Hadleigh Castle Tide Mill

Can you help to find it?

In the past, Hadleigh Castle was portrayed as having navigable water coming right up to the foot of its hill.  Fact or artistic fiction?  The records do show a mill near the top of a waterway leading from Hadleigh Ray towards the foot of the hill on which the castle stands. The mill would presumably have been used to grind flour for the castle bakery and maybe also have had a use for the wider Hadleigh community.

Ages Archaeological & Historical Association have been researching this, and thanks to a recent English Heritage report, an aerial photograph now shows the probable site. The questions now are, is this the correct site and do any foundations or possibly relevant artefacts relating to a mill or wharf remain under the fields in that area?

The river which led to the mill was known as “Mill Creake” on a 1670 map, and as “Mill Fleet” in the 1876 Ordnance Survey map. The mill would have been a tidal mill and thus likely to have had a large mill pond to power it after it filled at high tide. It may have been like the tidal mill that can be visited at Woodbridge in Suffolk. However, that mill is much more recent and Hadleigh’s mill was mentioned in a document as early as 1250.  Records show that from 1250 the castle estate included a water mill and that a new mill was built in 1350, for which a new water wheel was provided by 1368.

After 1551, the castle was sold to Lord Rich who then used it as a source of building material to sell off for use elsewhere and the castle fell into ruins. It is not known for certain how long the mill remained in use, but it was valued as if in use in 1567 (Benton) and the last record of its existence was on a map in 1670.

Beside the castle mill would have been a dock to unload other cargo from the boats coming in from the Thames. (It has been reported that the royal barge was moored at Hadleigh in 1315). There could well have been other warehouses and perhaps a rope haulage system to pull the goods up the steep slope to the castle.

This is what appears to shown in Frank Gardiner’s reconstruction painting which has been reproduced in books such as English Heritage’s “The Archaeology of South Essex” by Nigel Brown and Roger Massey-Ryan.  Earlier interpretations had placed the castle mill on a small stream in the valley to the north of the castle, but that is now interpreted as having another use a fish pond or a pond for watering horses.

The 1953 aerial photograph in the 2009 English Heritage report “Hadleigh Castle Earthwork Analysis” was taken after the floods of that year and appears to show in the field between the castle and the railway a raised area of land which might be where the tidal mill and wharf were located.

In 1863, King said that the site of the watermill could still be seen marked by a slight elevation in the ground upon the marshes by the castle. Fragments of building material and a large piece of millstone were said to be visible in that location at that time. Local resident Robert Hallmann can recall seeing the shape of a boat in the field in a nearby location some years ago.

So the question is, does anyone else have any recollections or old photos showing that area of the slopes between Hadleigh Castle and the railway that indicate the remains of a mill, wharf or any other part of a past waterway? Does anyone know if Hadleigh also had a windmill anywhere? If so, please add them to this website so that we can together build up this part of Hadleigh’s past.

Terry Barclay

Secretary of Ages Archaeological & Historical Society

Comments about this page

Add your own comment

  • I forwarded this thread, with emphasis on the English Heritage report, to a former resident of the area who spent quite a time during his teenage years foraging around on the Downs and around the castle. He returned the folowing thoughts gleaned from his recollections. 

    Tidal mill rings a bell, but it’s a surprise that the English Heritage report debunks the site to the north as being the mill. I remember walking over there and having a real rummage under the trees, and recall the dam as being very tall and vertical (same as you’d have with an overshot wheel) rather than something for a fishpond. The flat areas for buildings aren’t really explained away in the skim read I did. I seem to recall some discussion too about the valley to the north being steeper sided and deeper in the past (again, and old picture with a ship in it?). The valley now being filled with plough soil washed downhill. The lower dam was discussed, amongst confusion I think, as being part of the mill site(s) but I see English Heritage are ruling that out as of recent 1950’s origin. For some reason I seem to recall a theory that the valley to the north, with lower dam, was the tidal mill reservoir. It all looks so dry nowadays though. I seem to remember the creek to the south being an established theory, after all there are etchings of stonework being delivered to the castle that way, but that would be a typical Essex creek through saltmarsh. Where is the head of water (i.e. a pool) required to power a tide mill? There is no mention of evidence of this pool in the English Heritage document, they seem to rely more on just the name of “Mill Creek” – which could just as easily be referring to a creek leading to the mill. The raised platform in the 1953 photo is good evidence of a building/wharf/other. But without discussion of how a tidal mill really gets its flow I’m not convinced that that could be the site. If you look at actual tide mills, such as Eling, they have a huge water flow. Even an old one here (near Christchurch) (I think Saxon but can’t find the reference – the Water Board dug it up in the 50’s to put their works in) can be clearly be seen to have had massive water management in the river http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?x=415482&y=93800&z=115&sv=415482,93800&st=4&ar=y&mapp=map.srf&searchp=ids.srf&dn=822&ax=415482&ay=93800&lm=0 (and looking on the map I just accidentally found another at Throop – just upstream, and again clear evidence in the ground – the maps and aerial photos show no evidence of a tidal pool or significant river on the Hadleigh marshes. You can see the meandering creeks, but nothing in my mind that would have sustained a tide mill. Lot of thoughts and conjuncture. (More reading to be done methinks.) I see that there is a lot of talk here too, but without the old maps in front of me I’m struggling to correlate the description of the old streams and tracks. http://www.hadleighhistory.org.uk/page_id__207.aspx 

    In my mind, I think to answer Terry’s questions there are two thoughts: 1) Beyond reasonable doubt that the river was navigable up to the castle. 2) If the mill was a tidal mill and not fed from a dammed water source in the northern valley, then in order to locate it you need to locate the tidal pool. The only strange pool I know of is at the bottom of the river valley down from the Hadleigh Farm fishing lakes – but I think this looks man made for water storage. It’s too far down the valley to be usable as a traditional mill source, and no channel to it from the sea. http://goo.gl/maps/TmS9l I also see in the English Heritage document that they said with the entrance being moved in one building phase, the approach to the castle moved from the east to the north, using the valley as the approach. Only conjecture, but if the main approach is up that valley then it implies the dock is at the foot of that valley too? You wouldn’t want to unload cargo and transport it round two sides of the hill? I am not aware of any evidence of a track that could have been used to transport goods from the proposed wharf site based on the 1953 photograph around the edge of the ridge and up that valley. Either it’s been completely destroyed by landslip, or didn’t exist. The oldest map I’ve been able to find (for free) is the 1876-1880 http://www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html but it’s too grainy to see on the screen.

    By Barry Brazier (11/03/2013)
  • This subject was raised sometime ago and I recollect looking at an aerial photograph clearly showing a raised area beneath the castle. See my piece, 10-12-2011: Hadleigh Marshes in Flood. Photograph in article shows the tidal creek that came in west of Two Tree Island from near site of Pyenetts Dock. To the east, out of view, the remnants of Mill Creek can still be seen outside the sea wall as described in my piece. A rill drains the salt marsh into Leigh Creek. Interesting stuff.

    By Nick Ardley (15/04/2012)
  • That seems to be about the spot where I saw a crop mark in the shape of a barge some years back during a very dry summer, also to the north of the railway line and south-east of the castle.

    By Robert Hallmann (13/04/2012)
  • Can the 1953 aerial photograph in the 2009 English Heritage report be added to this item? If there’s a copyright issue I would have thought that E/H would give their permission.

    { Editor:  The picture is from the following report and the following weblink works at present.  

    By John Keeling (05/08/2011)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *