The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

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Bradcroft's Lost Watermills

February 25, 2019

Stamford Millstream 1900. The buildings were later demolished to create Bath Row car park.

 

Waterfurlong's lowest lane of gardens is bordered by Stamford Millstream. I can just about remember a time when the water flowed and kingfishers darted along the banks, and now a valiant group of volunteers is trying to rehabilitate this neglected but once beautiful feature of the town.

 

If you're local and interested in helping, you can find out more by visiting the Stamford Millstream Facebook page or message us and we'll put you in contact with Amelia Billington, who co-ordinates the group. 

 

The Millstream has an interesting history and in medieval times powered not just King's Mill, but several other long-forgotten watermills in the lost village of Bradcroft.  What happened to these ancient mills? The most likely explanation is that they were driven out of business in 1561 when Elizabeth I granted King's Mill to her chief courtier, Sir William Cecil. With this grant came monopoly rights - henceforth all inhabitants of the town and borough were required to grind their corn only through King's Mill. Research we are carrying out with Professor Alan Rogers might reveal whether it was the loss of its mills that led to Bradcroft's abandonment and eventual disappearance.

 

Whatever its impact on Bradcroft, the Cecil monopoly created major conflict in the town. One mill on its own lacked the capacity to handle all of Stamford's grain, and rather than leave their wheat, barley and rye to rot the townspeople were forced to turn to the only other facility that seems to have remained in operation - the Corporation owned Hudd's Mill near Uffington. The infuriated Cecils took several Stamford men to court and legal battles raged for forty years, with Tinwell miller William Robinson giving forceful testimony against the landowners. 

 

In the end, the problem solved itself because Stamford's population plummeted to the point where little grain was left to grind. The wool trade on which Stamford's early wealth had been built was in the doldrums and the upper reaches of the Welland had silted up, preventing trade barges from accessing the town. Poverty was rife and people were forced to move away to find work. By 1602 Stamford's population had dwindled to 2,000 - fewer

inhabitants than at the time of Domesday. The town's

finances were so bad it was excused from paying tax and two years later 600 of its remaining citizens died in an outbreak of plague. Large tracts of the town fell derelict and many fields went uncultivated. 

 

This decline was not in the Cecils' interest. In 1621 they helped Stamford Corporation gain a Royal Charter to make a cut in the Welland from Uffington through ten locks down to Market Deeping, where the river was still navigable. Once this was completed, they invested in rebuilding King's Mill and cutting a new race to feed it - admittedly riding roughshod over the townspeople's rights as the water meadows were common land. Work was completed on the 'new' Mill Stream in 1640. It was much wider than it is today, enabling grain to be transported  by barge as can be seen in the photograph from 1900. 

 

The history of King's Mill itself is quite well documented. The Robinsons were tenant millers for centuries and in 1793 William Robinson's descendant, Joseph, added a long granary to the mill at the huge cost of £400. The Robinsons were eventually succeeded by the Gilchrists, local farmers who worked the neighbouring fields. It was only in the 1930s that the last mill on the Millstream became defunct. 

 

Pictured left is the restored King's Mill millwheel

 

 

You can read more about Stamford Millstream, together with an interesting article on old water mills, on our webpage Still Glides The Stream.

 

 

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2019

Millstone photograph kind courtesy of Brien Walker © 

 

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