The River Path
Mills of the Stour
There were once reputed to be over 100 mills in the catchment of the River Stour, though sadly only a fraction remain - of them, a few still work. According to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings there were less than 60 mills in the UK which were working commercially in 1997. At the turn of the century there were 15,000.
Even the smallest rivers powered mills - Collyer's Brook / Fontmell Brook boasted three (see some surviving workings above, right). Over the centuries they have been used for grinding corn, fulling cloth, powering forge hammers and saws, making paper, snuff, gunpowder, needles and silk. The grinding stone (quern) often came from the Peak District of Derbyshire. Burr stone for finely ground flour was imported from Marne near Paris. Different types of wheel were used: undershot, overshot and breastshot. Turbines were introduced in the mid nineteenth century. Long leats contoured their way from upstream to deliver a head of water and sluices were constructed to increase the flow of water to the wheels.
The first mills were of timber with stone foundations and have gradually been replaced with stone or brick. Many mills were burnt down owing to the friction caused by the wooden machinery and the combustibility of the flour dust.
Mill leats and pools provide different habitats for wild life and popular places for fishing.
There are a number of fine mills in the Stour valley which can be visited or which have footpaths running by them:
Sturminster Newton Mill (above)
run by the Sturminster Newton Museum Society, is open between 11am and 4pm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, & Thursday betwen April and September.
is still in working order and offers bed and breakfast accommodation.
on the Town Quay at Christchurch is open daily from May to September.
White Mill (above)
on the Kingston Lacy Estate near Sturminster Marshall, owned by the National Trust, is open seven days a week from March until the end of October.
Cann Mill (above)
also on the River Stirchel is a working flour mill which produces a fine range of stoneground flours.
This mill offers courses in traditional bread making. You can learn from Paul Merry a master baker of 25 years about yeast fermentation and flour, take home your produce, and tour the mill with the miller, Michael Stoate. Contact Paul Merry on +44(0)17683 61102 or email panary[at]aol.com for more information on dates from September to December in 2002.
in Wimborne has been converted into a crafts centre.
On the main river, Stour Provost Mill, Cut Mill near Hinton St. Mary, Fiddleford Mill, south of Sturminster Newton, Durweston Mill and Throop Mill (below, right) all have footpaths running past them.
Others can be seen from the road - King's Mill (above, left) near Marnhull and Eccliffe.
In the early 1970s, Eccliffe Mill (on the Stour at Madjeston near Gillingham in Dorset) was the home of composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
It was here in 1973 and early 1974 that he wrote his music theatre work 'Miss Donnithorne's Maggot' (Maggot being 'an old word meaning "a whimsical or perverse fancy".')
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has a Mills Section which campaigns to save mills. It produces a newsletter, Mill News, and runs talks and events. They can be contacted at:
SPAB - Mills Section
37 Spital Square,
London E1 6DY
(+44(0)171 456 0909).
Stour Water Features