Mills of East Meon
For a village, East Meon had a lot of mills.
Before the invention of the steam engine, motive power came from wind, water or muscles. Water was the most efficient and could be stored. Water mills required capital outlay and expert maintenance, and skilled operation. Mills were used for heavy work such as grinding corn and fulling wool cloth and were central to the economic life of the village.
At the time of the Domesday Book there were “six mills worth forty shillings in Menes”, but “Menes” then covered a very large area including Sheet, Steep, Oakshott, and Adhurst Mills, as well as today’s parish of East Meon. A Rent roll of the manor of East Meon for 1567 mentions “a mill called South Mill in the tithing of East Meon held by Nicholas Write by the rent of 1s. 3d., and a water-mill in Ramsdean held by John Tribe by the annual rent of 15s.”. (Nicholas Wright lived in the Tudor House).
A 1647 Parliamentary Survey of East Meon mentions: “Two corn-mills under one roof commonly called or known by the name of Shutt Mill, which mills lie west from East Meon”… “a mill called South Mill held by Thomas Searle” and … “a water-mill held by John Tribe in the tithing of Ramsdean”. ‘Shutt Mill’ is now Drayton Mill and was acquired by Francis Allein in 1649. A Tithe Map of Riplington from the early Tudor period also includes it. In 1820 Mr Vinn of Drayton has two mills in his “Measurement and valuation of the parish of East Meon” – Drayton and Frogmore Mills.
Frogmore Mill appears on several late 18th Century maps as “Wigmore Mill”. The earliest documentary reference is from 1772 when “William Wyatt of Frogmore Mill” was buried in our churchyard (Wyatts still live in the village). In 1776 it was insured against fire with the Royal Exchange: “Frances Brewer of East Meon in the County of Hampshire, Miller insures his dwelling house and Water Corn Mill house adjoining ….together with the running tackle £500”. A series of millers and sales of the lease are recorded throughout the 1800’s. The millers included Ayling (1800), Rolphe (1812), Stephen Steele (1830), Lillywhite (1835), and finally from the early 1870’s until his death in 1896, Benjamin Aylwin aided by John Silk, the “miller’s man”. When Ben died John’s son George Silk took over the lease. The millers at Frogmore had always been “millers and farmers” utilising extensive sluices to keep Frogmore Water Meadows watered “when convenient”.
In 1935 George Silk (with family, left, outside Frogmore Mill) was described as “farmer” only…. the mill seems to have ceased as such. George was celebrated by perhaps East Meon’s most colourful court case “Hardy versus Silk”. Silk was entitled to control water from upstream, but Sam Hardy of Lower Farm (Master of the Hambledon Hunt…local rumour still has it “not a good farmer but strong on elite social contact”) had built himself a “posh” new pond and prevented George from access. In exasperation George went up to open the sluices himself, Sam sent out his gardener to prevent him, and George threw him in the said pond! George was found guilty of assault (but got bound over) whilst George then sued Sam and received damages of £1 after judgement by the House of Lords. In 1969 the Mill and Wheel houses were bought by Denys and Rosemary Ryder, who have lovingly restored them as dwellings. The now empty mill pond and part of the last wheel still remain.
Drayton was the first to cease as a corn mill. Stephen Steele’s son (another Stephen) had been miller there in the 1840’s. By the 1860’s it was in dual use as a corn mill and as a saw mill. James Heath was a wheelwright (making wagons) whilst George Vince was a miller. In 1871 Michael Vincent was a miller but the ‘master’ seems to have been William Porter described in the 1871 census as “wheelwright and miller”. In 1867 his daughter, Ellen, married Alfred James Aburrow, who took over the mill. When he died in 1894, his four surviving children Alfred, Stephen, Harry, and Ellen ran the wheelwright business at the mill (plus a “branch” in the Square) until 1947.
Eli Etherington and William Cote were millers here in the mid 19th Century. South Mill was rebuilt in 1897 shortly before the Atkinson family moved to East Meon from Cumberland
in 1905/6. It was “state of the art”, powered by a water turbine. It was used for flour milling… and for the production of animal feeds contributing to the Atkinsons’ comprehensive approach to farm management. Water power ceased in the late 1950’s and Arthur Downland was the last miller. It was converted into dwellings in 1996. The mill pond is still fed by the headsprings of the Meon.
Tragically, South Mill was the scene of East Meon’s perhaps saddest event… the death of Millie Atkinson on 27th December, 1912. To quote “The Miller” journal of 6 January, 1913: “A distressing occurrence is reported from East Meon, Nr Petersfield. Mildred, the eight year old daughter of Mr George Atkinson was in the mill there with her brothers when one of them, not realising that his sister was near the shaft, started the machinery. The child’s hair was caught in the shaft and she was killed”. Her tiny coffin was escorted through the streets of East Meon by the children of the village and she is buried in our churchyard.
Written by David Hopkins