three different ships. He was with Nelson at the Battle of the Nile before settling in Bridgham in 1802. He buried all these Ruddocks, and sadly, officiated at more Ruddock funerals than marriages.

In 1835, John Ruddock is the first member of the family to be described as Corn Miller (in White’s Directory). This is a good year for John, as he marries Harriet Middleton on 17 th October. But tragedy is never far away, for John dies the following year on 27 th May. The court records are rather confusing at this point. Firstly, the court confirms that there are no outstanding mortgages or loans on Mill House (going back to John Smith’s of 1807 and William Self’s twenty years later). Curiously, John Ruddock was said to be living at Gasthorpe from as early as 1832. Was he commuting to work at Bridgham? Even more surprising is that when his widow, Harriet, attends the court she has to travel from her new home in Dereham. John Ruddock, following his father’s and elder brother’s example, had mortgaged Mill House to Rebecca Hastead for £160 and also secured a loan from Robert Everett of £10. All the debts were paid off before his death. Ruddock remembers his half-brother and half-sisters, Robert, Mary and Emma Self, in his will, which was written 13 days before he died.. He leaves them £10 each for when they come of age at 21, but only if his wife can afford it. No sooner does Harriet inherit Mill House, but at the same court sitting she sells it to Robert Everett, who buys it for his wife, Sarah, for £250.

Inheriting Mill House seems to be the kiss of death at this time. The property had five owners in a twenty-two year period. Robert Everett fares little better, for nine years later it is transferred to his widow, Sarah. He leaves her in his will:
"...my windmill, with all the machines, going gears and appurtenances, and the piece of land on which my mill stands …"

Just over a decade later, her grandson, Edwin Thomas Everett, inherits Mill House on 16 October 1856. The description of the property has a better description of the house in her will and it takes into account the presence of the windmill:

"…all that my cottage or tenement with the barn stable and appurtenances thereto belonging and also my windmill and the going gears…"

Although a grandson, and therefore considerably younger than his grandmother Sarah, Edwin dies just ten years later. Edwin is described as a gentleman of the city of Norwich, so clearly was neither a miller nor an occupier. Perhaps local families had enough of the ‘curse’ of inheriting of Mill House, for this time it is not bequeathed but sold by auction. The successful bidder on 1 st April 1865 is William Duncan of 48, Oxford Terrace, Hyde Park, Middlesex! He paid £280 and the land tax was 12s with an annual quit rent of 10s. I have no idea what he would want with it. Local knowledge states that the windmill was a post mill. The court book for this change of copyhold confirms this. Included in the sale are:

"…the post mill and tackle and going gears, utensils and implements, machinery and apparatus…"

It also confirms that the house is in the occupation of Thomas Sayer. William Duncan is a widower who by 1875 has moved, but only round the corner to 83, Gloucester Terrace in Hyde Park. He appears in the list of electors, which means he had bought the freehold in the interim and was no longer a copyhold tenant. Thus, there are no more transactions in the Court Books concerning the property. His last mention is as a registered elector in 1890, so presumably died a short while after. He held Mill House for 25 years, far longer than anyone else in the 19 th century.

I cannot locate to whom he left Mill House without looking up his will in London. Then, in 1905, it is sold by Charles Arthur Duncan (clearly a relative) of 5 Windsor Mansions, Northumberland Street, Baker Street, London for just £80 to Thomas Wincup Newson. So in the hundred years since being awarded to William Ruddock, Mill House has been inherited six times but only sold thrice. The original mortgage of £150 doesn’t necessarily reflect the full value. The purchase prices of £250 and £280 in 1836 and 1865 must allow for a working windmill. By 1905, this is no longer the case, hence the knock down price of £80.

Schoolboys of a century ago, such as Roper Reeve, Alf Meek and Reggie Cole recalled playing around the base of the old mill. Roper Reeve recorded the following in his memoirs:

“There was a windmill in Bridgham years ago, standing and working on the field at the back of the old Wesleyan Chapel [village hall]. The field is still known as Mill Field. During my school days there was about four feet of the brick wall circle standing and we used this for running round and play pens. The entrance was from a gate in Green Lane.”

Jimmy Alderton, born 1907, was the ‘youngest’ person I have met who could recall the ruins. Sonny Chapman, 90 this year, did not come to the village until 1919 and there was no trace of the mill then. Perhaps the debris was cleared away for use in the war effort, or maybe locals used it as a handy source of material. The clearance, though, is utterly complete. In 60 years of ploughing Mill Field, the Chapmans never found a trace of the windmill apart from an area of the field which is more chalky than the rest - a mill that has gone with the wind!

THE MILLERS, 1835-1875

It is only in this mid-century period of 40 years that I have been able to discover the names of the Bridgham millers. They change so often, that one wonders if milling was a going concern – though the Ruddock managed to pay off all their loans. (They obviously didn’t have an endowment mortgage!) Clearly, all was over by the end of the century as there is no mention of a miller at all and it was in ruins by 1900. So, there was money in milling but the condition and age of the mill at Bridgham may have prevented the miller doing a good job or severely reduced his profit. The names of the millers come from three main sources: trade directories such as Kelly’s, census returns and the tithe award of 1838. They are, with the years they are known to have been the miller:

  • John Ruddock, 1835, mentioned above. He inherited the mill at 17 in 1827 and was only 25 when listed as the corn miller. Where he learned his trade is a mystery as his father was always described as a carpenter. However, several other known millers have also been called carpenters. Perhaps this was a dual occupation. How he managed the mill when he lived in Gasthorpe for the last few years of his short life is not known. He died the following year
  • William Hart Wilton, 1841-45. Another young man. He was 25 in 1841 and living with his father and step-mother, Edmund and Sophia Wilton at Rose Cottage on census night. His father was another of the Bridgham carpenters. Later the same year, William marries Elizabeth Burston or Brewster on 24 th October. Their subsequent children are Emma (b.1843), Ellis Gapp (1845), Robert Andrew (1846/7), Lucy Hart (1848) and Charles William (1851). He is still the miller in 1845 but by the next census in 1851 he gives his occupation as journeyman carpenter. He is succeeded as miller by his younger half-brother.
  • Jonathan Wilton, 1851. Jonathan was named miller in census year, yet was only 21. It is clearly a young man’s profession - before they die prematurely or move onto something else. At least, that is how it seems in the first half of the century. Their father Edmund’s first wife was Martha, and their children were Mary, Elizabeth, Elsie, Edmund, William, Charles and Bennett. Jonathan was the first child of Edmund’s second wife, Sophia and was followed by Anne, Hannah, Maria, and Ellen. Of these twelve children, Mary died aged 11, Hannah at 14 and Ellen at just a few months old. Jonathan and Hannah were baptised just after they were born in 1830 and 1833. Their parents must have forgotten this for they were done again as part of a job lot with a new sister in 1837! There is no trace of Jonathan in the village after 1851. He may have married and moved away or sought a different occupation elsewhere, like his brother William.
  • Potter Batson, 1854. The only other fact known about Potter Batson’s connection with Bridgham is that he and his wife Sarah buried their daughter Charlotte Ann here in 1854. This is the same year he is listed as miller, so may have not stayed here long. The tragedy of losing their daughter may have prompted them to move on. It is such a rare name that I was surprised to find another Potter Batson, an Aylsham butcher, dying five years before. He left a curious will in which no family members are mentioned. Surely the two men are related – the combination of names is so unusual. Perhaps the butcher was the father of the miller and they weren’t on speaking terms. I sense a family drama here.
  • Thomas and John Sayer or Sare, 1856. Thomas bucks the trend of young millers. He is 60 in 1856 and has had considerable milling experience, being a miller for much of his working life. Although the Sare/Sear/Sayer family had been in Bridgham for generations, he was actually born in Shropham. He is the first miller since John Ruddock that we can be sure lived in Mill House. He was also a local preacher and perhaps took services at the Wesleyan Chapel which abutted Mill Field. The chapel was erected in 1834. He lived in Mill House with his wife Mary and daughter Emily who, by the census of 1861 was 22 and a dressmaker.

There was also a servant living in the house on the 1861 census night. This was William Bowen aged 17 from Rocklands whose occupation is given as miller. He was presumably Thomas Sayer’s assistant at the mill and may have done the lion’s share of the work, perpetuating the village tradition of it being a young man’s trade.

Thomas and Mary had at least another five daughters: Sarah Ann and Elizabeth (who both married shoemakers), Betsey, Charlotte and Martha, (who married William Pinner in 1849). I have found only one son, John, who left home as well as marrying - for which his parents must have been truly grateful. He was a miller at the time of his marriage in 1856, so presumably assisted his father.

  • J.Whitehead, 1864. There were Whiteheads in Bridgham from 1722, but no J. Whitehead who fits the bill unless he is over 80! Presumably a mistake for Thomas . This miller is listed in White’s directory and that is all I know of him. It is strange that Thomas Sayer has moved on after such a short time though he may have died. It is odder that he came to Bridgham in the first place, having spent so much time in Shropham. I suspect that many of the Sare/Sayers in the Bridgham were his relatives and that is what drew him here; that and perhaps the Wesleyan Chapel.
  • David Davy, 1868/9 The Davy family lived diagonally opposite Mill House in the White Lion when it was a beer house. The Davys were also carpenters and David himself described himself as one when he signed his daughter’s marriage certificate. As far as I have been able to discover he and his wife Elsabeth had just three girls (a small family for the times and one of these died in infancy. One of the Davys, and I am fairly sure it was David, was a skilful sign writer whose work was seen on many tradesmen’s carts in the area. Roper Reeve recalls running errands for him as a young boy in the early years of the 20 th century. He sent boys to buy his tobacco for smoking or chewing. He bought it ½ oz. each time price 1½d and the brand was Dog & Monkey.
  • Robert Pinner, 1871. Like Thomas Sayer, he also lived in Mill House and was born is Shropham, but like many of the other millers was young, just 21, and unmarried. He is actually listed as a master miller and is the grandson of Thomas Sayer.
  • George Pitcher, 1872. He seems to be the man who never was. His name appears for one year only and there is no trace of him or his family in the census or parish records. He obviously arrived soon after the 1871 census and went before the next one.
  • George Tuck, 1874. At his marriage in 1874, at the age of 22, his occupation is given as miller, but it is not known if this is in Bridgham. By the time his children are getting married he has changed trade to that of keeper. The mill was no longer in use by then. He turned to gamekeeping.
  • David Davy, 1875. For a couple of years in the early 1870s David Davy appears to have relinquished the mill to others. Perhaps he wanted to pursue his other occupations; by 1883 he is described as carpenter and shopkeeper. He died in 1916 aged 88.
  • George Tuck, 1877. This time, George is named as the miller of Bridgham in the trade directory. He seems to be the last miller of Bridgham. The mill was still in use as a grocer’s shop in 1882, and George Tuck was the village grocer by 1883. It is not certain that he lived in Mill House, but his daughter, Frances, married Herbert Stammers in 1899, and they moved into Mill House around 1913. A year later, George remarried at the age of 62, his trade then being market gardener.

The 1881 census and the succeeding trade directories all fail to list a miller. So this was the end of one of Bridgham’s principal trades and buildings after many hundreds of years.


FAMILY CONNECTIONS

The main names that recur as either owners, millers, residents or with business connections are Ruddock, Sayer, Davy, Dearsley and Pinner. Bridgham is a small village and there was considerable intermarrying between the various families. The connections between the above families though, is more than coincidence as it help explain where the next owner, tenant of miller came from. The White Lion and its occupants have a link with Mill House as well. here are a few of the connections:

in bold = miller in italics = known to have lived in Mill House

  • 1806, William Ruddock’s Mill field abuts on to the land of John Sare
  • 1813 or before, Rebecca Hastead provides a mortgage on Mill House
  • 1834, John Ruddock sells the White Lion to James Davy (father of David) which is in the occupation of John Dearsley senior
  • 1835, Sarah Ruddock, (John’s sister), marries John Sayer/Sare (any relation?)
  • 1841, William Cutter lodges at Mill House, his mother: mortgagee Rebecca Hastead
  • 1856, a different John Sayer (son of Thomas Sayer) marries Ellen Davy (daughter of James & brother of David)
  • 1858, John Dearsley junior marries Mary Ann Sayer (daughter of Thomas Sayer)
  • 1871, Robert Pinner, miller, is grandson of Thomas Sayer and nephew of John Dearsley and Ellen Davy, and possibly great-nephew of Sarah Ruddock, thereby linking four or five of the principal names.
MILL HOUSE: THE OCCUPANTS

As mentioned earlier, this is the least clear cut of the three groups to determine. I assume that the Ruddock family were living in Mill House before and after the enclosure award of 1806. This family group comprised William and Sarah, their five children and most likely William’s parents, John and Mary, as well. When Sarah married William Self following William Ruddock’s death, it is likely that he moved in with her as he loaned the money to his stepson, John, so that he could inherit Mill House as copyhold tenant.


For the next 20 years, Mill House was owned by members of the Everett family. They were based in East Harling, were not millers and there is no evidence they ever lived in the house. However, 1838 saw the execution of the Tithe Award. The map and accompanying text reveal that although Robert Everett owned Mill House and Mill Field, the house was occupied by two families, that of James Ludkin and William Cutter. They were still there three years later on the 1841 census night.

James Ludkin was a shoemaker. He married Elizabeth Brown in 1834. By the time of the census they had produced five children: David Cornelius (born out of wedlock in 1833), Mary Ann (1834), Elizabeth (1837), James (1835) and Robert (1841). Ludkin’s wife died the following year. She was 36. There is no record of the Ludkins in the village after this time.


William Cutter was a member of a well-known Bridgham family. Like several of his descendants he was a blacksmith. His mother was Rebecca nee Hastead, to whom John Ruddock has mortgaged Mill House in the 1820s. William married Maria Cooper in 1837 so starting their married life in Mill House, but sharing it with another family. He was 21 and she, 20. At the time of the 1841 census they had John aged 2 and Rebecca 3 months together with the luxury of a live-in, 45-year old nurse called Jane Brindle. This gives a total of five adults and six children! (David Cornelius Ludkin is not listed – he may have died, been staying elsewhere or been brought up by grandparents, as often happened to illegitimate children). It is not like the extended Sayer family of two decades later. How did two families and a nurse all live together? The rooms are easily split downstairs, but upstairs, with six young children, must have been a nightmare! The census indicates that the building was divided into two.

By the time of the next census, the Ludkins had left Bridgham and the Cutters had increased their family with Mary Ann, 7 in 1851, William 6 and Albert Isaac 1. But they didn’t stop there! Clara Maria came along in 1855 followed by Henry Augustus two years later. There is no certainty that the Cutters were by then at Mill House. The house is not named on the census and the Cutters are listed next to the Brames who lived at the Red Lion. As the blacksmiths was near there, it’s highly likely the Cutters had moved next to William’s place of work. There is no record of any of their seven offspring dying in childhood, but their father was buried when the youngest, Henry, was nine. William Cutter was just 49. This means that, in 1851, we don’t know who was at Mill House.

In 1861 and 1871 it is the Sayer family, mentioned earlier under millers. Thomas and Mary said they were 46 and 42 twenty years before in Shropham. In 1861 they lay claim to 65 and 63! Folks seems quite slack in this regard. As well as them, Emily Sayer and William Bowen, also living at Mill House in 1861 and described as lodgers, were John and Mary Ann Dearsley/Darsley (aged 28 &27) and their two children Frederick John aged two and Susan, one. Frederick was born before she married and he bore the name Sayer rather than Dearsley until he died. One can imagine what her lay-preaching father thought about this! JohnDearsley died early, aged 46 in 1879. His parents outlived him by quite a few years.

Where all the 1861 residents slept and how they managed to live together is a mystery. The four bedrooms probably housed 1) Thomas and Mary; 2) Emily; 3) John, Mary Ann, Frederick and Susan; and 4) William. Of course, the young Dearsley family may have had one of the downstairs reception rooms instead of or as well as a bedroom. There are two doors leading off the front door – highly suitable for lodgers, even if they are family!

There is lot more room in 1871, when there are only two residents: Emily Sayer and her nephew Robert Pinner. Ten years before, Emily was a 22-year old dressmaker; now she is housekeeper to her nephew. They are only ten years apart in age. Her older sister, Martha, is Robert’s mother, having married William Pinner in 1849.

In 1881, the Mill House is not specified but Frederick Sayer was living in the village. He, like Robert Pinner, was a grandson of Thomas Sayer. He married Catherine Bassingthwaite the year before, when they were both aged 22 and his occupation is that of groom. They may be living at Mill House, we just don’t know. There are also Daselys in the village and George Tuck is living very close to the Reeves and Davys, who were known to live adjacent to and opposite Mill House. It’s anyone’s guess.

The census is no clearer in either 1891 or 1901. So there is a 35-year gap between Robert Pinner and his aunt living there in 1871 and Arthur and Grace Stammers in 1906. Each census lists a few uninhabited houses and there is always the possibility that with the mill in ruins, no one was living in Mill House. This might explain why it sold for only £80 in 1905.

David O'Neale - 20th January 2008

Mill House c.1982 Estate agent photo 1987
Mill House c.1982
Estate agent photo 1987

THE STAMMERS, 1905-1927

The Stammers family arrived in Bridgham from the Dolphin Inn at Harling Road in the late nineteenth century. Henry, the head of the household, came as proprietor of the Red Lion. He and his wife Elizabeth had 10 children. Within a short space of time he became a man of property in the village, buying up quite a few houses. Over time, his growing family would move into various of his houses, but sometimes rented elsewhere in the village.

Thomas Newson bought Mill House in 1905. It is not known with any certainty who was living there then, but in the same year Henrys Stammers’ fifth son, Arthur George (1882-1953) married Grave Roberta Burt. His occupation was given as groom. They moved into Mill House shortly afterwards and the first two of their five children were born there: Florence Grace (6 July 1906) and Arthur George junior (3 October 1908). Florence had special needs and the young Arthur became the father of Dudley, Brian, Alan etc and great-grandfather of Andrew of The Angel, Larling). Thomas Newson and Arthur Stammers senior are listed in the Register of duties on land values (also called the Domesday Books). Under the 1910 Finance Act, a valuation was made of all properties in England and Wales. The ‘Domesday Books’ give a brief description of each property, the names of its owner and occupier and a note of its value. It includes the Mill Field. The whole is valued at £208 but £101 is deducted for out-buildings, structures and machinery. A further £8 is taken off for fruit trees, bringing the original full-site value down to £99. More calculations follows. The tithe rent charge is £18 giving an original total value of £190 (£208 - £18). However, this £190 is then taken away from the house value of £208, leaving what is called an original assessable site value of £81. Remarkably, Thomas Newson bought it for £80 five years earlier. Either this is a very accurate estimate of the market value or the assessors knew about the house sale and concocted their figures accordingly. The agricultural land was valued at £75.

In the same register, Henry Herbert Stammers (born 1879) was in one of his father’s houses, presumably slightly inferior as it was valued at £74. He was known as Herbert as his father was also Henry . In 1913, Arthur and Grace moved to The Angel at Larling. The reason for taking on a pub was to get the farm that went with it. Although Brian and Dudley continued to farm there after their father, there was a long gap in the middle of the century when they did not run the Angel – contrary to local belief. Brian only took it on in the early 1980s.

What happens next at Mill House isn’t clear, but it is highly likely that as Arthur moved out, Herbert and his wife, moved in. She was Frances Phoebe Tuck and by 1913 already had four children: Dorothy Frances, Herbert Henry George (known as Sonny), Evelyn Irene and Mabel Honoria (an old Tuck name). George Tuck was the miller in 1874. Sybil Elizabeth Ellen’s birth was actually in 1913, so it may have been at Mill House. The last was Hilda Edith Alice in 1915. Herbert’s occupation progresses from groom to coachman and ends up as dealer. The family were certainly here in the early 1920s. Herbert did not have a pub to run, so lived as a small-holder. The stock included cows in the back meadow. Sonny Chapman and Ivy Ward would go together in the mornings to buy milk, probably from Mabel Stammers who looked after the cows. They took a milk can each and the milk was ladled into the cans. Because the next door houses (going westwards) were all Stammers’ properties, a door was made in the far side of the barn so Herbert had access to the back field which he owned.

Herbert also kept work-horses which were stabled in the barn, where the fodder was stored. The horses were used for ploughing the fields, including Mill Field, though the back field was cultivated as well. He had a two-horse brake which could seat about a dozen adults. This was in great demand, for example taking folks to the Watton Show and not least on quoit away matches at pubs in the locality. Sonny was often woken up by the wild carousing from the cart when the men came back late at night in the summer months – usually celebrating a victory, and certainly the worse (or better?) for drink. There was a golden period between August 1919 and May 1921, when they won 19 consecutive matches; no wonder Sonny was woken up! The Bridgham team was based at the Red Lion so there was considerable Stammers involvement in the sport.

As to Herbert Stammers, he was a real character. He had a reputation as a womaniser, heavy drinker and wheeler-dealer. Two stories about him give an idea of what he was like. Coming home inebriated late one night, he found that his wife Frances had locked him out. He stood at the back door shouting to be let in. She refused. The top panels of the door were of glass and he could see her standing there. He then went down to the pigs and got a bowl of swill. He came back and smashed the glass with the bowl and then threw the swill over her.

The other story concerns the back field. He was short of money. (This may have occurred as he was moving away in 1927). He asked his brother, Gordon, if he would buy the field from him. Gordon ran the Red Lion and was the father of Colin, John, Gordon (who owned the field when we came to Bridgham) and Vera. His brother agreed to the sale, but it was only after the purchase was completed that Gordon discovered his brother still had a mortgage on the field which Gordon would have to pay off!

Herbert moved first to Snetterton to try his hand at farming. This wasn’t a success, so he then turned his hand to the old family business of running a pub. This was at Reydon, near Southwold, where he ended his days.

David O'Neale - 20th January 2008

Mill House dining room 1987 Mill House sitting room 1987
Estate agency photo of Mill House dining room 1987
Estate agency photo of Mill House sitting room 1987

SHORT-STAY TENANTS, 1928-1942

The Chapmans occupied Mill House for 35 years, 1942 to 1977. (It was then uninhabited until 1980.) Compared to them, the six families below were in and out in 14 years... The main factor in this mobility is that they were all renting and in some cases, the opportunities for better work took them out of the village. They last three all had one thing in common: they each had an only child.

I have not been able to find out anything of the first three sets of tenants apart from their names. Sonny Chapman, who might have helped me, was living in Thetford during this period and only came here to work.

I obtained their names from the register of electors, so have no details of any children or anyone under 21. The adults were:

WILLIAM & FLORENCE LOUISA FROST, 1928-9

JAMES AND MARTHA SNOWDEN, 1930

ALFRED FREDERICK AND GERTRUDE MARTHA DULLER, 1931


THE DENNISS FAMILY 1934 - 1936

The Denniss family moved into Mill House (and to Bridgham itself) on 21st April 1934. The parents were Hugh Bourne Denniss and his wife Gertrude. Their two sons were the older Leslie and 16-year old, Horace - known as Horrie. Hugh was a small holder and Horrie spent his working life on farms but never liked it. He loved books and had a lively enquiring mind, but had the misfortune to live his youth at a time when opportunities and expectations were low. Gertrude loved Mill House, particularly the view over the back wall across the field. As she commented to Horrie when gazing down towards the river, "If paradise is as beautiful and peaceful as this, then that will be good enough for me."

Horrie Denniss and Ian Chapman are the only people I have known who can clearly remember the front door opening . As a working teenager, (probably at Roudham Farm), he had been seriously unwell for a few days and was in receipt of some form of sick pay. Feeling a little better he went for a short walk up Chapel Lane. He was seen by a neighbour who reported him for ‘swinging the lead’. In due course, a female official called at the front door to enquire about Horrie’s condition. His mother opened the door and the official explained the reason for her call. Gertrude called Horrie to the front door. As he arrived the sun came out and reflected off the green glass onto Horrie’s face making him look even worse than he felt. ‘Goodness me!’ said the official, ‘I can see you really are sick - get back inside immediately.’ Ironically, the green glass is still there, as is the Mill House sign above the door, but nobody has seen the door key for years.


Horace & Hilda Denniss c.1935
Hugh & Gertrude Denniss c.1935
Horace & Hilda Denniss c.1935

However, Hugh Denniss was not so enamoured of the house. One day, only a few years after moving in, he came home and told them that Mill House was too dark to live in and the only place the sun shone in was in the kitchen first thing in the morning. Consequently, they would be moving along the street to what is now Orchard Cottage. This they did without further ado, though neither mother nor son were not forewarned or consulted. Horrie named his new house Orchard Cottage, as there was a small orchard in the rear garden.

As to the dark nature of Mill House, following Ian Chapman’s visit I can see why Hugh Denniss was fed up with it. Downstairs, owing to the pantry at one end of the living room, the only windows in the reception rooms faced north. Bay windows were inserted in Victorian times, and this was probably to let more light in rather being an architectural fashion accessory. In the 1930s, the kitchen had one small window facing east - which gave some pleasure to Mr. Denniss at breakfast. Upstairs, two bedrooms faced north - one of them the master bedroom, and further bedroom looked out on the barn gable end. So, yes, it was a dismal house at that time and there was no electricity to lighten the darkness. I can understand why Hugh felt compelled to move, but surprised that he didn’t consult his wife. However, if he knew, as Horrrie did, how much she enjoyed living there he probably planned to pre-empt any objections by announcing a fait accompli.

THE KEMPS, 1937 – 41?

Joseph William and Alice Harriet Kemp were the next tenants. Joe was the brother of Frank who farmed Roudham at this time. They worked together for a while, but they didn’t suit each other. If there is one person you can tell what you think of them it is your brother!

Joe took over Lodge Farm, Gasthorpe and for a while ‘commuted’ before moving there. He was known as the carrot king and had pioneered the use of a weed-killer which contained paraffin. By the front gate on the garden side he had a petrol pump inserted for his personal and farm use. According to Ian Chapman, this was in a dangerous condition and was dug up and removed when the Kemps left. Joe and Alice’s only daughter, Diane, was born in Mill House in 1938. Betty Meek recalls Diane as a baby being left for her daytime sleep in an octagonal summer house close to where the elderflower tree is now.

THE CARDYS 1941-2?

The final tenants before the Chapman were Frederick Arthur and Edith Elizabeth Cardy. They are related to Tony Cardy of Kenninghall and Len Cardy who had the garage in East Harling was Fred’s brother. Fred Cardy was involved in agricultural engineering. Fred and Edith’s only child, Sheilagh Mary Jane Cardy, was born in Mill House in 1941, just three years after Diane Kemp. As the Cardys moved out by 1942, she has no recollection of living here nor any photographs from that period. Her mother, for a while, worked as a playground supervisor at Norwich Road School Thetford when Betty Meek started in the kitchen there in 1945. Betty was just 14. But, of course, it was three years since then that the Cardys had lived in Bridgham.

David O'Neale - 20th January 2008

The CHAPMANS, 1942 - 1980

The Chapmans sold Mill House to the Judsons in 1980 for £18,500, but when they arrived in Bridgham in 1942, it was as tenants not owners. At that time, Mill House was owned by Miss May Lizzie Newson of East Harling. Miss Newson never lived in Bridgham, but rented out the house to a succession of small-holders and farm labourers.

The Chapmans were, like us, a family of five. Sidney Benjamin and Helen Elizabeth were the parents and the children, starting with the eldest, were Jean Leggett, Sidney Ian ( a couple of years younger) and James Edward. The young Sidney was and still is called Ian by everyone to distinguish him from his father. Ian was 14 when he came to Bridgham in 1942, and his brother, Jimmy, was five years younger. Ian is the sole survivor of the family who lived at Mill House.

When the Chapmans arrived at Mill House they found that the steep winding stairs with only one turn prevented them bringing in the upstairs furniture. There was a door on the bottom of the stairs (to keep out drafts) which restricted access further. As a result, they had to take out our entire bedroom window and get the items in that way!

Mr. Chapman came to Mill House with the post of farm foreman (or bailiff) at Roudham Farm. The situation was precarious for a while, but eventually Roudham Farms Ltd was created and run by a group of five directors: C.G. & C.A. Westendarp (Great Blakenham, Ipswich) R.D. & G.M. Hawker (of the aircraft business Hawker Hurricane, from Claydon Hall, near Ipswich) and C.M Webb (Knettishall). Sidney Chapman continued working for them, Ian recalling that both Mr. Westerndarp and Mr. Hawker were very good men. Letter-headed paper of Roudham Farms Ltd from 1960 gives Mill House as the address of the farm bailiff with telephone number East Harling 238. But Mill House was a business address so the telephone had use far beyond the purely domestic.

Headed paper c.1935

Ian believes the house was empty when they moved in. Certainly, there had been a succession of short-stay tenancies before their long-term residency. This may account for the state of disrepair. Ian recalls that rain came in through a hole in the ceiling of the smallest bedroom.

Mill House in wartime had a pump in the kitchen and oil lamps for lighting downstairs, but you took a candle when you went up to bed. Coal fires were used for heating in the main downstairs rooms with an ineffectual oil-fired stove replaced by a paraffin heater in the kitchen. There was no heating upstairs – a not unusual situation at all; one just put on an extra layer or two.

The biggest surprise to Ian Chapman when he visited in 2005 was the visibility of the beams and chimney brick work. None of these were open to view when he lived here, though he accepted that most of them must have been there all the time. The fireplaces in both downstairs rooms have changed beyond recognition but the charred beam above the study grate brought back memories of a fire that got out of hand. In our living room, there were cupboards built into the wall on either side of the fireplace. The biggest change to this room is the removal of the wattle and daub from the stud-work which sectioned off another pantry. Ian thought that the overhead beam at this point, rather than being from the old mill, was more likely to be a discarded ship’s timber of which there was a surfeit 200 years ago. It has metal brackets on and rope burns, presumably a feature of timber on ships and in mills.

Upstairs, there were many more changes for Ian to absorb. Again the plethora of beams and the chimney stack were somewhat disconcerting for him trying to remember it as it was. But he noticed how the floor sloped in one room, as it did in his time..

The Chapman’s toilet was an Elsan closet in a small, wooden shed in the middle of the yard close to a wall which jutted out perpendicularly to the dividing wall between Mill House and the Meek’s. It was on the stone drive very near to the heavy cover of what we think is an old well. The contents were usually buried. Eventually a flushing toilet was installed in the same shed which emptied into a cess pit.

The Chapmans, as small-holders, kept a number of animals including pigs, chickens, ducks and chinchillas. They had an outside boiler for heating up pig swill. Meal was mixed with left-overs and the stew was going most of time. Not an unpleasant smell, as the meal gave it a malty aroma. This happened in front of where the wood-shed is now. In their day, the shed was a larger and squarer building with a pyramidal, pan-tile roof. The pigs were kept in the back corner of the garden close to the Meek’s, and had a lean-to sty abutting the shed. When piglets came along, the young ones were housed in what is now the courtyard area which was then covered.

Chickens were also kept here, a practice continued by the Judsons for a while. They also had ducks, but they showed a predilection for the River Thet and a reluctance to come home. The chinchillas were a business run by younger son, Jimmy. They are rodents from mountainous areas of South America, bred for their soft, silvery-grey fur. Although some were sold or kept by Jimmy as pets, the majority were sold to the fur trade. The chinchillas were kept in the barn. The last chinchilla was called Sally. They also had a tame Jackdaw which flew away. A number of people came under suspicion of doing away with it, until it was found that it had flown up the street and settled on Herbert Blades’ wall. (Herbert was Tom Blades’ father). Not realising it was a family pet, Herbert felled it with a single blow of his broom!

Apart from housing the chinchillas the barn was used as a garage and storage area including a wood store. The stabling for horses was up the end where the shower room is now. The Chapmans were the last family to have the Mill Field along with the House. This was cropped mainly with barley, potatoes and sugar beet and ploughed with a tractor loaned from Roudham farm. Chickens were also kept on the Mill Field.

Not all the Mill House land was given over to livestock and farming. The section north of the dividing wall, (which cut the area in two), was laid to lawn and garden with a beehive close to where the elderflower tree is today.

In 1954, Mr. Chapman bought Mill House from Miss Newson. His son, Ian, recalls a family memory that Miss Newson was hard up and asked his father if he would buy the house from her. The deeds bear this out. Although the Newsons had owned the house since 1905, she took out a mortgage for £750 in 1939 and repaid it and a further £500 in 1950, making a total of £1,250. By 1954, the interest and just £50 of the capital sum had been paid, so £1,200 was left for her to find. The house was bought by Mr. Chapman for £820 of which £300 went straight to the mortgagee in part payment of the charge on the property, leaving just £520 for Miss Newson. How this made her better off is unclear. She sold the house for less money than she had it mortgaged for. An early case of negative equity? In a period when house prices changed little, it seems strange that she was able to borrow so much money against the value of a house which was worth less than the mortgage. Of course, selling to a sitting tenant may have required a lower asking price. By contrast, Mr. Chapman appears to have bought Mill House without the need for a mortgage.

In his will, Sidney Chapman left the house jointly to his wife, Helen, and son Jimmy (who was disabled with polio). Ian received the Mill Field, consisting of some 2 acres, 2 roods and 28 perches. On 15 January 1961, less than seven weeks later, young Jimmy died of a brain haemorrhage - he was 27. Ian married in his early forties in 1970, leaving Mrs Chapman as sole occupant after nearly 30 years in the house. She herself died on 11 August 1977, not at Mill House but in Dereham hospital. Mill House was now left to her two surviving offspring, Jean and Ian. It is odd to note that all five of the family owned the house at various times. Sidney bought it, left it to wife Helen and Jimmy, though he didn’t live long enough to inherit fully and Helen then left it to Jean and Ian.


The unoccupied Mill House was not sold to Andrew Judson until two and a half years after Helen Chapman’s death as Ian did not want to sell the family house but did not know what to do with it either. His wife, another Jean, would not move into a house that was in such a state with no inside lavatory or proper bathroom. As we know, Andrew Judson had to gut the property to make it habitable by modern standards. Jean Fitt died around the time we moved to Bridgham. Ian, though, still works his small holding from The Chalet at Roudham which includes Mill Field - 63 years after his father first cultivated it.

David O'Neale - 20th January 2008

Hilary Farmbrough & David O' Neale 25th December 2007


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