Swafield Mill
River Ant /
North Walsham & Dilham Canal


Drainage Mills (Windpumps)
Steam Mills


Swafield water mill was originally built of weatherboard with brick base and a Norfolk pantiled roof. This was a small mill, being 3 storeys high with loft space. The mill was actually in the parish of North Walsham although the mill house was in Swafield.

In 1831 the wheel was powering two pairs of stones and two flour mills from water supplied by what appeared to be a cut in the North Walsham & Dilham Canal. However, the mill was actually on the River Ant, which was the original watercourse and predated the canal.

By 1967 all that was left was the brick base as the water course had been diverted back to the canal course with the mill dam and millpool being filled in.

Mill dam c.1935
Mill dam c.1935


Assignment of Land and Bargain and Sale of Windmill, Tackle and Appurtenances in Southrepps.
1. William Seckar of Swafield, miller son of Isaac Secker of Heverland miller, deceased
2. Thomas Jourdan of Southrepps, miller
'Land then long since became vested through various conveyances in William Seckar'
Windmill 'lately and new erected' with flour mill by William Seckar
Consideration £210
8 October 1774

North Walsham, Nov. 20, 1783.
We the Corn-Merchants and Millers whose Names are hereunto subscribed, having after the most mature and deliberate Consideration, found it not only essentially necessary, but in every respect more convenient, to alter the Time of doing Business at this Market, (particularly on account of the large Quantity of black Wheat, sprouted and discoloured Barley, which cannot be distinguished by Candle-light) have come to the following Resolution: That the Business at this Market shall commence at Eleven o'Clock in the Forenoon of each Market Day, and finally close
at Four o'Clock in the Afternoon of the same Day. -- This Alteration takes place on Thursday the 11th Day of December, 1783.
Robert Colls
B. Cubitt
William Hannant
John Springall
For Messrs. Palgraves (Robert Browne and Robert Worts)
James Rumbelow
William Mack
Joseph Taylor
Thomas Siely
Siday Hawes
William Moore
Benjamin Page
For Mr Postle (Thomas Gibbs)
John Fiddy
John Cadge
Richard Everard
John Miller
For Mr C. Ives (Richard Coxford)
Robert Joy
Isaac Secker
Norfolk Chronicle - 6th December 1783

To be Lett
Those desirable MILLS called SWAFIELD MILLS (being a Water Mill and a Wind_Mill). Also a capital new-built DWELLING HOUSE with Yard and Garden Ground. Granary, Stables & convenient Outhouses to the same belonging and 14 Acres, more or less, of good Meadow and Arable Land lying contiguous, situate and being in Swafield and North Walsham in the county of Norfolk, now in the occupation of Mr. George SHREEVE on Lease which expires on the 1st February 1788. These Mills are in good Trade and conveniently situated for a more extensive Trade, being within a Mile of North Walsham Market which is esteemed the best Corn Market in the County & within 5 miles of Dilham, from whence the River is navigable to Great Yarmouth. Possession may be had at Michaelmas next, the present Tenant having purchased an Estate in the Neighbourhood, which he intends entering upon at Michaelmas.
Particulars may be had by applying to Mr. William SACHER or Mr. George SHREEVE of Swafield; Mr. Richard ALLEN, Flour Merchant, Great Yarmouth or Mr. William DEARN, Attorney, North Walsham.
Norfolk Chronicle - 1st & 8th September 1787

To Millers
To be Let and Entered upon Immediately
A most desirable situation for a Miller, comprising an excellent
WATER MILL, Windmill, cottage part of a Dwelling house and 20 acres of arable and meadow Land, situate at Swafield, within one mile of North Walsham, a good corn market, late in the occupation of Mr. John Woollsey and now in the occupation of Mr. Edward Press.
Apply to Mr. Press on the Premises, Mr. Thomas Press, Loddon or Messrs. Woollsey, Yarmouth.
Norfolk Chronicle - 14th & 21st December 1816

Edward Press went on to run Gt Yarmouth Southtown Green Cap mill, where he was in 1853.

To be SOLD by Private Contract
A Desirable Situation comprising a Water Mill ... with a most substantial POST_WINDMILL built principally with oak. Attached to the Water Mill is a neat and convenient Dwelling house with a good barn, stable, hayhouse and various other offices, with about eight acres of capital meadow and arable Land, all Freehold.
Apply to Mr. Dyball, Engineer, North Walsham.
The above will be Sold either together or separately; if sold separately, the Windmill is to be removed.

Norfolk Chronicle - 16th June & 7th July 1827

To be Let With Possession at Old Michaelmas next
A Water Corn Mill and Post_
Wind_Mill with an excellent House, garden, stables etc. and about 16 acres of Arable and Pasture Land, situate at Swafield near North Walsham, Norfolk.
The New Canal from Yarmouth to Antingham runs directly alongside the land adjoining the Water Mill.
Apply to Mr. Woollsey, Yarmouth or on a Thursday to him at the Kings Arms Inn, North Walsham.
27 August 1828.
Norfolk Chronicle - 30th August & 6th September 1828

Swafield lock remains in 1928
Swafield lock remains in 1928


To be Premptorily SOLD by AUCTION
Pursuant to CVertain Orders of the Commissioners under a Commission of Bankrupt awarded and issued against JOHN WOOLSEY & JOHN SECKER of Great Yarmouth in the county of Norfolk, Wine & Spirit Merchants, Dealers & Chapmen and on the application of the Mortgagees the following ESTATES at teh respective places aforementioned.
At the Bear Inn Bridge Foot, Great Yarmouth, on Thursday 8th September next at 11 o'c, by WALTER C. PETTINGILL
Lot 1.
All the capital new built WINDMILL situate in Southtown next Great Yarmouth, having a Brick Tower containing eleven floors, the lowest being 34 feet diameter, working four pair of stones, three flour mills and two jumpers, capable of manufacturing upon an average 120 quarters of wheat per week; also a convenient new built Dwelling house with stable, suitable offices and two acres of capital pasture land situate in Southtown aforesaid where the parochial charges are trifling and within 200 yards of Yarmouth Bridge and the Corn Market.
The Mill is in full trade with good country and town connections.
The above Estate is Leasehold for a term of 80 years of which 61 will be unexpired at Christmas next and is subject only to an annual rent of £20.
Lot 2.
All the capital Freehold Messuage with shop . . .
And also at the King's Arms Inn, North Walsham
On the aforesaid 8th day of September, at Six o'clock in the Evening,
Lot 3.
All that capital Dwelling-house, with convenient outbuildings, yard and garden, together with the Water-mill, Cottage, and Granaries adjoining, and about 16 acres of Arable and Meadow Land of the best quality, in the highest state of cultivation. And also a Wind-mill and about two roods and 30 perches of Arable Land.
The above Premises are situate in Swafield and North Walsham, and are in full trade, and now in the occupation of Mr. Benjamin Postle Woollsey, as tenant from year to year.
The Water_Mill, Cottage, Granaries, and about nine acres of the Land are Leasehold of the Bishop of Norwich, for a term of 21 years, commencing the 10th October, 1827, at an annual rent of 3l. 13s. 4d. The Mill commands a good head of water, and drives two pair of stones and two flour mills.
The Dwelling-house, Out-buildings, Yard and Garden, and about five acres, three roods, and 22 perches of the Land are Freehold and pleasantly situated.
The Wind-mill, which is in excellent repair, and two roods and 30 perches of Land are Copy-hold of the Manor of North Walsham about half a mile.
This Estate offers either a desirable Investment for Money, or a good situation for an active Man of Business, having water carriage to the Port of Yarmouth, is within 16 miles of Norwich, one of North Walsham, and 26 of Yarmouth.
And at the same time and place last mentioned, will be Sold by order of the Assignees of the said Bankrupt.
A Place of Freehold Arable Land, situate in Swafield, near Swafield Bridge, leading over the North Walsham and Dilham Canal, containing about one acre and one rood, and is well calculated for Warehouses, Granaries, Coal and Timber Yards - Also one Share in the North Walsham and Dilham Canal.
Further particulars may be had in London of Messrs. Amory and Coles, Solicitors, Throgmorton Street; Messrs. Swaine and C. Solicitors, Frederick's Place, Old Jewry; Mr. Lythgoe, Essex Street, Strand; and in the County, of Mr. Clowes, and Messrs. Sayers and Glasspool, Solicitors, Great Yarmouth.
Norfolk Chronicle - 13th, 20th & 27th August 1831

Norfolk Chronicle - 13th, 20th & 27th August 1831
Norfolk Chronicle - 13th, 20th & 27th August 1831

Yarmouth Windmill, H. B. Johnson, Mercury - 1831
Yarmouth Windmill, H. B. Johnson, Mercury - 1831

To be Sold by Auction under a Commission of Bankrupt awarded against John Woollsey and John Secker of Great Yarmouth, wine and spirit merchants, dealers and chapmen, and on the application of the Mortgagees, at the Bear Inn, Bridge Foot, Great Yarmouth, on 8 September.
Lot 1. The 11 floor mill at Southtown

Lot 3. To be Sold by Auction at the King's Arms Inn, North Walsham 8 September. All that capital dwelling house, outbuildings, yard etc. together with the Water Mill, cottage and granaries adjoining, and also a Wind_Mill. The premises are situated in Swafield and North Walsham, and are now in the occupation of Mr. Benjamin Postle Woollsey, as tenant from year to year.
The Watermill and cottages etc. are leasehold of the Bishop of Norwich for a term of 21 years commencing 10 October 1827, at an annual rent of £3-13-4d. The Mill commands a good head of water, and drives two pairs of stones and two flour mills.
The Windmill, which is in excellent repair, is copyhold of the Manor of North Walsham.
London Gazette - 16th August 1831

To Millers, Merchants and others
SWAFIELD MILLS, Dwelling house, Granaries and several Inclosures of Arable and Pasture Land will be Sold by Auction in separate Lots sometime in the month of October next of which due notice will be given in future papers unless sooner disposed of by Private Contract.
Particulars on application to James Wright, Land Surveyor, North Walsham.
North Walsham, 22 September 1831.
Norfolk Chronicle - 24th September 1831

All Persons to whom Benjamin Postle Woollsey late of Swafield in the County of Norfolk was indebted at the time of his decease, are requested to send an account of their several demands to me or to my Co-Executor, John Woollsey of Swafield aforesaid, Miller and all persons who stand indebted to the said Benjamin Postle Woollsey at the time of his death are requested to pay the amount of their respective debts to me or to the said John Woollsey within one month of this date.

H. P. Woollsey, Executrix
Norfolk Chronicle - 20th October 1860

Tithe Award 1843
Map, James Wright, Land Surveyor, Aylsham
Benjamin Postle Woollsey
Occupier: do

No. 987
No. 994

Windmill, Yard & Pightle


0a. 2r. 30p.


Robert Page married Benjamin Postle Woollsey's daughter Charlotte and took over the mill on the death of Benjamin Woollsey on 1st October 1860 after allegedly having fallen into the lock. In 1858 Robert Page was running Swanton_Abbott_towermill.

FATAL ACCIDENT - On Monday afternoon Mr. Benjamin Postle Woollsey of Swafield, miller and farmer, on crossing the upper lock of the canal at Swafield (which he had been accustomed very frequently to do) for the purpose of seeing after his workmen, that being much the nearer route, it is supposed that he was taken with giddiness in the head, from which he had lately suffered considerably and falling into the river was unfortunately drowned. Mr. Woollsey had been cautioned by his medical man against crossing this dangerous place, which few other persons but himself ventured to do. As his business required him to be frequently from home, no particular account was taken of his absence till a very late hour, when on search being made, his body was found in the river quite close to the lock.
Norfolk News - Saturday 6th October 1860

Auction by W. Pope, 6 March 1861
Household furniture etc.
of B. P. Woollsey decd.
Norfolk Chronicle - 2nd March 1861

1832 survey map
1832 survey map

Ethel Forbes & Eve Marsham c.1946
Ethel Forbes & Eve Marsham c.1946

The Swafield mills have been sold by auction this week

In the 18th century, they belonged to the Seckers, that interesting family of Norfolk Quakers, whose most distinguished member was John Secker the seaman (1716-1795). (The transcript of his journal in Norwich Public Library has already been the subject of an article on this page.) John was born in the water-mill at Swafield; his father soon moved to a mill at Buxton_Lamas, but the Swafield mill remained in the family, for John's brother and widowed mother were living there in 1755. The Seckers touched the corn trade at many points - John's cousin, William Palmer, grew corn; Uncle John Sparshall at Southrepps was a maltster and dealer; Cousin Thomas Parson at Wells was the master of a sloop engaged in the export trade; while Cousin Joseph Sparshall, of Wells, found the cargo. The Seckers themselves concentrated on milling; they had mills at Swafield, Buxton and Southrepps. Quaker business enterprises were interlocked, just as Quaker families were, and a high standard of honesty was insisted on by the Meeting, debtors were rebuked, bankrupts expelled. No longer regarded as dangerous religious fanatics, the 18th century Quakers prospered in business; they were industrious, and they were trusted.

At the end of the 18th century the corn business was booming. The population was growing, the standard of life rising, the labouring classes had abandoned the black bread of their forefathers and would eat nothing but wheat flour. Then came the long war with France - nothing could be imported to feed the growing the manufacturing towns. Wheat reached famine prices. The Seckers shared in the boom. In 1768 John Ransome, of North Walsham, had bought a small piece of land and build a windmill on it - a post_mill. His neighbour undertook not to plant trees or place any obstruction "so as in any manner to incommode or prevent the wind or air from coming to the piece of land." If he broke the agreement John Ransome could enter his land and remove the obstruction. This is the mill whose remains, just outside North Walsham on the Mundesley road, are so often mistaken for a gibbet.

In 1779 Isaac Secker bought this mill, the mill house, and the land that went with it. At that time he was probably working the water-mill in partnership with his father, William Secker; in 1783 William retired, and leased the mill to his son. By then Isaac had built a handsome Georgian front to the mill house (his initials still adorn the side wall). It was a severe and dignified house, as befitted a respectable Quaker, but its size and little elegancies - the pelasters at the corners, a scroll-like curve on the bottom step - show that there was money to spare. Yet the Seckers were still simple people. In 1797 William married again, and his wife, Esther Barber, was illiterate, as were four of the relatives who signed the marriage certificate.

Until a few weeks ago Isaac Secker's portrait hung in the old house. It shows a well-set up man, with a long face and a long nose, and a commanding, but slightly anxious, expression. He may well have looked anxious; he had paid out a lot of money between 1779 and 1783; the property was mortgaged, and in 1785 the mortgage was increased. The war-time boom could not last for ever, and in 1831 his grandson John, to whom he had left the mill, was bankrupt.

The estate passed to the Seckers' relatives, the Woollseys. The water-mill was worked until about 1912; the post_mill was used occasionally up to 1880. But by then the bottom had fallen out of country milling. Huge new steam mills stood at the ports to grind the imported corn on which the country was now fed; the Swafield mills were reduced to grinding feed for stock and selling offal. Now the mills, which have been for the past two centuries at least in the hands of these two related families, have been in the market.

The documents on which this account is based were brought to my notice by Mr. Stanley Watts, of North Walsham. Such records are particularly valuable. It is comparatively easy to reconstruct the lives of the gentry in past times, but the equally significant lives of less exalted persons are shrouded in obscurity. We know almost nothing about the rural middle-class who played such an important part in 18th century village life. It may be that there is still more to be discovered about the Secker family. Where are the records of the Swafield Quaker Meeting House? Who has got the Secker family Bible? Where is the original MS of John Secker's journal? I wish I knew.
Rachel Young, Eastern Daily Press - 4th October 1947

Easter Sparshall, daughter of Joseph Sparshall of Welbourne, married Isaac Secker. Easter's brother John married Mary Southgate and their son Thomas later went on to run mills at Yarmouth, which were then inherited by Thomas' brother John on Thomas' death.

Millstones September 1967   Mill cottage and mill remains September 1967
Millstones September 1967
Mill cottage and mill remains September 1967

In 1967 the current owners still held insurance certificates for the mill dated 1771

Mill house and mill remains beyond March 2003   Bungalow on the mill base March 2003
Mill house and mill remains beyond March 2003
Bungalow on the mill base March 2003

Original brickwork at rear of mill 13th November 2004   Part of the wheelrace dam wall 13th November 2004
Original brickwork at rear of mill 13th November 2004
Part of the wheelrace dam wall 13th November 2004

Up a very quiet lane and past a few modern cottages that Grandma told us were the old mill cottages that have been done up, we came to the Mill House. You have to go round a windy drive to get to it now, there used to be a direct gate from the road. Grandma remembered going along the path to visit Fanny and Betty.

Grandma's father auctioned the mill house.
Natalie Wells (granddaughter of Brenda Thorpe) - December 2003

When my father sold it, it was £1200 he got for it. But that's all the bit we see that the Seckers had, the wealthy Seckers, when they were with us, had added on that bit there, there was only originally this first bit.

It's nice to see that where the old mill was they have got a barn on it, or something, and it's got engraved on it B.P. Woolsey 1667 (48), which is most interesting. We've just taken a photograph of that, of the mill house, of course it's had extensions put on, and it looks very grand now, but the old original part is still there. The front door was facing this way but we can't see 'cos there's too many trees.
Brenda Thorpe née Brenda Watts, daughter of Stanley Watts - December 2003

"Isaac had built the Georgian front of the house. William married again and they were married in the Quaker chapel 'cos they were Quakers."
"Oh yes, I thought they were, yes."
"No, yes, that's right."
"'Cos that looks like an old Quaker barn, yes?"
"Yes. It says that Isaac Secker's portrait. My nephew's got that."
"Oh has he? Yes."
"Yes, yes, yes, yes."
"So do you see the Secker family then?"
"Ooh no, I don't know anything about them, no."

Conversation between Brenda Thorpe and an elderly local resident upon the occasion of Brenda's visit to Swafield Mill - December 2003

James Empson built the first Quaker Meeting House in 1692 but was burned down c.1770. Isaac Secker, who built the mill house also rebuilt the Meeting House in 1772.

Benjamin Postle Woollsey, married Charlotte Gold on 22nd July 22 1823 in Gorleston.
Benjamin, son of Benjamin & Charlotte Woollsey of Southtown baptised 27th May 1826 - Benjamin snr’s occupation being given as merchant.
Charlotte Woollsey, daughter of Benjamin Postle Woollsey & Charlotte Woollsey of Southtown was baptised on 14th August 1828.

1661 plaque  Woollsey plaque
2 plaques on gable end balcony 13th November 2004

The North Walsham & Dilham Canal

This was the only official canal in Norfolk and was really the canalisation of the River Ant. It was made wider than most other canals in order to accommodate Norfolk wherries. The main cargoes were offal to the two Antingham Bone mills with return loads of fertiliser. Corn and flour moved in and out of Bacton Wood and Swafield mills with other commodities such as timber, farm produce and coal making up the majority of the remainder of trade. It was hoped that coal would be the mainstay cargo but this never materialised. The canal was just over 8¾ miles long, ran from Smallburgh to Antingham and contained 6 locks: Honing, Briggate mill, Ebridge mill, Bacton Wood mill, Swafield lower and Swafield Upper.

1812: Act of Parliament passed authorising construction of the canal

July 1826: Canal opened having cost £32,000 to build

1885: Ailing canal sold for £600 but the company's London solicitor absconded with the money

1886: Scheme introduced to encourage tourist traffic

c.1893: Antingham - Swafield section abandoned because of lack of traffic

1934: The wherry Ella, sailed from Bacton Wood Staithe for the last time

2003: Canal navigable for the first 2 miles as far as Honing Lock

My grand father, John Elvin Hedge, came to America with his best friend Benjamin Woolsey.about 1916 give or take.on the Mauritania. I have the ships manifest. They also came with a Mr. Frary...which my grandfather married one of his daughters..Ethel.they all lived in upstate NY...The question I have is this....he always mention Swafield as his home town he being (John Hedge)..are there any Hedge families that still live there.........would love to know..........
Peggie Hedge, Ocala, Florida, USA - 22nd April 2009

O. S. Map 1885

O. S. Map 1885
Swafield mill was fed by the original River Ant that rejoins the Canal just south of Austin Bridge
Courtesy of NLS map images

O. S. Map 1885

O. S. Map 1885
Swafield postmill to the south and Swafield watermill to the north
Courtesy of NLS map images

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

Kelly's 1879: John Woollsey, farmer

White's 1893: John Woollsey, farmer

1537: Pyford's watermill let to William Hogan for £3.13s.4d. by the Bishop of Norwich also Everbupe's mill

1692: James Empson
a rich miller of of Walsham and Southrepps (a quaker)

1716: ? Secker

1768: John Ransome of North Walsham built the postmill on Quaker Hill

1771: Water mill insurance certificate survives

c.1774: William Seckar built Southrepps postmill

1779: Postmill bought by Isaac Secker

1783: William Secker retired and leased the watermill to son Isaac Secker

1787: George Shreeve

September 1787: Mill lease advertised for sale along with the postmill

Faden's map 1797: Walsham Mill

1816: Edward Press, miller - also at the postmill

December 1816: Mill advertised to be let along with the

Bryant's map 1826: Swafield Mill

June 1827: Mill advertised for sale by private contract along with the

August 1828: Mill advertised to be let along with Swafield watermill

Pigot's 1830: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, miller, Swafield

1830: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, tenant miller

1831: Mill owned by the Bishop of Norwich and leased to tenants over 21 years at £3-13-4d per annum

1831: John Secker (son of Isaac) and John Woollsey bankrupt

August 1831: Mill advertised to be sold by auction along with the
windmill and Southtown windmill

c.1831: Estate sold to Woollsey family - relatives of Seckers

White's 1836: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, miller & merchant

Pigot's 1839: Thomas Benjamin Woollsey, miller

Census 1841:

Benjamin Woolsey (40) miller & merchant
Charlotte Woolsey (40)
John Woolsey (11)
Fanny Woolsey (3)
Hanah ? Woolsey (2)
Thomas Jay (20) apprentice to miller
Ann Steward (50)
Charlotte Lark ? (15) Female Servant
William Norgate (14) Male Servant - all household born in Norfolk

White's 1845: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, corn miller & merchant

Hunt's 1850: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, miller

Census 1851:

Benjamin Woollsey (52) b.Gt Yarmouth, miller & farmer 7 acres empl 4 labs
Benjamin Woollsey (23) b.Gt Yarmouth
Charlotte Woollsey (21) b.Gt Yarmouth
John Woollsey (21) b.Gt Yarmouth, miller
Ann Steward (18) b.Swafield, housemaid
Eliza Claxton (15) b.North Walsham, housemaid
John Steward (16) b.Swafield, farming servant

White's 1854: Benjamin Postle Woollsey, corn miller & merchant

Monday 1st October 1860: Benjamin Postle Woollsey died aged 61 after falling into Swafield lock

March 1861: Household furniture etc. of Benjamin Postle Woollsey advertised for auction

c.1864: Robert Page, married Charlotte Woollsey, daughter of Benjamin Postle Woollsey

White's 1864: Robert Page, corn miller

Kelly's 1879: Robert Page, miller

c.1880: Post mill ceased operation

White's 1883: Robert Page, miller and farmer; and North Walsham

c.1888: Mill only producing animal feed

White's 1890: Mrs. Charlotte Page, farmer and cornmiller; and North Walsham
White's 1890: John Robert Page, corn miller

Kelly's 1892: Mrs. Charlotte Page

Kelly's 1896: Mrs. Charlotte Page

Kelly's 1900: Mrs. Charlotte Page

Kelly's 1904: John Robert Page

Kelly's 1912: John Robert Page

c.1925: Mill still owned by Page family

1928: Mill still in use

1947: Mill and mill house sold at auction and mill subsequently demolished

c.1970: T shaped gibbet-like remains of the postmill finally disappeared and became part of Swafield's sign

2004: Brick base of the mill incorporated into the base of a chalet bungalow

Nov 2021: Mill House in need of full renovation advertised by Strutt & Parker for offers in excess of £745,000

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 07836 675369 or

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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2004