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Still Glides The Stream

Waterfurlong between the 16th and 19th centuries

'Still glides the stream, and shall for ever glide'  from 'The River Duddon' by William Wordsworth

The 300 years following the Dissolution turned out to be some of the least eventful recorded in our corner of Stamford. With the friars gone, Bradcroft in ruins, the once great Roman road little more than a footpath, and the whole town in decline, it is unclear how much of the Waterfurlong area was turned over to farming and how much left wild to return to woodland. What we do know is that the main focus of activity during these years was the Mill Stream and nearby King's Mill. 

The Wake of the Dissolution

Edward Fiennes de Clinton

The assets of the Dissolution did not stay on the Crown terrier for long. Old monastic lands were sold off cheaply by a Tudor administration desperate for ready cash to finance its costly wars with France and Spain. During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries Stamford became surrounded by new and refurbished estates, many of which were established by aspiring merchants and nouveaux riches.

In 1548 Edward VI granted Austin Friars to Edward de Clinton, Ist Earl of Lincoln: by then the friary buildings and their immediate grounds amounted to about two acres and were adjoined by one close of five acres rented to a William Wilton and one close of a single acre rented to a Thomas Gedney. The estate in total had an annual value of 37s 8d.

In 1598 it passed into the possession of William Cecil, Baron Burghley, shortly before his death. The buildings were soon destroyed and the stone removed by local people for other building projects. In 1652 a John Hall gave part of the site to an Alice Balguy, but the remnants of the friary house itself remained with the Marquesses of Exeter. 


This was a difficult period in Stamford's history. The wool trade on which its early wealth had been built had long been in decline and the River Welland had silted up, preventing boats from reaching the town. By 1602 the town's finances were so bad it was excused from paying tax and its population had fallen to less than 2,000, meaning Stamford had fewer inhabitants than at the time of Domesday. 600 people died in an outbreak of plague in 1604 and large tracts of the town fell derelict.



The Millstream and Bradcroft Meadow

Over the centuries we continue to find references to Bradcroft or Bredcroft Meadow, often in conjunction with the Mill Stream, which still runs at the foot of the southernmost gardens today. As far back as 1304 we read about Bradcroft's 'milldam': Hugh Pett of Bradecroft sold to Beatricia, widow of Joseph le Ferrour, his houses in the hamlet ‘as they extend themselves from the king’s highway north, [presumably what is now Tinwell Road] and the milldam of Bradecroft south.’

Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Ist Earl of Lincoln by Hans Holbein the Younger.

After the Dissolution most of the activity in Waterfurlong centred around the mill, which Queen Elizabeth granted to the Cecils in 1561. The monopoly rights that came with this grant created many decades of conflict. All inhabitants of the town and borough were obliged by custom 'the tyme whereof the memory of man ys not to the contrary' to grind their corn and malt at King’s Mill.  

King's Mill, Bath Row, Stamford
King's Mill, Bath Row abt 1890 (1)

The problem was less one of resentment about monopolisation than of capacity - King's Mill could not cope with the volume and, rather than wait long periods for their grain to be ground, the townspeople understandably turned to other mills, such as Corporation-owned Hudd's Mill towards Uffington.


Sir Thomas Cecil was having none of this and took several Stamford men to court. Legal battles raged for forty years, with Tinwell miller William Robinson testifying that because of the Mill Stream's low water volume and small dam King's Mill would never have the capacity to grind corn for the whole town. In the end, the problem solved itself when Stamford's population plummeted. 


There is an interesting article entitled 'The Cecils' Monopoly of Milling in Stamford 1561 - 1640' by Dr D L Thomas

Mill stream, Stamford, 1900
Mill Stream circa 1900 (1)

Meanwhile, determined to make the most of this monopoly, the Cecils decided to invest in rebuilding King's Mill and cutting a new race to feed it from the Welland, the latter in violation of townspeople's rights as the water meadows were common land. Work was completed on the Mill Stream in about 1640 - it was much wider than it is today - enabling the grain to be transported by barge. The buildings shown to the left were demolished to create Bath Row car park.

The Robinsons remained tenant millers for centuries. In 1793 William Robinson's descendant, Joseph, added a long granary to King's Mill at a cost of £400. The

Robinsons were eventually succeeded by the Gilchrists, local farmers who worked the neighbouring fields. We know the names of the 19th century millers:

1815 - 1835  Horatio Gilchrist

1842 - 1855  Thomas Gilchrist

1861 - 1868  Mrs S E Gilchrist*

1868 - 1892  Thomas Jelley**

*her son seems to have been the miller

** father of Francis Jelley

Thereafter, Messrs Molesworth & Springthorpe

seem to have taken over and by the 1930s the

mill was defunct. 

King's Mill millwheel
King's Mill millwheel © Brien Walker

Brien Walker of specialist period property surveyors, Snow Walker, has kindly given us permission to reproduce his article on old water mills:

'By Domesday, some 5,000 mills were recorded. Whether windmill or watermill, the miller was generally paid in flour, typically allowed a one-sixteenth share of what he milled. Invariably, the miller cheated and under-declared this, leading Chaucer to lambast "He was a master’s hand at stealing grain. He felt it with his thumb and thus he knew its quality and took three times his due – a thumb of gold by God to gauge an oat."

In truth, the miller had to be extremely hard working to be successful, as it was an arduous and dangerous profession. Access was ever important, so it is common to find mills sited where a lane already crossed the stream. Originally, watermills were used primarily to produce flour. The idea of using two stones which revolved one on top of the other is simple, but efficiently mechanising the process was undoubtedly introduced here by the Romans.

In terms of the drive and power, there were three basic watermill designs. By the 1700s this concentrated on the effects of the impact on the blades, and the over-shot wheel taking water supply to the crown was pre-eminent; a variation on the over-shot was the pitch-back where the wheel was encouraged to turn in the other direction. A breast-shot wheel, where the water pours on the wheel roughly in line with the axel, probably dates from around the 1850s. The under-shot, however, was generally the most simple, initially turned by the force of the water alone against the blades. Power was essential, so boxes were eventually formed on top of the wheel-floats/paddles, adding considerably to the torque. 

The forces exerted on a mill were ever a problem. Normally these were substantial structures expected to have a long economic life and weathering would take its toll. Water is an aggressive, corrosive and fluctuating force and the pressures crashing through the machinery were considerable. It is hardly surprising therefore that gradually metal replaced wood, particularly for shafts and gears. 

A site such as King's Mill, Stamford was suited to be an undershot wheel because of the surrounding geography. Here, the water was fed into the wheel via a simple rise and fall sluice gate and the kinetic energy of the entry speed was then exchanged for weight and subsequent power. As the wheel turned, so the weight of the water then dropped from the blades into the tale race, with little forward velocity. 

The basic principle was that grain went through a hole in a gap between the stones and rotation ground the seed to a simple flour. Early on, it was realised if the stones had grooves cut into the top course dressing, the grain was broken down faster. The grooves were cut at an angle to the edge of the stone, so that the action of one unit passing over the top of another was akin to a pair of scissors. Dressing these grooves in the hard stone was skilled work undertaken by a travelling stone-dresser; this involved removal of the hopper shoe horse, being the supporting frame, and the tun or vat that encased the stone. This was no easy task, bearing in mind that a stone could weigh well over one tonne. Using chisels on the valuable stone by the unskilled often caused them to break, so it was not a decision to be taken lightly. Bedding them properly was difficult and subsequent judging of the extent of the marks on them was when it was said the craftsman would show his mettle.


Some types of granite are suitable, as is coarse Derbyshire grit stone. However, it was considered the best hard burr stones, invariably with a four foot diameter, were from pits outside Paris. Later, the French burr runner stone was used with  metal iron-band surrounds, called tyres. Some also incorporated four balance pockets to the surround, where lead could be added. 

The pit wheel, being a vertical upright, meshed with a horizontal wallower attached to a spur wheel; in turn this then drove the stones and any auxiliary drives or apparatus via a top crown wheel. Traditionally, wheel shafts, if timber, were made from oak, carried on two bearing points which had to be exceedingly well-greased to avoid friction; cast iron shafts would come later. Teeth on internal apparatus were known as cogs. Other than just powering the stones, the auxiliary machines might include grading sieves and perhaps a belt-pulley sack hoist.

The gap between the stones was very small, generally being between a 50th and 100th of an inch and it was therefore important to maintain an even flow of grain. The top stone was called a runner and often mounted on a hat-shaped saddle called a rynd. The damsel fitted on to this casting at right angles to the rynd and the runner stone on top of that was not turned until grain was fed through. The gap between the stones was controlled by raising or lowering the bridge-tree, also known as a tenter, which carried the drive shaft – this operation was therefore called tentering. If the stones were to touch they could easily grind to extremely hot temperatures and catch fire, this being a major hazard as the flour could literally explode. A simple bell and string alarm was therefore established, which only activated when the grain ran dry. Similarly stones rubbing together wore them out quickly and was ruinously uneconomic. Gearing was expected to be about 125 revolutions per minute.' 

Over the centuries, King's Mill has been through several name changes. In medieval and early Tudor times it was known as 'North Mills'. In 1536 we find reference to 'The Queen's Mills', presumably in acknowledgement of the fact Henry VIII had granted the mill to his new bride, Jane Seymour. It is after Queen Jane's death the following year that the name 'King's Mill' seems to have been adopted. 

Fairs, Flowers & Pewterers

From the beginning of the 19th century we find regular references to the land west of the old friary being used for fairs and shows, such as The Stamford & District Floral & Horticultural Show, and this seems to be part of a much older tradition.


John Drakard wrote in 1822 'About a stone’s throw west of this convent is a hedge called Pewterers’ Hedge, where Mr Peck thinks the pewterers kept stalls formerly during Midlent fair, for a great part of the fair was kept outside the town. At the west end of this appears the Roman high-way.'(3)


In 1863 the Mercury reported: 'The Horticultural Show at Stamford on Wednesday last was held at the site of the Austin Friary at that part of the day when, 324 years before, the Vigils and Vespers of Evening Song were celebrated by the inmates.'(4)


The Georgian era saw a welcome return to prosperity for Stamford. The construction of the Welland Navigation Canal gave trade barges access to the town once more and improvements to the Great North Road (which had superseded Ermine Street as the main thoroughfare) increased coach traffic, with Stamford becoming a major staging post on the route from London to York. Despite repeated outbreaks of smallpox and typhoid, the population rose for the first time in four hundred years. 18th century Stamford was dominated by the affluent middle classes, who commissioned expensive new properties built of stone quarried at Ketton, Clipsham and Weldon, with Collyweston slate roofs.

In 1770, following the demolition of the medieval St Peter’s Gate to the immediate east of the former friary, Hopkins Hospital was built on the initiative of Alderman John Hopkins as an almshouse for poor married couples. This seems to have been the first significant construction in our corner of the town for some centuries.

The Corporation gave land on the line of the town walls and the Marquess of Exeter donated an additional strip for the gardens. Financed by public subscription and donations, it is highly likely yet more stone was dug from the friary ruins for the building of this and other dwellings further down what had come to be known as Austin Friars Lane.  

Hopkins hospital
Hopkins Hospital

St Peter's Gate was one of seven principal gates of medieval Stamford. By the late 18th century these gates, which no longer

served any defensive purpose, had become a serious obstacle to the increasing traffic.

Rutland Terrace

Rutland Terrace was Stamford's first commercial property development outside the town walls. Most of the land on which it was built had been in use as a bowling green since at least 1712. In December 1828 the green and an adjoining paddock were bought for £550 from Peter Lafarge by local veterinary surgeon John Cooper Wallis, in order to constructelegant town-houses for Stamford's upper middle classes. Building of all 20 houses began in early 1829 and that August seven at the east end were advertised to let.



Rutland Terrace, Stamford

In 1830 tenders were invited for the completion of the remaining houses. Work was finished by 1831, with the earlier houses having stuccoed façades and the later ones ashlared frontages. 

Wealthier people welcomed the opportunity to move out of town into one of these 'elegant, picturesque, healthy and delightful'(4) properties. Wallis decided to occupy one himself and had no difficulty letting the others, 

but the project left him deep in debt. By 1831 Wallis had mortgaged the houses for a total of £6,000 and the fact the freeholds were soon sold off suggests he became bankrupt. 

At least three of our 19th century gardeners lived in Rutland Terrace at some point - Thomas Laxton, William Mitton and Henry Johnson. Thomas Laxton's father, Thomas senior, and Henry Johnson were both early members of the Stamford Floral & Horticultural Society and probably enjoyed the convenience of the show sometimes being held on their doorstep, just across the road on the old Friary grounds.

'RUTLAND TERRACE, STAMFORD. To be LET, And may be entered upon at Michaelmas next, SEVEN genteel new HOUSES, situate on the site of the late Bowling-green in STAMFORD, and finished in the most modern style.


Two of the houses contain each kitchen, cellars, and conveniences, in the basement; a parlour and library on the ground floor; and a drawing-room 19 feet by 16, five bed-rooms, and water-closet, on the first and second floors; together with a parterre and iron-palisades in front, and small Garden at the back, having a communication with the open fields of Stamford, and commanding a most delightful view of Easton, Wothorpe, Burghley, and the great London road. The rent of each of the above two houses is 30 guineas per annum.


The other five are built uniformly with the above, but instead of having a kitchen underground, have the kitchen at the back of the parlour, leading into the yard; and the rent of each of these five houses is 25 guineas per annum.


All the apartments are fitted up with handsome and useful grates; the drawing-rooms have French windows (down to the ground) and iron balconies; and the houses are situated in All Saints' parish, the poor rates and other charges in which are very moderate.


For further particulars apply to Mr Wallis, Stamford, the proprietor.' Stamford Mercury 28 August 1829 (4)




(1) Kind courtesy of the Lincolnshire Museums Service

(2) © Copyright Brien Walker. All rights reserved.

(3) The History of Stamford, in the County of Lincoln, comprising its ancient, progressive, and modern state; with an Account of St. Martin's, Stamford Baron, and Great and Little Wothorpe, Northamptonshire, Stamford by John Drakard, 1822

(4) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

Grateful acknowledgements to Dorothea Price for information in her book River Welland, Amberley Publishing, 2012

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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