The history of Bourne Mill

Archive image of Bourne Mill

Bourne Mill has a history going back over a 1,000 years. From a fishing pond for monks, an Elizabethan fishing and banqueting house, fulling mill to a corn mill and private home in the twentieth century, there's lots to discover.

A Delightful Place

Built as a fishing in lodge 1591 and described by Pevsner as: ‘A delightful piece of late Elizabethan playfulness with two wildly oversized end gables of the utmost exuberance’, this Grade I listed building hides a history that is inseparable from the town of Colchester.

A fishing spot for over 1,000 years

Despite having passed its 400th birthday, the existing Mill is not the first to have stood here on the manmade pond damming Bourne Brook. There's historical evidence for the site going back over 1,000 years. It is mentioned in 1120 as ‘Bournemill and Ponds’ in the Colchester court rolls, when it was part of the endowment of St Johns Abbey.
Fish was an important part of a monk’s diet and therefore a good fishpond near to the Abbey would have been seen as essential. The pond is still used for fishing and on one occasion, in the 19th-century, a monster pike was dispatched to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

Haven for herbs

The grounds at Bourne Mill are also well known for the herbs that can be found there, as the famous herbalist John Gerard noted in his 16th-century Herball:
" Marsh Cinkfoile groweth in a marsh ground adjoining to the land called Bourne ponds from whence I brought some plants for my garden, where they flourish and prosper well.’"
- John Gerard

Dissolution of the Monasteries

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1539, the Member of Parliament for Colchester was John Lucas, a lawyer. He acted as prosecutor for the crown and in December of that year hanged the Abbot of St Johns and dismantled the monastery.
Nine years later John Lucas purchased the Abbey grounds and built himself a mansion on the site. In 1591, using leftover abbey stone, his son Sir Thomas Lucas built Bourne Mill as a fishing lodge. The materials used in the construction are a mix of Roman brick, Abbey stone and locally sourced Septaria. Much of the stone still shows signs of decorative carving from the Abbey.
The grandson of Thomas Lucas, Sir Charles Lucas, was later to achieve notoriety as the royalist commander at the siege of Colchester. His last words were: 'See, I am ready for you; and now, rebels, do your worst.' He was executed by firing squad in Castle Park in 1648, alongside his friend and fellow royalist George Lisle. His mansion was destroyed and Bourne Mill was probably saved only because it had the potential to generate wealth from the cloth industry.

A return to milling

The building remained as a fishing lodge until around 1640 when it was fitted out as a fulling mill and run by Flemish refugees. It became one of the many local mills making the Bay and Say cloth that brought much fame and wealth to Colchester in the 17th-century. It was converted back to a corn mill in about 1840 and made flour until the 1930s when the machinery became uneconomic to maintain. The last miller, Mr AE Pulford gave Bourne Mill to the National Trust in 1936.