Cheshire's Historic Working Water Mill
The History of Bunbury Mill
Compiled from extracts of "Behind the Door" - a visitors' guide to the history of the mill with an illustrated explanation of how the machinery works.
Available at the Mill reception desk - price £4.00
The mill at Bunbury has a long history spanning some 830 years or more. Bunbury was a settlement in the Domesday Book, in the Hundred of Rushton and the County of Cheshire. It had a recorded population of 3 households in 1086, putting it in the smallest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday.
However, there is no reference to a mill at Bunbury at the time of Domesday. Historically there were a number of water mills along the Gowy Valley, reflecting the rich agricultural heritage of the area. A deed, pictured left, created between 1180 and 1220, declares a grant of land in the field of Woodworth, and is the earliest documentary evidence we have found of a mill located at Bunbury. It describes a mill-pond, thus implying the presence of a watermill.
During the following years, the land ownership was contested by various members of the gentry. The vendor owners were withholding rightful ownership from the purchasers. There are several papers in the Cholmondeley Estate archives concerning these civil actions. The mill still carried on working; it did not matter who owned it!
By the early 17th Century the mill seems to have passed to the Beeston family, of Beeston. It is probably Bunbury mill that is referred to in the Inventory of the possessions of Hugh Beeston on his death in 1608. He was the son of Sir George Beeston, whose magnificent monument is in Bunbury Church.
A survey in 1838 records William Fenna as occupant of the mill house and associated land, but this time including "Scite of Mill, pool etc.", and no rent was payable for this item. The 1839 Tithe Map records only the mill pool and in the Peckforton Estate accounts for the years 1841-3 it is described as "burned down". It had suffered the fate of so many other mills, most of which were built mainly of timber.
It is almost certain that the present mill was built and in working order by 1st November 1844, since the estate accounts of that year have the following entry: "Reserved Rent. William Fenna .... a proportion of £18 a year rent to Martinmas for the mill, house, qarden and water priveledqe. 10/-."
This old, glass-plate photograph, held in the Wirral local history archive, was wrongly attributed as being a mill in the Wirral. However, after 15 years of deliberation as to the true location, the archivist identified it as Bunbury Mill and provided this electronic scan of the original print for us to use.
There is a strong probability that the main group of people are the wife, Harriet and daughters of John Lovekin (junior), with Harriet standing proudly in the foreground of the picture. By 1871, John (junior) had moved from the family home at the mill to Newcastle-under-Lyme to work as an apprentice butcher and had married Harriet Ellen Wilson on 15th November 1876. Their first child, Elizabeth died on 10th February 1878 aged 7 months. By 1881, John had moved back to his Bunbury Mill home and taken over the running of the mill when his father, John (senior) retired from milling to take up farming in Kelsall. We have yet to identify the lady in mourning dress with her dog, the children nearer the main body of the pond or the lady holding the small child in the group of 4 people.
Since 1878, John and Harriet had several children – Mary (born 1879), Florence, Lottie, Ellen, Mabel, Lizzie, Emma, Louise, Annie, Nora (died aged 14 months) and Gertrude. Assuming that no other child died earlier that the time of the photograph, and that the Lovekin children are those wearing white smocks or in the arms of others (8 children), we can believe that they are Mary through to Louise being the youngest born in 1888, and places the time of the photograph at 1888 or 1889.
This picture-postcard, produced in the 1940's, shows the 1844 mill with its lean-to buildings and large chimney which were added as a steam-engine was installed to provide power to the machinery when the water-level in the pond was low. These buildings and chimney are no longer present, but there is a lime-wash shadow of their internal walls on the exterior of the mill you see today.
The mill pond was obviously much larger than it is now, and used to cover the whole area between where the visitor centre and car park now stand. We don't have swans nowadays, but there are plenty of ducks!
The mill carried on working long into the 20th century, but all this came to an abrupt end in August 1960 when a severe local storm caused the water level in the pond to rise dramatically. A large baulk of tree trunk had got jammed in the upper part of the then narrow weir sluice gate, blocking the outlet. The pressure of water on the sluice and bank was enormous and finally it burst through, destroying the sluice, cutting away several yards of bank and tearing sandstone blocks from the dam. The damage was so great that the owners, the Peckforton Estate, made the financial decision not to attempt the repairs needed and the mill was abandoned and the site was left to nature and dereliction.
In 1966 the site was bought, together with an adjoining field, by Nantwich Rural District Council on which to build a new sewage treatment works. The mill still stood but was becoming more and more derelict (right). After government reorganisation, the site became the property of North West Water (NWW) who made moves to demolish the mill and remaining buildings.
Several local people grouped together to convince NWW to reconsider and preserve the mill to be used as an educational facility and to open to the public as a museum of "life gone by". NWW finally agreed to rescue the mill, and. with help from various grants to the cost, it was restored in 1976/77 to its former glory, opened to the public and to schools for educational visits, and continued to be popular as an attraction for many years. In later years, NWW and NORWEB amalgamated to become United Utilities (UU).
However, in 2010, due to strategy changes, UU ceased funding for the upkeep of the mill. Again, the local villagers joined forces to try and save it. Following a couple of years' negotiation the group, having formed the Bunbury Watermill Trust, purchased the mill and grounds for just £1.00. The Trust re-opened the mill to visitors in March 2012, and with further enhancements to the facilities and upkeep of the machinery, the Mill remains part of Bunbury village's heritage, and continues to show people how flour was once produced and gives an insight into a Victorian miller's way of life.