18 Janaury 2015
The village of Botley grew up around a ford over the River Hamble surrounded by the beautiful Hamble Valley countryside. The water of the Hamble turned the mill wheels at Botley Flour Mills for many centuries. Part of my reason for walking the four and a half miles to Botley was to visit Botley Mills. Ok, so I’d got ever so slightly distracted by all the wonderful old buildings in the village, not to mention the church but, finally, I walked down Mill Hill to the mills.
Walking towards the narrow road bridge over the Hamble the first building I came to was once, I imagine, the mill house. Unfortunately, imagining is all I can do as there is very little information about the mill buildings anywhere. The bricks and roof tiles of the house were moss and algae covered and the chimney seemed extrodinairily tall. From the front the green effect was carried on by a rhododendron growing against the wall right to the roof and around the windows. In the summer when they’re in flower the place must be a mass of colour.
The Doomsday Book mentions Botely Mills and a Saxon owner called Cheping so it’s almost certain there has been a mill here since pre Roman times. The site was once part of the Manor of Botley owned by French nobleman Ralph de Mortimer. There were two waterwheels, each driving a pair of stones, which is why this is Botley Mills and not Botley Mill.
The mills remained with the Mortimer family until 1304 when they were given in trust to the order of St Elizabeth and it’s said the monks worked them. On the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 the mills were given to Thomas Wriothesly, later Earl of Southampton, a commissioner of Henry VIII. When he died with no heir they passed to the Duke of Portland and for the next two hundred and fifty years were leased to tenant millers. As the population of the South Coast grew, the mills expanded and the present mills were built in the 1750’s.
The mills were bigger than I expected, but I’ve only seen them from the road before. For a while I stood and just drank them in, huge red brick buildings above a wet courtyard. I was glad the sky behind them was blue, somehow it seemed fitting. After a while I walked up to the arched doorway. Above it there was a sign saying Courtyard and a bunch of pink and white balloons were tied next to the door. Later I found out this was the door to Courtyard Kitchen and I could have gone inside and got a coffee, doh! More research needed in future obviously.
Shortly after the new building was completed the Duke of Portland sold the mills and, with the population dwindling after the Napoleonic Wars, they became less profitable and went through a series of owners. Perhaps in an effort to make more money the mills traded in cereals and coal up as well as milling flour. At high tide barges came up the Hamble filled with coal and went back down again with flour and grain. Hopefully someone cleaned them in between. For a while, between 1830 and 1848 paper was made on the site too.
In 1928 the current owners, the Appleby family, bought the mills and flour continued to be produced until 1993. These days the buildings are filled with shops and businesses. Given the long walk home it seemed a little pointless to be looking around shops for things I wouldn’t be able to carry but there was another archway that looked interesting so I wandered over to explore.
When flour production ground to a halt (excuse the pun) the mill machinery was preserved and is now being renovated with a view to opening a museum in the future. Now that is something I’d really like to see. Under the archway there were mill wheels stacked against the wall and, in a corner, strange pieces of rusty machinery. What I really needed was a guide to tell me what they all were.
On the other side of the archway I could hear rushing water and see a mill pond. Part of the building was covered with a huge tarpaulin, which was a shame, and, when I climbed the steps I was puzzled because the pond was as calm as … well a mill pond. The sound of tumbling water was even louder though and I looked around trying to work out where it was coming from. Eventually, after much searching, I found a tiny sluice almost hidden from view. Inside water was rushing through madly, hence all the noise. Yet again I wished I had a guide to explain things.
Time was getting on and, much as I’d have liked to stay and look around a bit more, I needed to start for home. As I crossed the bridge again and walked up Mill Hill towards the village, I was sure of one thing, there’s a great deal of Botley still to explore and this would not be my last visit.