The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.



Bread has long been a staple part of our diet. The Egyptians were baking bread with yeast as far back as 2500 years ago. And long before that people discovered how to grind grain into flour using quern stones that they turned by hand.


The first powered mills for grinding grain appeared in Britain shortly after the Romans arrived in AD 43. They were powered by either animals or water. The earliest reference to windmills was in the 1180s.


Doomsday Book (1086) records that there was a mill at Cainhoe, probably somewhere near the castle. It is also recorded that a mill existed at Beadlow in 1140, probably attached to Beaulieu Priory.

The Mills of the River Flitt

The River Flitt rises in the grounds of Woburn Abbey. It flows in a generally easterly direction, dropping some 250 feet in 16 miles. It joins the River Ivel at Langford.

The map shows the sites of all the watermills, brown for surviving, grey for gone.

The sites of local windmills are also shown.

Point to a mill to see the details.

Types of Water Wheel


Undershot wheel

Undershot wheel

This is the earliest type of wheel which used the kinetic energy in the flowing water to push the wheel round and was use for fulling and corn mills. The floats (paddles) are arranged around the circumference of the wheel and are moved by the force of the water against them. It does not require a large head of water, so that it can be used in any stream where water is flowing at a usable speed in sufficient quantity.

It is the least efficient design.

Breastshot wheel

Breastshot wheel

Breastshot wheel

To produce more power the breastshot wheel uses a head of water (i.e. a difference in levels) which is directed onto the wheel about half way up. Buckets around the circumference fill with water so, in addition to the dynamic force of the water, there is a gravitational force which lowers the buckets.

Overshot wheel

Overshot wheel

Overshot wheel

This type can be considered as a variation on the overshot wheel since the water is fed in at near the top of the wheel. It is different in that the water is fed in vertically downwards and that it rotates in the opposite direction to the overshot wheel.

Pitchback wheel

Pitchback wheel

Pitchback wheel

The most efficient arrangement is where the water enters at the top of the wheel and fills the buckets. This arrangement requires a large head of water. The larger the diameter of the wheel, the more power is produced.

A backshot wheel continues to function until the water in the wheel pit rises well above the height of the axle, when any other overshot wheel will be stopped or even destroyed. This makes the technique particularly suitable for streams that experience extreme seasonal variations in flow, and reduces the need for complex sluice and tail race configurations. A backshot wheel may also gain power from the water's current past the bottom of the wheel, and not just the weight of the water falling in the wheel's buckets.


To get enough water to drive a mill it was usually necessary to divert a stream along a raised channel so that eventually the height of the water in the channel was above the level of the stream.

On the map of the waterway system the River Flitt approaches Clophill to the west of the A6 road near the filling station. Here there is a weir that spills off excess flow. This channel runs under the A6 road and along side Goodwood Close. Then under the A507 road and The Causeway. It eventually rejoins the main river near the footpath that leads from The High Street to Cainhoe Castle. In times of high rainfall it is this channel that takes the increased flow.

The main river passes under the A6 and A507 roads and then under the new bridge by The Green. You can see how much the river level has been raised as there is a drainage ditch which passes under the river in a tunnel.

If you view the area from the footbridge over the A507 you can see that the banks of the river have been raised above the field level.

There is a second weir which takes off some of the excess water.

Further along, the dashed line shows the original course of the river. It has been diverted to the mill along a new channel that has been built up to form the millstream or leat.

A sluice gate controls the flow of water to the mill by diverting excess flow in times of high rainfall. By the time the millstream has reached the mill it is about eight feet higher than the original stream. This difference in height is used to drive the mill wheel.

Mill Machinery

The water wheel is on a horizontal shaft connected to the pit wheel. (So called as the lower half is in a pit in the basement floor.)

The pit wheel is a bevel gear with teeth set at an angle. It engages with a small bevel gear called the wallower. The wallower is at the bottom end of the vertical mainshaft.

On the mainshaft is the great spur wheel which drives the stone nuts. Each stone nut drives an upper millstone called the runner. The lower grindstone, called the bedstone, is stationary.

At the top of the mainshaft is another bevel gear called the crown wheel this drives a horizontal shaft which drives ancillary machinery.

The drive to each set of millstones can be engaged or disengaged by stopping the water wheel (by stopping the flow to it) and moving the stone nut up or down.

Clophill Watermill

Clophill Watermill

Clophill Watermill from The Causeway showing the tunnel that housed the waterwheel.

The watermill at Clophill stands on the corner of the High Street and The Causeway. It was probably built in the eighteenth century. It is shown on a map of 1716.

Clophill Watermill

Clophill Watermill

Clophill Mill was used up until the early 20th century. The last miller was George Course who lived in the Mill House, now demolished. By then most flour for bread was produced by a new technique where the grain was crushed between metal rollers and stone-ground flour went out of fashion. Clophill Mill, in the late 19th and early 20th century probably ground grain for animal meal.


The photographs on the right are arranged in spacial order but the sequence of motion transmission starts at the bottom and works its way up so it is probably best to start reading from the lowest paragraph. They were taken after most of the machinery had been removed leaving the basic mechanism. Unfortunately, all the machinery has now gone and the mill is a private residence.

6) On the second floor, which is under the roof, is a pulley wheel that drives a hoist for lifting the sacks of grain. The belt that can be seen would loop around this pulley and the pulley on the shaft on the floor below.

5) On the first floor you can see the top of the mainshaft and the crown wheel. This drives a bevel gear on the horizontal shaft which rotates the pulley that drives the belt that goes up to the second floor.

4) On the ground floor are the three pairs of grindstones. Above them you can see the shutes that fed the grain to them. All the woodwork that would have surronded the millstones and the feed mechanisms above are missing. The three runner stones are driven by vertical shafts coming from the basement.

The watermill was assessed in 1927 under the The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 and was described as follows:-

It was constructed of brick and tile and had three floors with a loft and comprised:
- lower floor: the wheel itself, 10ft by 10ft and a sacking room;
- ground floor: three pairs of stones of 4' 6" diameter; an office; a cakestore and cake breaker;
- first floor: a flour dressing machine; a kibbler (for grinding); a smutter (for cleaning the grain); a corn store;
- loft: grain shutes and a store

Machinery on second floor

6) Machinery on second floor

Machinery on first floor

5) Machinery on first floor

3 pairs of stones on the ground floor

4) Three pairs of stones on the ground floor

Mill Wheel

1) Mill Wheel

1) The mill wheel is an overshot type. The photo shows an iron shaft with iron naves (centres) and arms. The wooden buckets are missing. Because the head of water available here is relatively small, the wheel has a small diameter (10 feet) but the wheel is very wide (10 feet) to compensate.

Part of pit wheel and gearing in basement

2) Part of pit wheel and gearing in basement

2) The large gear is the pit wheel and is on the same shaft as the water wheel which is on the other side of the wall that you can see on the left of the photograph. At the top of the photograph, behind the beam you can see part of the wallower which is driven by the pit wheel. This wheel is so named as it lower part is housed in a pit below floor level. In the centre of the photograph you can see the bottom end of the vertical mainshaft and its supporting bearing.

Gearing in basement

3) Gearing in basement

3) This photograph shows the view over the top of the beam shown in the previous photograph. The small gear on the left is the stone nut. This can be made to move vertically, by turning the handle, so that it engages with the great spur which is visible to the right on the mainshaft.

Clophill Windmill

Clophill also had a windmill.

The Victoria County History, that was written between 1904 and 1918, records:- "... to the west of the village, at a short distance from the main road, stands an ancient windmill built of timber; the shape is peculiar, for the body is built like an ordinary barn with gables at the end. The mill sails used to be supported on large cross-beams which are attached to a square wooden turret with a low-pointed roof, which projects from the roof of the barn at the west end."



It is shown on a map of 1890 and was where Moore's Close is today (technically, in Maulden but this end of Maulden seems to have always associated itself with Clophill).

Clophill Windmill

Clophill Windmill


In the Hertford Mercury and Reformer of 14th July 1855 there was an advertisement for:-
"SEASONED OAK, ASH, ELM, LIME, and HORNBEAM TIMBER, TREES, PLANKS, Boards, Cross-trees. Posts and Scantlings, Mill Gears and Patterns, Hand Corn Mill, pair of new FRENCH MILLSTONES, Farming Implements, and other effects;"
"TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, BY T. & G. GREENE, ON THE PREMISES, CLOPHILL MILL, On WEDNESDAY, 18th of July, 1855, at Ten o'clock In the forenoon, By direction of the Executors of the late Mr. J. Burroughs,"

Sale at Mill

Sale at Mill

This would indicate that there was a millwrights business carried on at the mill at Clophill.


The 1851 census shows that John Burroughs was a farmer with 65 acres. He employed 5 labourers on his farm, a miller and 5 labourers (at Clophill Mill) and 4 journeymen carpenters (millwrights?)

John Burroughs, 1851 census

John Burroughs, 1851 census

Also in the 1851 census are a Millwright Master, a Millwright Journeyman and a Millwright Apprentice.

Going back to the 1841 census there are a two journeyman millwrights, and a millwright.

By 1861 there is one millwright then in the following censuses no millwrights.


In the Northampton Mercury for 26th July 1847 is an advertisement that reads "WANTED immediately. FOUR good hands as MILLWRIGHTS. It is indispensable that they should be well acquainted with their business. Apply personally, or by letter, to Mr. Isaac Spells, Clophill, Beds." Isaac Spells was a master millwright

Wanted Millwrights

Wanted Millwrights

Stotfold Mill

Stotfold Mill has two cast gears with
"J. Burroughs, Clophill" embossed on them.

Stotfold Mill

Stotfold Mill

The auction description lists "valuable mill gear patterns". Were they made at Clophill to the patterns? Or maybe at an iron foundry in a nearby town?


The evidence indicates that John Burroughs, farmer and entrepreneur, owned the mill and employed staff to run it. He also had a millwrighting business that was run by Isaac Spells.

The auction description lists "valuable mill gear patterns". Were these the patterns used for casting the gears such as the ones at Stotfold Mill? Where was the iron foundry? At Clophill or maybe at a nearby town?

Mills that you can visit

Stotfold Mill

Stotfold Watermill, in its idyllic setting on the River Ivel, Bedfordshire is unique. Having burnt down in 1992, it is now a completely rebuilt Grade II listed watermill with three fully accessible floors to view

Go to website...

Bromham Mill

There was a mill on the site of Bromham Mill since before the domesday survey in 1086. For centuries, the enormous wheel was turned only by the water of the River Great Ouse. In the 1920's a steam engine was installed to provide extra power but by then, Water Mill technology had become obsolete. It has since been renovated and visitors can once again watch flour milling at close quarters.

Go to website...

Stevington Mill

Constructed around a central post so that it can be turned to face into the wind, this impressive postmill was built in the 18th century and is the only complete windmill left in the county.

Go to website...