With other watermills in Colchester, Bourne Mill, Cannock Mill and Hull Mill were essential to the town which was then a thriving centre for commerce and industry. Watermills are considered man’s earliest form of labour saving technology. Early in Colchester’s long history the watermills
were used for grinding corn to produce flour for bread, the staple food of the population. Eventually at the heart of Colchester’s industry was the woollen industry with its fulling process. Fulling improved the quality of the fabric and the watermills were an essential part of this process by powering the wooden hammers which pounded the cloth.
The first documented record of mills in Colchester was in 1068, in the Domesday Book. Earliest records show that the mills on Bourne stream belonged to monastic houses. Bourne Mill and its ponds were first mentioned in St John’s Abbey
’s 12th century records though it could have been those granted to St John’s Abbey on its foundation in the late 11th century. Fish taken from the man-made ponds were an essential part of the monks’ diet. By 1311 Cannock Mill belonged to St Botolph’s Priory. Hull Mill, between 1311 and 1386, was known as the new priory mill. Both Cannock Mill and Hull Mill may have been built in previous centuries.
Bourne Mill continued as a corn mill throughout the Middle Ages. With the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) ownership of the mill eventually passed to Sir Thomas Lucas who rebuilt it in its present form as a banqueting lodge. with a watermill for milling corn. It was converted it into a fulling mill in the early 1600s which continued until the 1830s when it became a corn mill again until the mid 1930s. It remained in the Lucas family until 1668. In 1936 Bourne Mill, now a delightfully decorative Grade 2 listed building, was donated to the National Trust who are developing its role in keeping alive its woollen trade history.
Cannock Mill worked as a corn mill throughout the Middle Ages and in 1576, after the Dissolution, it was also owned by Sir Thomas Lucas and remained in the family until 1917. Cannock Mill is recorded as being a corn mill in 1632 and included a fulling mill in 1651. It was rebuilt in 1835 and was a corn mill until the 1940s. It was restored in 1973 and is now a picturesque weather-boarded Grade 11 listed building. Cannock Mill Cohousing Colchester Ltd now owns Cannock Mill and has planning permission for further development.
Hull Mill was a corn mill during the Middle Ages and also a fulling mill in 1405. After the Dissolution it was owned by Sir Thomas Audley until it was resold after his death in 1544. In 1690 it was also an oil mill. Oil was produced by the crushing of oil rich seeds such as rape-seed and flax. The oil mill lasted until 1811 when it was demolished. A distillery and corn mill was then built. The mill was finally demolished in 1896. Today the site, called Distillery Pond, is a modern residential development.
The three mills along the stream in Bourne Valley were an integral part of Colchester's colourful industrial past. Their existence and what they represented is still relevant in the life of Colchester today.
Author: Angela Blakeway CDFAS