Stroud Woolen Mills
Thrupp Mill at Far Thrupp is located on the Frome River, and it was originally called the Huckvale (or Huckfield) Court Mill. It may have existed as early as 1381 when a tucker (i.e., a fuller, which is one who cleans and thickens wool fibers) named John Huckvale (Hokkevale) lived in Nether Lypiatt, and presumably either he or his descendants ran the mill as tenants of the Nether Lypiatt estate. This mill was one of the earliest ones on the river, and the lords of the estate probably built it originally as a grist mill to grind grain, before converting it during the rise of the Gloucesterhire wool industry into a more profitable fulling (tucking) mill.
The Sewell family owned a mill upstream from Huckvale, and Richard Sewell in 1608 occupied the Huckvale Mill as well. Either he or another Richard Sewell still ran the operation in 1635, when the first Richard Sewell died. The property at this time was held freely from Nether Lypiatt, having been either purchased or gifted, and included a messuage (manor house), two fulling-mills for processing raw wool, a gig-mill for processing cloth, and a grist mill for grinding grain. Richard was succeeded by his son Giles, and the mill, which became known as the Sewell Mill, was owned in 1677 by another Richard Sewell, whose widow Ursula in 1705 owned it with her second husband Joseph Gough, a clothier who also owned the nearby Hope Mill. Joseph and Ursula in 1708 sold the mill, which was now known as the Thrupp Mill, to Jeremiah Davis and Richard Baker, who subsequently leased it to another clothier named Jonathan Wathen. When Jonathan died in 1749, his son Joseph Wathen inherited the lease, and Joseph held onto the lease when Dennis Davis inherited the mill in 1752 upon the death of his father Jeremiah.
Joseph Wathen, who had purchased the manor of New House (later Brimscombe Court), had by 1770 acquired enough wealth to buy the Thrupp Mill as well, his family having leased it for several decades from the Davis family. Joseph was not only one of the most successful clothiers in the county, but also one of the promoters of a proposed canal to be dug alongside the Frome River to provide a navigable waterway connecting the Frome mills to the Severn River. The idea was to move mainly coal, but also cloth and clothing, through this canal all year long. Thus, freight could be transported independant of river flow, without interfering with mill operations, the waterwheels of which depended on the river for power. Joseph lived to see the canal open in 1779 with passage from the town of Stroud west to the Severn, and thence to the western coast. However, he died in 1786 before an extension of the Stroudwater was opened in 1789 that connected his mill to the Severn and continued east to connect the Severn to the Thames River, thereby providing an all-year navigable waterway from the east coast of England to the west.
Joseph Wathen was described at the time his death as "one of the most considerable clothiers in the county", and the Thrupp Mill was one of the largest in the county. The mill passed to his widow Anne, whose son Samuel Wathen was now responsible for running the operation, and she subsequently gave it to him in 1792 as a wedding gift on his marriage to Elizabeth Sheppard. Anne died in 1803 and when Samuel died prematurely in 1818, his widow Elizabeth continued to operate the mill until 1828, when she leased it to John Ferrabee.
The Thrupp Mill up to this point had been a woolen mill for most of its existance, but John Ferrabee was an iron-founder, and he made extensive alterations, which included taking down the dwelling-house, and building a foundry. He also removed two of the three waterwheels and their stocks, as steam engines by now provided most of the mill power. The mill under Ferrabee was renamed the Phoenix Ironworks, where John Ferrabee, his sons James and Henry from 1851, and James alone from 1855, produced cloth-making machines, water-wheels, agricultural machinery, and steam engines. The works also made the first lawnmowers, which had been invented in 1830 by a Stroud mechanic Edwin Budding, with the patenting and development financed by Ferrabee. An adjustable spanner invented by Budding was also produced. When John's successor James Ferrabee removed in 1863 to Port Mill, the foundry business at the Phoenix Works was carried on by George Wailes & Co.
Burton, Sons, & Waller, later George Waller & Son, a firm of mechanical engineers, occupied the foundry from 1872, using it to make castings for their main factory in London. The firm in 1887, which by then was part of a larger combine, moved its entire operation to the Phoenix Ironworks. This firm still occupied the works in 1971, when they were chiefly engaged in the production of compressed-air pumps for gas works, sewage works, among other undertakings. The works then employed about 180 people. A water-wheel remained in use until the early 1920s, powering part of a machine-shop. Although re-roofed, the original 1828 foundry building survived in 1971, among more extensive modern buildings. The site is now an industrial complex that is home to several businesses housed in modern buildings.
Hope Mill was built on the Thames-Severn Canal in 1812 a short distance upstream from the Thrupp Mill. However, the canal, which runs along the Frome River, was not completed until 1789, and various mills powered by waterwheels on the Frome have occupied this same site since the early 1500s. Thomas Sewell, a clothier, leased a mill on this site in 1540 from John Whittington of Pauntley Court, when it consisted of a house, fulling mills and a dyeing house. Eventually the Sewell family owned the mill outright, along with a downstream mill at Thrupp, both of which passed in 1705 by marriage from the Sewell family to Joseph Gough, another clothier. Joseph and his wife Ursula, whose first husband Richard Sewell had originally inherited both mills, kept the upstream mill, which now became known as the Gough Mill, and sold the downstream mill, which was now known as the Thrupp mill. The Gough Mill, like the Thrupp, was probably originally built to grind grain, but by now had grown to include three fulling mills and a gig mill for making and processing wool cloth.
When Joseph and Ursula Gough passed on, the mill remained with the the Gough family, and was eventually owned by one Daniel Gough (b. c.1681), who was either a descendant or nephew of Joseph. A deed (#1347) in the Gloucestershire Records Office dated 1748 records that when this Daniel died, he left the Gough Mill to his daughters Catherine (c.1722-1805) and Elizabeth (b. c.1726), both of whom died as spinsters. Nathaniel Wathen and his brother Samuel, the sons of Joseph Wathen of the Thrupp mill, inherited the Gough mill in 1805 on the death of Catherine Gough, who probably was a cousin of their mother Ann Iles. Samuel had earlier received the larger, downstream Thrupp Mill as a wedding present from his mother, and the younger brother Nathaniel was soon working the Gough Mill alone. Nathaniel in 1812 constructed a second mill building on the Gough site, to which he gave the name Hope Mill. He probably outfitted the new mill from the outset with steam engines rather than a waterwheel for power, and, like his father, he enjoyed considerable success and became quite wealthy. He sold both mills in 1829 to Robert Bamford, a woollen yarn manufacturer, who shortly afterwards demolished the older Gough Mill. Nathaniel in the meantime retired to London to become a gentleman of leisure.
Part of the Hope Mill between 1863 and about 1910 was used for silk weaving, and part of it in 1884 was occupied by boat builders Edward Clark & Company, who also made boats at the Central Ironworks in Stroud, both facillities being located on the Thames and Severn Canal. Edward Clark & Company was taken over in turn in 1901 by Abdela & Mitchell, who also made boats and sent them all over the world. Although boat-building continued at the mill until 1937, abandonment of the canal in 1933 meant the finished boats had to be hauled by truck to the Severn River at a significant cost. Industrial sites on both sides of the abandoned canal in 1973 remained in use, and although part of the old stone mill still survived then, its upper storeys had recently been removed. Much of the area has since been cleared of buildings and is now part of Hope Mill Park.
Iles's Mill was located upstream from the Hope Mill, at the village of Chalford, and this mill is probably the same as one that was held by Thomas Butt in 1608, when it was located in between Robert Hone's Mill on the Frome River and the St. Mary's Mill of Henry Whiting. Thomas, who also had four racks on Skaites Hill, just above the river, presumably was a member of the same Butt family that in 1536 owned racks and a dye-house from Bisley manor.
John Iles (d. 1727) took over the mill at some point, either by buying or leasing it, and by 1785 it was owned by the family outright and was being called the Iles Mill. Another John Iles (d. 1767), who was the son of the previous John and related to both the Gough and Wathen families of the downstream Gough and Thrupp mills, had the Iles mill next. Yet another John Iles, no doubt related to the others, sold the mill about 1806 to John Ballinger (d. 1848), who left it to his son Henry (d. 1855).
Thomas Jones was leasing the Iles Mill in 1839 from the Ballinger family, and it is probably the same as a mill that he operated at Chalford six years earlier in 1833 in conjunction with a second mill that he owned at Stroud parish. He is said to have employed some 200 to 300 people, both in the mills and in supporting jobs on the outside. Jones was still making cloth in 1856 at one or both of his mills, but his successors Richard and Joshua Jones set up a factory to make walking sticks at one of the mills, possibly both, in competition with their brother-in-law William Dangerfield. The Jones brothers ultimately went bankrupt in 1865 when they were sued by Dangerfield for infringing on his patented process for putting the bend on the top end of the walking sticks.
William Charles Grist was working the Iles Mill in 1879 as a flock and shoddy factory, and he or his heirs were still there until at least 1902 running the operation - flock being a cloth made by grinding up old used woolens, and shoddy being a cloth made from a mix of recycled wool and new wool. The mill was next occupied in 1906 by a firm of bone turners, who made bone or ivory buttons using a lathe. However, the operations in 1914 returned to a flock mill, this time occupied by Richard Grist, Ltd.
Just below the mill owned by John Iles (d. 1767) is Brookside House, a 17th-century stone building that in the late 1700s was owned by Abraham Walbank (d. 1791), an attorney from the nearby town of Brimpsfield. Walbank was related to Iles as he married Sarah Iles (c.1725-1776) on June 9, 1760 in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, Sarah being the niece of John. She was also John's ward, having become so in 1731 upon the death of her father Thomas Iles. Her Uncle John was also one of the witnesses who signed her marriage license when she wed Walbank, basically signing in place of her deceased father. In addtion, land tax records mention the names of John Iles, his brother Thomas Iles, and later Abraham Walbank in association with other properties known as the Berry Farm and Berry estate in Leckhampton, and the Iles Farm in Far Oakridge.
There probably was some sort of a mill in the late 1700s adjacent to Brookside House, but this is not known for certain. Abraham Walbank gave the house in 1782 to his daughter Sarah (1761-1839), who subsequently married a surgeon named Robert Lees (d. 1803) on May 27, 1790 in Minchinampton. When Abraham died in 1791, Sarah acquired the rest of his assets, which apparently included a mill. Sarah then sold the Brookside property in 1811 to clothier Joseph Iles and his partner Thomas Iles - both probably being relatives of the aforementioned brothers John and Thomas Iles of the previous century. Joseph and Thomas then built a new cloth mill and engine house as a wing adjoining Brookside House, but ownership of this wing passed to their creditors in 1828 when their partnership went bankrupt. A series of tenants then occupied this wing until 1882 when it was torn down.
What remains of the mill complex at Chalford is a block that was occupied in 1972 as two separate houses. It includes the aforementioned Brookside House, a three-story British listed stone building (English Heritage Building ID #132873) that dates mainly from the early 19th century, but includes a 17th-century end wall and triangular gable on the north side of the house. The other house, which is on the east end of this block, is also a British listed building (ID #132872). Also, a late 18th-century canal lock and bridge (ID #132871), which dates to the early years of the mill, leads from the highway and over the Thames-Severn Canal to these buildings. Another block of buildings adjoining these houses on the southwest side was demolished in 1913 after a fire.
Woodchester, Southfields & Rooksmoor Mills were adjacent mills on the Nailsworth Stream at Woodchester, which was one of the parishes in the so-called Stroud District. The Woodchester Mill before 1605 was owned by the Dudbridge family, who in 1744 conveyed a 50-year lease for the mill to Samuel Paul (c.1709-1768) of Rodbrough. Samuel's cousin Onesiphorus Paul (1705-1774) around the same time also acquired the nearby Southfields Mill, which was just upstream from his cousin's mill. Onesiphrous in time acquired a reputation as the most successful clothier in the district, which led to him in 1760 serving as the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire. He was knighted that same year for delivering an address on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire to George III, at the King's coronation ceremony. Two years later the king awarded Sir Onesiphorus the Baronetcy of Rodborough. When Onesiphorus died, the Southfields mill passed to his son, who was named Onesiphorus also, but who added the additional forename of George, to became Sir George Onesiphorus Paul (1745/46-1820). The Woodchester mill stayed in the Paul family also, and when Samuel Paul died it passed to his cousin Obadiah Paul (c.1720-1792), who was a cousin of Sir George.
The Paul family by the late 1700s were the best known of the woolen mill owners in the Stroud district. Their fame grew even more when on Aug. 14, 1788 Sir George, who was the best-known of the family, served breakfast to King George III and Queen Charlotte at Hill House, his manor in Rodborough, and escorted the royal couple afterwards to the Woodchester Mill where his cousin Obadiah Paul gave them a tour of the cloth-making operations there. However, Sir George in time turned his interests more to politics and prison reform than making cloth, so he leased out the Southfields Mill, and sometime before 1818 he sold it. When Obadiah died, the Woodchester mill passed to Sir Samuel Wathen (1748-1835) and his sons, who were close relatives of the Pauls.
Sir Samuel was quite successful at running the Woodchester Mill, but his sons were less so. His oldest son Paul Wathen, the future Sir Paul Baghott, was operating the Woodchester woolen mill in 1802 when he brought in shearing machines, which led to unrest among his employees. Paul then tore down several mill buildings for some reason, including the main mill, which he subsequently rebuilt. He became known for an extravagant lifestyle, which caught up to him when he was forced to mortgage the mill in 1818 to cover debts. He ended up being forced out of the business by his creditors, which led in 1820 to his younger brothers Joseph and Obadiah Paul Wathen taking over the mill.
Sir Paul Baghott was declared bankrupt in 1821 for the first time, and subsequently his brothers Joseph and Obadiah in 1823 became joint owners of the property, which by now was heavily mortagaged. Although Joseph Wathen in 1832 was also declared bankrupt, Obadiah continued on with the business. He introduced steam power in 1833 to save labor costs, which no doubt caused more employee unrest. The mill at the time employed perhaps up to 300 people to produce a superfine Saxony broadcloth for the firm of Wathen & Cook, of which Obadiah was senior partner. He remained in production until 1837, when he too went bankrupt, and the mill was taken over by P.H. Fisher, who held the mortgage.
Woodchester continued to operate on and off as a cloth mill over the next several decades, until 1901 when it became a saw mill. Later it housed the Stroud Piano Company. When the main mill building was destroyed in 1938 by fire, it was replaced by a brick mill building that survived until 1989 when it too was destroyed by fire (see photo above and right). The original mill buildings on the site were all demolished long ago, and the late 20th-century structures found here today bear little resemblance to the buildings that formerly stood when the Paul and Wathen families were foremost among the landed gentry of the Stroud area.
The Rooksmoor Mill was closely associated with the Woodchester Mill, and sat just downstream from it. The first mention of Rooksmoor is in 1729, when it operated as a cloth mill owned by Thomas Small of Nailsworth and later leased out to Edward Peach (c.1710-1770). It was occupied in 1748 by Edward's brother Nathaniel Peach of Rooksmoor (c.1713-1780), who continued to work it until 1773 or later. The mill then in 1805 was owned by Samuel Peach, no doubt a relative of Nathaniel, and occupied by Paul Wathen, who was the great nephew of the aforementioned Nathaniel Peach. Wathen also associated with the nearby Woodchester Mill and later became known as Sir Paul Baghott. His younger brother Charles Wathen was also associated with the mill, as he is referred to in the 1812 death notice of his wife as "Charles Wathen, esq. of Rooksmoor". The mill by 1820 was occupied by Joseph Haigh, who was making cloth there, and he remained until 1829 when his machinery was auctioned off to pay his rent. The Rooksmoor Mill in 2017 was slated to be redeveloped into a modern residential complex.
A possible painting of the Hope Mill and a photograph of the Iles Mill are shown above in the appropriate sections. Unfortunately, we do not have any pictures of the Thrupp, Woodchester or Southfields mills as they once looked. However, below are images of some of the other historic mills on the Frome River in the Stroud, Brimscombe and Chalford areas. The Thrupp, Woodchester and Southfields mills in the early 1800s probably looked similar to these. Included below is a picture of what survives of the Ham Mill, which sits just downstream (north) of the Thrupp mill site.
Copyright © Michael S. Clark, Ph.D., 1998- - All rights reserved.