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The Hitchcocks of Bures Mill

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The Mill, 2003

Scattered about East Anglia in recent centuries was a network of families engaged in flour milling. Cornelius Hitchcock came to Bures Water Mill in 1875; he was a man of twenty three, son of a farmer at Hitcham in Suffolk, where the rector had been the Reverend J S Henslow (Professor of Botany at Cambridge, who numbered amongst his students Charles Darwin, whose voyage on the "Beagle" Henslow was able to arrange)

Cornelius Hitchcock also purchased Wormingford Mill in 1879 where it continued production until 1929 when it burnt down. The Hitchock`s also owned other Mills at Fingrinhoe and Rattlesdon.

Cornelius did not stay with his father John on the farm but went off to learn his trade at the Windmill at Buxhall owned by a relative named Isaac Clover. He subsequently went on to the Water Mill at Sudbury as an "Improver" with another member of the Clover family. The old Mill at Sudbury is now the Mill Hotel where the mill wheel is still kept turning in the dining room.

When Cornelius Hitchcock took over Bures Mill it had already ceased to be totally dependent on the water wheel and was using a steam engine for power. This was very handy also for warming the Mill House and its greenhouse; the water wheel, as with other Suffolk mills, was used to generate electricity stored in 50 volt batteries.

In his day, and in the day of his son, Manfred Cooper Hitchcock,the Mill and the Mill House with their resident and non resident workers constituted a busy and almost self sufficient community. Cornelius' grandson Witgar has charmingly described life in those days: "Fewer and fewer people can now visualize a homestead where water was pumped up twice daily from a well below the scullery floor. Electricity was made on site and stored in batteries at 50 volts, which were topped up on winter Sunday evenings by running the water wheel, and all refuse was disposed of on site by burning or burying.

"All classes of livestock were kept up until 1920; carthorses, ponies, house cows, pigs, chickens and ducks as well as bees. In the '20`s and 30`s there were only pigs, poultry and of course shooting dogs, but these were joined for the period 1940 - 1955 by Jersey House cows.
Butter was once again regularly made, and hams, chaps, sides of bacon were pickled in genuine lead lined pickling troughs before being coated with essence of smoke (pyroligneous Acid) .

"In earlier times, say until 1875, malt was made in the malting at the base of what is now the old silo, and the beer was brewed in the building called the Brew House. Then the beer was stored in casks and in the dairy (which is now the lower part of the dining room) these casks were connected in turn by pipes to the Mill so the men could each draw a pint before starting work.

"My father would often take advantage of bad weather in the depth of winter to walk down by the river for a mile or so with gun and dog and return with a brace of widgeon or occasionally snipe. The cleaner and deeper river of earlier days was also good for fishing, particularly for bream. My father and a friend would go out all night in the boat, and on one such occasion in August 1913, they got several bream, three weighing six pounds each. Tench was regarded as the finest fish in the river and these were most likely to be caught in June. Of course in those days what was caught was eaten.

"Eels were a commercial proposition. They could be netted as they came through the floodgate as the water became increasingly muddy on a dark summer night following heavy rain. A violent storm early in August 1915 came just right, and the following evening four stone of eels were easily caught. In World War II the floodgates had gone but eels were regularly caught in a trap set in a little arch at the tailwater. Packed in special boxes they were despatched by the first train from Bures and arrived at Liverpool street in time for the daily morning auction at Billingsgate

"Then there was the garden. Tea would be the only meal taken outside in Victorian days. A special round iron table was made with uneven legs to take account of the sloping side lawn which was favoured for this. A full size greenhouse with a vine was heated by hot water from the Mill's steam engine. At the bottom lawn was a summer house in which Victorian daughters of the house did their embroidery on sultry summer afternoons. Among the trees in the garden were two fine and large d'Arcy Spice apple trees, a Norfolk Beefing and an Iron Pear. Along the banks of the river charcoal willows were planted on a commercial basis until the 1920's, when they were superceded by cricket bat willows".

This charming account of life at the Old Mill House provides a glimpse of a vanished lifestyle. The Mill House dates from 1650, and with its fourteen inch walls was a very warm house in winter. It has a rear portion added around 1820, paid for by the prosperity brought to the Mill by Napoleon's War. The 1650 attic bedrooms were designed for housemaids; one contains a bell connected by wire to a bell pull in the bedroom of the mistress of the house and still in working order.

There has been a mill on that site for the past thousand years. Witgar the Saxon is remembered in the legend that after the Norman Conquest he threw the querns from the Mill into the deep floodgate hole- where they seem likely to remain! In early times the course of the river stour was shortened and taken more directly to the Mill; the ancient course of the river is still visible in a ditch which runs through the field upriver of the Mill. This fills with water only in heavy rain. When the river was dredged in 1968 geological differences were noticed in the bed of the river; the bed of the river cut by man was different from the bed of the river higher up stream.

Recent years have brought immense changes to this ancient mill. The steam engine installed in 1867 was replaced by a suction gas engine about 1900. In 1893, the Hungarian system of roller flour milling was installed and the four pairs of stones were removed. The generation of electricity by dynamo began in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1932 power came from a diesel engine, and in 1948 mill machinery was worked by electricity. In 1893 steel rollers were installed to take the place of the millstones which had so long been in use for the manufacture of flour.

Over a century ago at the time of the 1881 Census, when Cornelius Hitchcock and his wife had spent six years at the Mill House, there were ten people living under that roof. They were Cornelius and his wife, their four daughters Nell, Grace, Ester and Emma, two maids and two apprentices. In the Mill ten men and three boys were employed. After 1881 sons followed the four daughters, John, Manfred Cooper, Alan Flinders, and Cornelius Franklin (who died at the age of six months) .They had a fifth daughter named Olive who married Forbes Jackson of the Free Church of Scotland. It was a notable achievement to have reared in those days eight out of the nine children born to them. How the old house must have resounded with the laughter and activities, and comings and goings of so remarkable a family.

By 1990 the Mill had long been used for provender manufacture, which came to an end in that same year. The great buildings, amounting to 16,000 square feet, and their machinery are silent, the only occupant of the premises a cheeky robin who guards the area as his territory and regards human beings as intruders thereon.

Author - re-print from paper by Dr K Brown(dec)
Material originally supplied by Witgar Hitchcock, Mill Owner in 2000.

Additional Notes:-

Bures Mill

http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~stanier/millers/#dedham

The 1841 census of Bures lists at least 2 mills. Bures Mill itself was occupied by Robert Stannard, "Miller", and a household including Thomas Whitby, "Millwright". On one side was Little Mill ( along Nayland Road, now home of Selwyn Pryor), where Edward Good was listed as "Journeyman Miller", and on the other side was Mill House, with the households of John Bloomfield and George Smith, both listed as "Journeyman Miller".

In the 1851 census , Robert Stannard was "Corn Miller employing 8 men". John Bloomfield and George Smith still lived nearby, still listed as "Journeyman Miller", but now joined by George Smith's son, also named George, "Millers Apprentice".

By the 1861 census , Robert Stannard has become "Corn Miller Master, employing 8 men 2 boys", while nearby were three Journeyman Millers: George Smith (the elder), William Mortlock, and James Peak.

By 1871, Robert Stannard had left to run the Dedham Mill, Bures Mill now being run by John Cooper, "Miller Master". William Keeble, "Journeyman Miller", also lived at the Mill, and next door was Charles Peake, another Journeyman Miller.

Cornelius Hitchcock came to Bures Mill in 1875, the 1881 census listing him as "MIll Merchant and Farmer of 30 acres, employing 10 men and 3 boys". Benjamin E Slaughter, "Journeyman Miller"; Charles Cudmore, "Miller's Labourer"; and Marten Bonner, "Miller's Stoneman", lived nearby.

Cornelius Hitchcock also purchased Wormingford Mill in 1879, and he or other members of the Hitchcock family also owned Mills at Fingrinhoe and Rattlesden. Cornelius was still running Bures Mill in 1891 , listed as "Miller and Merchant", while William Aldous and William Cudmore were Journeyman Millers. in 1901 Cornelius was "Flour Miller, Employer", with William Aldous still a Journeyman. Cornelius died in 1933, leaving an estate of £6403 10s 6d (9310 dwe).