The Story of Heyford: Heyford Mill V3C7

The Domesday Survey of 1086 includes a record of ‘Haiford with one mill rendering 16s.’ There has presumably always been a mill on this site since those days. The mill buildings are marked (though un-named) on Eyre’s/]effrey’s map of 1771. Bryant’s map of 1827 marks them simply as ‘mill’, but the one inch OS map of 1835 shows it specifically as ‘Heyford Mill’. There were a number of mills along this stretch of the river Nene – at Dodford, Flore, Heyford, Bugbrooke, Harpole, Kislingbury, and Upton. Sadly though, like most of the others, Heyford Mill has fallen into disuse.

The current buildings, though now derelict, consist of a millhouse, a cottage, and several barns and outbuildings. The building at right angles to the mill stream appears to be the oldest one on site and it is thought to have had an undershot waterwheel. The building on the south side of the stream is considered the most recent, and had an overshot waterwheel. There is a plague built into the front wall of the mill which states: ‘].D. — erected 1821, restored 1881’. The lower part of the buildings are of stone and probably form the original part built in 1821. The upper part which is of brick was probably added
during the 1881 restoration.

The mill in the early 1900s


This photograph, lent by David Banner, shows the mill buildings as they appeared in the early 1900s. The building on the left is the new mill with an overshot wheel. In the apex above the window is the plaque referred to in the paragraph above. The building on the other side of the bridge is the old mill with an undershot wheel. The slightly taller building in the centre is the mill house, and to its right is the stable block.

The Cosford family

From the late 1700s until the early 1900s the mill was run by the Cosford family. The militia lists of 1777 and 1798 for Upper Heyford both refer to ‘Thomas Cosford, miller, with one water mill capable of grinding 20 quarters per week’. The census returns for 1841 and 1851 show the occupants of the mill as being George Cosford, born around 1804. Also living there were his wife Sarah, their twelve children, and three servants. George Cosford died in 1867. The census return of 1871 shows the occupier as George’s son Edwin George. He was born in 1845. The Kelly’s directories of 1885 and 1914 both list ‘Edwin George Cosford of Upper Heyford’ as ‘miller using water power only’. Edwin’s son, Arthur Thomas, ran the mill with him.

The Banner family

During the first world war, John Banner came to work for Edwin and Arthur Cosford as their miller. He later took over the rent of the mill and continued to run it with his son John. The Banner family continued to run the mill until it eventually closed in the 1960s. Around 1915 John Banner bought a bakehouse in Weedon where his other son James did the baking. They ground the grain at the mill and mixed it with other grades of flour to make bread. James’ wife became known as ‘the bakers lady’ because she took the bread by cart to the villages.

After a lifetime of working in a dusty environment, John Banner developed ‘millers asthma’ and he eventually died in 1933 at the age of 63. His wife continued to live at the cottage until she died in 1943. She was the last member of the family to occupy the cottage.

Around this time, James and John bought the mill (it was originally only rented) and continued trading under the name of Banner Brothers. In addition to growing and grinding their own grain, they provided a milling service to other local farmers. Some of the farmers who came were Charlie North from Upper Heyford, and Billy Whitton, Reg Collins, and Oliver Adams from Lower Heyford. The route from Lower Heyford was along Church Street, through the Manor yard, across North field, and over Coach Bridge. This route from Lower Heyford to the mill is clearly marked on the 1834 ordnance survey map as a track, but on the modern map is shown only as a footpath.

Coach Bridge

Coach bridge was an ancient stone bridge, just wide enough to take a horse and cart across the river. However it had fallen into poor repair and was eventually dismantled in the early 1960s. Now it has been replaced by a simple concrete foot bridge behind Manor Park.

Bob Browning (1892-1997) recalled Coach Bridge with the following words which he wrote for the Prattler several years ago: ‘Take a walk down Church Street, straight on past the Manor House, across the first meadow (I think it is called Manor Park now), and you will find a most unusually built bridge. The two sides are stone built, perpendicular, and it has a flat top and very stout girders of oak with oak railings. This bridge must be  centuries old and possibly was built during the Danish occupation as ‘Hei’ and ‘Forde’ are Danish words. ls this the place from which the village was first called Heiforde?’

Working life at the mill

From 1954 until 1960, the mill continued to be run by James’ sons Jim and Anslem. Jim, who provided much of the information for this article, described to me how the mill worked. The wheat or barley would arrive by horse and cart. It was carried to the top of the mill by a series of chains driven by the mill wheel, and tipped into the garners. It then ran via a spout down to the stones for grinding, and out into the tubs for the farmers to take away.

The wheel was almost certainly the one that had been there since the restoration of 1881. The cogs were made of applewood, and when they wore out, they were replaced by new ones made by a wheelwright called Les Phillips in Flore. The stones, which were of Derbyshire granite, each weighed more than a ton, and would last around twenty to thirty years. The bottom stone remained stationary, and the top one rotated. Both had grooves carved into them to allow the grain to flow. Jim and Anslem both learned the trade of ‘dressing the stones’, that is carving or ‘pecking’ the grooves in such a way as
to ensure that the grain flowed evenly.

The mill as it appeared in 1976


The photograph above is from a painting owned by Jim Banner. It was painted in 1976 by Harry Frost and shows the appearance of the buildings before they became derelict.

The closure 

When the mill was working, the building shook with vibration. This eventually caused it to become potentially dangerous and too expensive to repair. This, together with the development of modern electrically-driven mills such as Heygates at Bugbrooke, made it necessary in 1960 for Jim and Anslem finally to close the mill. It was the last of the mills along this stretch of the Nene to close, and therefore marked the end of an era.

They applied for planning permission to convert the buildings into living accommodation, but it was refused because the area is in a flood plain. When the river rises it occasionally breaks its banks, and it is not uncommon for the ground floor to become flooded with several inches of water. This really made it impractical to do anything with the buildings. Until the 1970s they were in reasonably good repair, but the damage created by vandals, together with the effects of the wind and rain, have caused them gradually to become derelict.

Stephen Ferneyhough

The Mill in 2020


Photo by Tactico Photography:

Jez Wilson


Extract from “The Story of Heyford” – Local book series published in the late 1990’s

Volume 3 of 4 | Chapter 7 of 17 | Pages  14 to 16


Heyford’s Historical Heritage  |  How the books were created

Index  |  Covers

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