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Broadwoodwidger Mills and Millers

The first extant ‘Trade Directory’ – White’s Directory of 1850 – lists three millers operating in Broadwoodwidger – John Fry, John Martin and James Perkin – who lived at Combe Mill, Moors Mill and Upcott Mill respectively. Starting with the Tithe Apportionment listing in 1842, which provides details also of the owner of each of the mills at that time, this note looks at the various millers that worked at these mills during the rest of the century, for it appears that there was little demand for local milling in the 20th century.

As regards the property, Drown’s Mill (formerly known as Manor Mill), it is only in the 1893 Directory that there is any suggestion of a miller operating there, the occupiers merely referring to themselves as farmers. An advert in 1880 advertising it for let also described it just as a farm and does not mention any mill building.

Combe Mill (sometimes Coombe Mill)

In the Tithe Apportionment listing in 1842, Combe Mill, which with a garden and orchard had a total area of just over an acre, was both owned and occupied by John Fry. This distinguishes it from the other two mills, which were tied principally to a large estate. The 1951 Census recorded that Fry had been born in St Giles-on-the-Heath in c.1809, and he was married to Elizabeth. The Directories list a John Fry as miller at Combe Mill until the 1870s but this suggestion of continuity is misleading, as the 1861 Census records a different John Fry in occupation. He had been born in Holsworthy and was then aged 39 and was married to Harriet. They had eight children, six of which had been born in Tremayne, Cornwall, which was the birthplace of their mother. The sixth child was now aged four, but the seventh child, then aged two, had been born in Broadwoodwidger, and so they are likely to have taken over in c.1858. They are also recorded there in the 1871 Census, with four of the children still at home, and in the 1873 Directory. However, by the time of the 1881 Census, a Samuel Fry, aged 37, and born in Thornbury, Devon, was in occupation and he described himself as a miller and farmer of some forty acres. Accordingly, milling was not the primary occupation anymore. His wife, Susan, was aged 45 and they had three children, the youngest of whom, aged 2, was born in Broadwoodwidger. They had moved from Pyworthy, Devon sometime in the mid-to-late 1870s. With these three initial millers all having the surname Fry, there was clearly a family connection. Samuel and Susan were still there at the time of the 1901 Census. Susan, now a widow, was also still there in 1911 and the mill was now being run by her daughter, Jane, and her husband, John Davey, who called himself a farmer and a miller. They had been married ten years and had had five children, four of whom were still alive. All had been born in Broadwoodwidger, the eldest being 11!

The 1914 Directory does not mention Combe Mill and a John Davey is now plying various trades, including being an undertaker, at Thorn Moor. In the 1923 and subsequent Directories, however, there is mention of a William Archibald Skinner farming at Combe and, in the 1939 Register, Combe Mill is occupied by William A. Skinner (b.1890) and his wife, Maud, and their daughters, Kathleen (later Harris) (b.1918) and Margaret Jean (later Orchard) (b.1933). Jean Orchard’s memories of her childhood there can be read on the BWW families page.

Moors Mill

In the Tithe Apportionment listing in 1842, Moors Mill, whose grounds extended to over eight acres, was owned by Sir William Molesworth and occupied by John Martin. The 1851 Census reveals that Martin had been born in c.1899 in Okehampton and was married to Fanny and had three sons, the youngest of whom, William, had been born in c.1839. In 1861, William is working at Panton Mill, St Giles-on-the-Heath learning his trade under Edward Parsons. The 1866 Directory still has John working at Moors Mill, but, by 1870, William had taken over, having married local girl, Ellen, and had two daughters. However, after 1873, there is no mention of a miller at Moors Mill until the 1893 Directory, when Thomas Andrew is listed as miller and farmer there. In the 1890 Directory, he had been listed as a farmer at Low Moor and so had presumably just taken it over. He and his wife were still living there in 1907, when his son married Bessie Harry (Western Times, 27/4/1907, at p.3). However, Moors Mill does not get mentioned in any subsequent Directory.

Upcott Mill

In comparison with the other mills, there was no continuity at all with the running of Upcott Mill, which was part of the Upcott Barton estate, in the late nineteenth century. The 1842 Tithe Apportionment listing records James Perkin as the miller at Upcott Mill, whilst the owner of the land was Rev Frederick Webber. In the 1841 Census, James, who is stated to be 25, is living there with his wife, Susanna, aged 35, and their two daughters, Elizabeth, aged 7 and Mary aged 3. Also with them is his father, David Perkin, also described as a miller, aged 55, and a Mary Perkin, aged 85, presumably his grandmother. Accordingly, the family may have been running the mill for some decades. By 1851, however, James has become a widower, albeit he is now said to be aged 48! His father, David, is still living with him, but he is now described as an agricultural labourer. One daughter – Elizabeth – is there as well, but she is now aged 11! There is an apprentice miller helping out – Richard Brown. The 1850 Directory indicates that Henry Blagrove, the owner of Lifton Park, had also acquired the freehold of Upcott Barton and its Mill.

By the time of the 1856 Directory, George Taylor has taken over as miller at Upcott and the 1861 Census reveals that he was born in Bratton Clovelly in c.1830 and was married to Ann. However, an advert in 1863 indicated that both Upcott Barton and Upcott Mill were then in the occupation of Messrs Northcott, whose fourteen year term expired on Lady Day 1864 (Launceston Weekly News, 19/12/1863, at p.8). The 1866 Directory records William Browning as the miller but, by 1870, he had been replaced by Richard Clifton. The 1871 Census reveals that Richard Clifton had been born in c.1821 in Broadwoodwidger. Clifton is still recorded as the miller in the 1873 Directory, but an advert in January 1873 indicated that the then landlord, a Captain Woodley of Didworthy, near Ivybridge, was trying to let what was described as the Upcott Mill Tenement, comprising Water Grist Mill House, excellent dwelling house and outbuildings, as one large enterprise along with Upcott Barton (Tavistock Gazette, 31/1/1873, at p.4). Captain Augustus John Woodley (1813-1876) was a retired Naval Captain, who had been born in St Kitts and who had retired to Didworthy House. He had a large family, and it appears that he may have purchased the Upcott Barton estate for his son, George, as the advert said that Upcott Barton had recently been in the occupation of George Woodley, albeit the 1871 Census recorded the farmer there as George Carne, his wife, Elizabeth, their seven children and three servants. It seems that Captain Woodley was successful, thus bringing Richard Clifton’s occupation of the Mill to an end, for a further advert seeking a new tenant in July 1879 indicated that the whole was currently let to a John Gerry (Western Morning News, 31/7/1879, at p.1). However, as Captain Woodley had died in 1876, the 1879 Directory listed his widow, Emily Jane Woodley (1825-1911), as owner of Upcott. Thereafter the mill seems to diminish in significance and that Directory lists Samuel Baker, a farmer, as resident at Upcott Mill.

The 1881 Census also does not list any miller at the property. Instead, it has been divided into two, with one part being occupied by William Jackman, aged 55, a farmer of 13 acres, and his wife, Charlotte, aged 52, both born in Bratton Clovelly, and their unmarried daughter, Mary, aged 27 and her son, William, aged 6. The other part was occupied by Joseph Martin, aged 26, a famer of 10 acres, who had been born in Broadwoodwidger, and his wife, Matilda, a dressmaker, aged 24, also a local lass.

In the 1890 Directory, which confirms that Emily Woodley remained the freehold owner, a John Mayne was listed as a farmer and miller at Upcott, but there is no mention of Upcott Mill at all in any subsequent Directory, and the 1891 Census lists Henry Jordan, a farm labourer, as in occupation. The Royal Cornwall Gazette reported on 1/11/1894 at p.7 that “the well-known sporting estate of Upcott Barton”, comprising some 500 acres, had been sold privately, thus ending the Woodley family ownership.

There are just a few mentions of it in the newspapers subsequently. Accordingly, in May 1908, it was noted that William Prowse, aged 77, had died there. In 1909, a schoolboy, Claude Prowse, aged 10, was said to live there.

In July 1920, both Upcott Barton, comprising 408.5 acres, and Upcott Mill, comprising 20.5 acres, were put up for sale. (Western Morning News, 12/7/1920, at p.1). Then, in October 1926, there was recorded the death of Miss Ada Gwendoline Dingle of ‘Upcott Mill’. She was a girl of 25, who suffered a fractured spine when the front forks of her bicycle broke as she was riding down the hill near her home, on her way back from work in a solicitors’ office in Launceston. (Western Times, 16/7/1926 at p.7).

In the 1939 Register, Upcott Mill was being occupied by Joseph Harris, who called himself a poulterer and general farmer.

David Tovey