Sprowston
postmill


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Norfolk Windmills


c.1920
c.1920

Sprowston postmill has one of the best documented mill histories in the county and has been the subject of several books. It was built in 1780 and was destroyed by an accidental fire on Friday 24th March 1933. It was sometimes known as Mousehold Mill.

Closeup from above photo c.1920 Drawing by J. Percival Chaplin c.1920
Closeup from above photo c.1920
Drawing by J. Percival Chaplin c.1920

The main post of the mill was 32” square at the base and the collar had a ball bearing arrangement, with 40 2¼” diameter cast iron balls. The mill needed about two tons of grain in the tail to balance the machinery in the head. The fantail took 625 revolutions to turn the mill through 360º and the sack hoist was driven by a cone clutch from the brake wheel.


c.1920
c.1920

The mill was originally built as an open trestle mill without a roundhouse and in that state was the subject of an etching by John Crome in 1810 that went on to hang in the National Gallery. The etching showed Sprowston postmill and Bond's mill together.

Oil painting by Walter E. Plumstead c.1925 Oil painting by Walter E. Plumstead c.1925
Oil paintings by Walter E. Plumstead c.1925

The mill was first shown on Faden's map of 1797. Thomas Carlton is given as the miller at Sprowston in the 1817 Poll Book and he advertised the mill for sale in 1823.

TO MILLERS
To be SOLD by Private Contract,

A Good Substantial Post WIND-MILL, able to do from four to five score per Week, in good repair, with two pair of French Stones at the head, Flour Mill and Jumper, with a good Round House with two floors; also a New House with Stables and other conveniences, with one Acre of good Land more or less, all Freehold; situated one mile from Magdalen Gates, Norwich, in the parish of Sprowston. – Enquire of Mr. Carlton on the Premises. – Possession may be had immediately.
Norfolk Chronicle - 23rd August 1823


The mill was again offered for sale in 1824

To be SOLD by Private Contract,
With Immediate Possession,

A Capital POST WINDMILL, with two pair of French Stones at the Head, Round-house with two floors, Going Gears and appendages, now in complete order, and capable of grinding from four to five score per week. Also a new built Dwelling-house, Stable, Cart shed &c. and upwards of one acre of excellent Land, including the scites of the mill and buildings, the whole in the possession of Mr. Thomas Carlton, and situate in Sprowston, next the Wroxham Turnpike and about one mile from Magdalen Gates. All freehold, and subject only to 2s. Land-tax.
To view the Premises apply to Mr. Carlton, and for price and further particulars to him, or Mr. Cuddon, Conveyancer, Upper Close, Norwich.

Norfolk Chronicle - 3rd July 1824


MOUSEHOLD MILL

TO BE LET, with Possession at Michaelmas next, a POST WIND-MILL, in Full Trade, with a convenient Dwelling-house, Stable, Cart Sheds, and Garden, situate on Mousehold, within half a mile of Norwich. – For Rent and other particulars apply to Mr. Roger Kerrison, Solicitor, Norwich.
Norfolk Chronicle - 19th September 1829


Robert Robertson was the miller by 1824. He had the patent sails and fantail put on the mill. He had married Sarah Rockhill in 1820 and may have been at the Market Hills post mill in Great Yarmouth from 1820 to 1822. In 1824 a daughter Julianne, was born, then in 1827 another daughter, Susannah and in 1830 a son, George Rockhill. Robert Robinson was listed in Pigot’s Directory of 1830. In 1831 he had another daughter, Hannah Rachel. On the 19th July 1832 there was an accident involving his horse and cart.


On the 19th July 1832 there was an accident involving Robert Robinson's horse and cart.


We have this week to record another very serious accident arising from a horse running away with a cart. It appears that on Monday evening a valuable mare and cart belonging to Mr. Robinson, miller, of Sprowston, was standing at a baker’s door, in Ber-street, and during the absence of the man, who was collecting empty sacks, the reins became entangled with the tail of the mare, and she set off down Ber-street, along Goldenball-lane, and at full speed down Castle Ditches, as far as the New Shirehall, whence she was met by a poney and gig, in which Mr. J. Muskett, of the Yarmouth Bridge Inn, and Mrs Bailey Bird, relict of the late Mr. Bailey Bird, of Red Lion-street, were returning from a ride. – So frightful and tremendous was the collision that the shaft of the gig entered just beyond the shoulder of the mare, and penetrated the heart, and she fell lifeless on the spot. At the same time Mr. Muskett and Mrs. Bird were thrown out with great violence; they were soon conveyed home, and surgical assistance sent for, when it was found that Mr. Muskett had received a severe fracture on the head, and his body was much bruised, and that Mrs. Bird had one of her arms broken, and was otherwise very seriously injured in the head. The poney was cut across the eye and the gig damaged. We regret to say that Mrs. Bird died yesterday (Friday) noon from the effects of this dreadful accident, and that Mr. Muskett’s death from the same is hourly apprehended.
Norfolk Chronicle - 25th July 1832


Mr. Muskett died on the 30th August 1832


In 1834 Robert Robinson had a son, William Alfred.


Saturday night last, some person or persons broke into the mill of Mr. Robertson, of Sprowston, and stole therefrom 25 stone of flour and two sacks.
Norfolk Chronicle - 14th April 1838


Painting c.1928 by George H. Downing
Painting c.1928 by George H. Downing

Robert Robertson was listed in Pigot's directory of 1839 and Blyth’s Directory of 1842. He was killed in an accident in the mill on the
8th March 1842.


DIED

Tuesday last, aged 48, Mr. Robert Robertson, miller, of Sprowston from a fatal accident in his own mill. His loss in all the relations of life as a husband, father, and friend, will be deeply mourned by his bereaved family: and sincerely felt by the neighbourhood in which he lived, where he was a pattern of that pious conversation and upright conduct which true religion alone inspires.

An inquest was held on the body or Mr. Robert Robertson, miller, on Tuesday evening, before Mr. Pilgrim, at the Norwich and Norfolk Arms, Sprowston, when the Jury found a verdict of “Accidental Death.” It appears that as the deceased was putting the strap into the bolting mill, he was caught up by the wrist and was drawn up till he stuck fast at the shoulders in the machinery, the body of the unfortunate man stopping the mill, which had been observed to stand still for a quarter of an hour. When found, he was dead. He leaves a widow and six children to lament the catastrophe, which has deprived them of the best of husbands and fathers.
Norfolk Chronicle - 12th April 1842


To Millers and Bakers.
TO BE LET
WITH IMMEDIATE POSSESSION

A CAPITAL WINDMILL driving two pairs of STONES, situate near one of the most populous parts of the suburbs of Norwich, and in which a good Trade has been carried on for many years.
For Rent and further Particulars apply to Mr. Thomas Rackham, King-street, Norwich.

Norfolk Chronicle - 12th April 1842


The above account of Robert Robertson’s death contradicts the version in H. C. Harrison’s book that he became entangled in the drive from the brake wheel to the sack hoist. He was buried in Sprowston church. The ownership of the mill then passed to his wife, Sarah Robertson.


ROBERT ROBERTSON, Deceased.

ALL Persons Indebted to the Estate of ROBT. ROBERTSON, late of Sprowston, in the County of Norfolk, Miller, deceased, are requested forthwith to pay their respective Debts either to Mrs. Sarah Robertson, of Sprowston aforesaid, the administatrix of the deceased, or to Mr. Everett Bardwell, Solicitor, St. Andrew’s Street, Norwich, and all persons who have any demands upon the said Estate are requested to send in an account of the same, either to my office as aforesaid, or to the said Sarah Robertson.

EVERETT BARDWELL
Solicitor to the Administatrix

SARAH ROBERTSON
Returns her grateful Thanks to those Friends of her late Husband, who for many years favoured him with their Support, and she takes this opportunity of acquainting her Friends and the Public, that having engaged a competent person to superintend the Mill, she intends carrying on the Business as usual in all its departments, for the maintenance of Herself and Six children, and earnestly solicits a continuance of those favours enjoyed by her late husband.
Sprowston, 26th April 1842.
Norfolk Chronicle - 30th April 1842


Sarah Robertson & Son were listed as millers at Sprowston in Hunt and Co.’s Directory of 1850. Sarah Robertson was born c.1793 at Pakefield, Suffolk. In 1851, she was given as a miller aged 58 employing one man living in Wroxham Road, Sprowston, with her sons Robert W., 27 and George R, 21, who were both millers. There was a double wedding in the family in 1856.


MARRIED.

On the 17th inst., at Oulton, Suffolk, by the Rev, F. Fell, Mr. Robert Wm. Robertson, miller, to Miss Elizabeth Goff, second daughter of Mr. Thomas Goff, Farmer, both of the above place, also at the same time and place, Mr. Thomas Goff, eldest son of Mr. Thos. Goff, to Miss Julianna Robertson, second daughter of the late Mr. Robert Robertson, miller, Sprowston, in this county.
Norfolk Chronicle - 25th November 1856


It would appear that Julianna was widowed within nine years, as she was again married in Oulton Church in 1865.


MARRIED.

On Thursday last, at Oulton Church, Suffolk, by the Rev. Charles Steward, Mr. Chester Lay, farmer, Barnby to Julianna, second daughter of the late Mr. Robert Robertson, late of Sprowston, in this county.
Norfolk Chronicle - 13th May 1865


George Rockhill Robertson took over the mill from c.1858. The mill was marked on the 1880 map. In 1881 he was given as living in Sprowston Road, Sprowston with wife Susanna, 54, and son George William.
George Rockhill Robertson died in 1884.


The mortal remains of the late Mr. G. R. Robertson, miller and Merchant, of Sprowston, Norfolk, were laid to rest on Monday May 5 in the churchyard of that parish, and in the presence of a large assemblage of mourning friends. The deceased gentleman had succeeded his father in the occupation of the Sprowston Mill, and had earned the esteem and regard of his neighbours.
The Miller - 2nd June 1884


Sarah Robertson died in 1884 aged 92. Robertson & Son were listed in White’s Directory of 1887 as corn merchants and millers, 75 Corn Exchange; and Sprowston.


c.1925 Etching by Mary Lyle c.1925
c.1925
Etching by Mary Lyle c.1925

1925
1925

William Albert Harrison inherited the mill from George Rockhill Robertson, who was his maternal uncle. It was his mother, Elizabeth Sarah, eldest daughter of Robert Robertson, who had found her father dead in the mill. She died c.1915, aged 95.


c.1928 c.1926
c.1928
c.1926

William Albert Harrison’s wife was Rachel Margaret. In 1885 they had a daughter, Edith Alice; in 1886 they had a son, William Edmund; in 1888 they had a son, Herbert Clifford; in 1891 they had a son, Horace George; in 1893 the had a son, Leonard Linford and in 1897 they had a daughter, Olive Victoria.


William Robertson of Stratton_St Michael_postmill, was the eldest son of William Robertson and Elizabeth Scarffe of Hethersett.
William jnr's brother George took over the running of Hethersett Gt Melton Road postmill in 1829.
Robert Robertson took over at Market Hill mill in Yarmouth before moving to Sprowston.
Abraham Robertson took over the lease of Deopham smockmill on 18th September 1826.
Elizabeth Robertson married John Hastings who was running Starston postmill in 1854.
Susan Robertson married George Willis, a miller & baker from Mendelsham, Suffolk .
John, Simon, David and Samuel Robertson do not appear to have become millers.

John Robertson's son George Wilby Robertson worked in one of the Upper Hellesdon and one of the Gayton windmills. Robert's Robertson's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, married a Harrison of Sprowston postmill.
Elizabeth's sons worked Oulton Broad, Gisleham, Wangford and Sprowston mills. Her oldest son Robert William helped at Sprowston postmill after his father was crushed to death and he later bought a mill at Oulton Broad. Her next son, George, continued the family line at Sprowston and her youngest son, William Alfred, was an apprentice at a Wymondham mill and a journeyman at Great Bentley, Essex and he later owned St Margaret's Church Mill in Lowestoft.
Abraham's son Wiliam Proctor Robertson worked a mill in Eaton.

c.1927 1927
c.1927
1927

c.1930
c.1930

Horace George Harrison, who followed his father at the mill, used to say that he remembered the great gale of Sunday, 24th March 1895, which rocked the mill. His father turned his back on the mill saying he did not want to see it fall. However, it survived with little damage. In 1920 Horace G. Harrison hired the mill from his father. He was listed in Kelly’s Directory of 1924 as a miller (wind) Windmill Road, living at 481 Sprowston Road. By 1928 it was no longer economic to keep the mill working and it reverted to William A. Harrison.


In 1933 arrangements had been made to hand the mill over to the Norfolk Archaeological Society for preservation by a Trust, as from 25th March. However, on the 23rd March someone lit a rubbish fire at the edge of Mousehold Heath, the gorse caught fire and flaming debris blowing onto the canvas sails soon set the mill alight.


24th March 1933
24th March 1933

The mill collapsing 24th March 1933   Fantail and roundhouse 24th March 1933
The mill collapsing 24th March 1933
 
Fantail and roundhouse 24th March 1933

Mill remains 24th March 1933
Mill remains 24th March 1933

Horace G. Harrison took the nearby “Brickmakers Arms” when he left the mill in 1928. After war service in the Royal Air Force he eventually retired to Shipdham, where he died on the 29th November 1976, aged 85.


For about fifteen years, the late Mr. H. O. Clark worked on making an exact scale model of the mill at a scale of 1” to 1’, which is now in the Science Museum, London. It had long been thought, and he was of the opinion, that this was the windmill depicted in John Crome’s painting of a windmill near Norwich, now in the Tate Gallery, London. However, consideration of other details in the picture, particularly the chalk pit in the foreground and comparison with similar pictures now supports the view that John Crome’s painting represents Trowse open trestle post mill. In fact, the frame of this picture is said to bear a label to the effect that it is Trowse postmill.


I have just inherited from my late mother a wooden bowl, about 18 cms. in diameter, and fitted with a small round brass plate bearing an  engraving of the mill and inscribed "Oak from  Crome's Sprowston Mill  - 1780 -1933".
I believe the bowl came from my mother's father, Mr. Sam Sleigh, a  journalist on the East Anglian Daily Times, who acquired it soon  after the mill's destruction.

Steve Wood - 3rd February 2010


I have just visited your website, having been told of its existence by a newly found English distant cousin (a Robertson).
I was particularly interested in your section on Sprowston postmill as I am a granddaughter of the late Herbert Clifford Harrison who was born in the Mill House in 1888 and wrote two books about it. I have known about the mill all my life (my grandfather died in 1962 when I was 9, and his wife Nora and son Hubert (my father) both died in 1997, aged 99 and 75 respectively). I will be traveling to England in September so intend visiting the site of the Mill and Mill House (both now long gone of course).
I was also interested in the last note added by Steve Wood a few weeks ago re the wooden bowl. I too have a wedge-shaped piece of oak from the mill with the same brass plate. I am not certain exactly what the item is (about 17cm by 11cm), but it was obviously meant to sit on a desk (its bottom surface is covered with green baize), perhaps as a paperweight, and has two nails protruding from the front, presumably to suspend a picture or small calendar or something. I think it's lovely that although the Mill itself has been lost long ago, small pieces of it remain scattered across the globe!

Judy Ruffels (née Harrison ) - 21st February 2010


Oak bowl made from the mill's timber Oak bowl made from the mill's timber

Oak bowl made from the mill's timber 9th February 2010


1780: Mill built

1928: Horace Harrison retired from the mill and took over the Brickmaker's Arms

29th November 1976: Horace Harrision died aged 76 at Shipdham

Friday 24th March 193
3: Mill destroyed by fire



If you have any memories, anecdotes or photos please let us know and we may be able to use them to update the site. By all means telephone 01263 713658 or

Nat Grid Ref TG24021090
 
1780 to 1933
All historical written material within this page copyright © Jonathan Neville & Michael Roots
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