A brief history of Winchester City Mill

The restored waterwheel at Winchester City Mill

Winchester City Mill is probably the oldest working watermill in the country, its history dating back over a thousand years. The building has a remarkable past with historic connections ranging from King Alfred the Great and JMW Turner, through to its preservation from demolition in 1928 and rebirth as a working mill by the National Trust.

Saxon origins

A Mill has existed on this site since at least Saxon times; the foundation of the building suggests that the Saxon mill was established on the site of an earlier Roman mill. Early records from 932AD and 989AD refer to a watermill, owned by the Benedictine nunnery of Wherwell Abbey. 

In the Domesday survey of 1086 the Mill is recorded as returning a rent of 48 shillings, making it one of the most profitable in the country. However, a series of bad harvests in the early 14th century, coupled with Winchester losing its capital status, reduced its value. The Black Death accelerated the decline and the Mill was recorded as derelict by 1471.

Following dissolution the Mill fell into Crown ownership. Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary Tudor, gifted it to the city in 1554 after her wedding in the nearby cathedral.

The present mill

In 1743, a new tenant, James Cooke, began rebuilding and extending the medieval mill. This is the building you see today. The central section with its fine gable was completed first, the eastern section added later. Many structural timbers date back to the 14th and 15th century suggesting much of the structure of the earlier building was retained.

The date plaque installed following the rebuild of City Mill
National Trust sign and date plaque at Winchester City Mill

JMW Turner sketched the Mill in 1795 when visiting the area as a young student of the Royal Academy. His image is the earliest known depiction of the building. 

In 1820, John Benham bought the Mill and adjoining land. It remained in the family for over 100 years operating profitably as a corn mill. By the 1880s roller milling had largely replaced stone grinding, and milling ceased in the early 1900s.

20th century

Following its use as a laundry during the First World War, the Mill was offered for sale in 1928. It was saved from demolition by a group of local benefactors who presented it to the National Trust. 

In 1931 part of the building was leased to the Youth Hostels Association. The Mill became the first youth hostel for the London Region of the Association, establishing of a chain of hostels along the Pilgrims Way from Winchester to Canterbury. The hostel remained until 2004.

Little thought was given to milling flour again until the 1980s. Over the following decade a new waterwheel, gearing and millstones were acquired thanks to donations from the Science Museum amongst others.

The waterwheel and gearing at Winchester City Mill
Looking through the waterwheel and gearing at Winchester City Mill

Restoring the equipment

In 2003, Ian Clarke, a millwright and restoration engineer, became involved. He worked through the winter to bring the equipment up to the standard required for milling.

The first milling demonstration open to the public took place on Saturday 20 March 2004 after a gap in commercial production of around 90 years. In the years since we’ve continued to make repairs and improvements to the machinery. We now mill flour every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year and demonstrate what the mill can do during the week to visiting schools and groups. The amount of flour produced and sold has increased steadily and in 2013 exceeded 15 tonnes for the first time.

Save City Mill

Following serious flooding in 2013 and 2014, this ancient and storied building is at risk of closure. We need to raise £125,000 to begin essential repair work to the damaged structural beams. We’re determined to protect the Mill and safeguard its future, but the only way we can achieve our goal is with your help.

Thank you

Donate

You can donate online or call us on 01962 870057. We’d also love to see you in person; stop by the mill any time or join us for our fundraising events.