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.
Secretary of Ages Archaeological & Historical Society