Milling in Wing

Over Wing’s long history there have been several different mills working to meet the needs of the village. Mills were an essential part of the food economy, needed to grind wheat into flour that could then be used to bake bread to feed the population. The mills in Wing were powered by a variety of different methods and show the diversity of the resources available over time to grind the wheat and other grains grown in the immediate area.

By Horse

The Domesday book from 1086 does not record any mills in Wing – as valuable properties these would have been recorded had there been any. By the 15th century however, the manor of Wing had acquired a water-mill, a windmill and a horse-mill, as recorded in the Victoria County History of Buckinghamshire volume 3. The location and fate of these mills is unknown and they may not have been in the same spot as later known mills.

By Wind

Wing’s windmill is marked on the 1770 and 1788 Thomas Jeffery maps of Buckinghamshire and was situated on the northern side of Aylesbury Road (marked in green below). The windmill had ceased operations by 1798 as it is recorded but noted as “due to be taken down immediately” in the Posse Comitatus of that year – Hugh HOWES was the proprietor.

Windmills were always a tricky business proposition, as the rate of production was dependent on the speed of the breeze and having the right number of workers on the right day to keep up with it! The miller himself required nerves of steel to handle both the gales that would maximise output and the wrath of the vicar should he need to take advantage of a Sunday wind after a period of calm.

By Water

Watermills were an earlier technology than wind, but survived longer in Wing. The most recent watermill was known as Wing Mill and was situated to the south-west of the village, along Aylesbury Road near the Wingbury hamlet. It was a water-driven corn mill grinding 20 quarters per week on average at the time of the 1798 Posse Comitatus when Hugh HOWES (who had also run the derelict windmill) was in charge. This Hugh was not the first Howes miller in Wing – his grandfather Hugh gave his occupation as miller when writing his will in 1730 (although he did not specifically mention what was to become of this business, one might surmise this was passed down in the family).

The annotated map above shows the location of this, “The Old Mill” (in grey), the most southerly of the mills along Aylesbury Road. This particular watermill apparently ceased operations some time in the mid-1800s. “The Watermills of Buckinghamshire: A 1930s account” by Stanley Freese, published by the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society, offers as its best guess “not before 1850”, and says that some of the stones were transferred to Mursley Windmill.

Mill design by Oliver Evans
Oliver Evans’ design for a mill c.1790
from History of Corn Milling vII

Watermills offered a steadier source of power than windmills. This led to increased automation – in 1791 in Liverpool the American Oliver Evans had demonstrated his powered machines covering all steps of the milling process – as well as the actual grinding, now the cleaning, spreading, and bolting, as well as moving the grain and flour between different parts of the mill, could be driven by waterpower. This change halved the manhours required.

The period of Hugh HOWES’ tenure as miller included the enclosure of Wing in 1797. Prior to enclosure, labourers growing their share of grain were generally able to get their portion ground into flour by the miller for a small fee. After enclosure labourers became hired hands only and had no entitlement to the grain – the farmer would sell grain to the miller, the miller would sell the finished flour to the mealman, the mealman to the baker and shopkeeper (a granary from Wing originally built around 1820 is now onsite at the Chiltern Open Air Museum), and lastly the shopkeeper to our labourers. Naturally each would take a markup along the way, meaning that our labouring families were worse off. It is likely that this general pattern occurred in Wing as it did elsewhere, thus making milling a more profitable venture.

Hugh HOWES died in 1830, age 75 and still “of Wing Mill”. A 22-year-old Joseph Howes, perhaps a nephew and also resident at Wing Mill, had died 6 years earlier. It does not appear that Hugh married, but the death of Joseph did not necessarily mean that Hugh had no-one to leave the mill business to. We know from the land tax records of the early 1800s that Hugh did not own the land itself – he was a tenant of Lord Chesterfield.

The next miller at the watermill was Richard HARRIS, who is recorded in various directories as a miller/farmer over the 1839 to 1864 period (the land tax records for 1830 suggest that he must have taken over the mill business as soon as Hugh HOWES died earlier that year). Richard’s mother had been a Nan Howes which suggests there was a familial link between Hugh and Richard. Richard and wife Elizabeth lived at Wing Mill and, like Hugh, had no children to pass the business on to. Richard was assisted by Thomas BATES, a 45-year-old miller from Padbury living with them at the time of the 1851 census. Another likely employee of Richard Harris was George CLEAVER, a journeyman miller age 30 from Harlington Bedfordshire, living in Wing’s High Street in the 1861 census. Richard died in July 1870, leaving the largest portion of his estate (although with no specific mention of the mill business) to nephew Thomas Worster with bequests to his married sister Ann Worster and her two other sons John Harris Worster and William Howes Worster. The 1871 census records Ann Worster living at Wing Mill with her husband George and son William WORSTER, then aged 30 and employed as a miller. It is likely that the mill as an operational business wound down after Richard’s death though – in March 1871 there are auction advertisements for the sale of an 8 horse-power Clayton and Shuttleworth steam engine and the whole of the mill plant effects.

By Steam

The watermill was replaced by a steam mill, confusingly also known as Wing Mill. The two properties at present-day 7 and 9 Aylesbury Road, just before the road turns past the almshouses towards High Street, were originally a single property, the Mill House. The mill itself (the black steam icon in the map above) was tucked in between that and 11 Aylesbury Road, “The Chestnuts”. The “Wing Mill, Aylesbury Road” is recorded in multiple census years, but this could refer to either the old Mill or this new one – both would likely have been visited by census enumerators in the same order which means the census cannot be used to help pinpoint when the old Mill closed and the new one opened, however the new one was definitely open by 1876.

Hind & Lund mill machinery ad 1904
1904 advertisement for Hind & Lund mill machinery
from Technics of Flour Milling

The HELEY family had been maltsters or corn merchants for some decades prior to them becoming millers. Did they now see an opportunity to establish their own mill using new technology? The Heley Brothers – James William Heley and Thomas Soames Heley – are first recorded as millers in the 1876 Harrods directory. They evidently continued in this occupation until their deaths in 1903 and 1911 respectively. The Heley brothers and their father were also instrumental in the establishment and operation of the Congregational Union chapel in Littleworth.

Specific residential addresses are first recorded for these men in the 1887 Kelly’s directory. James William is living at Hollybank (present-day 12 Aylesbury Road), and Thomas Soames at The Chestnuts (present-day 11 Aylesbury Road), although his address is given as Ferndale on Aylesbury Rd in the 1891 census. One could speculate that the mill was established first, then some of the profits (along with their inheritance from maltster/farmer father William who died in 1881) invested in building fine new neighbouring residences with views over Wing Park for the two proprietors.

The Heleys would have contended with various changes to the milling industry. The importation and increasing use of stronger foreign wheat in the mix would have altered the costs of their inputs. This new wheat also necessitated some changes in the mill machinery itself, with the traditional art of stone milling giving way to roller milling – these new rollers and other machines were demonstrated at London exhibitions in 1879 and 1881, after which millers across England admitted defeat and began converting their mills to the new machinery. Another new challenge was the mill moth (Ephestia kuehniella). This pest’s first appearance in England was in nearby Stony Stratford, 12 miles away from Wing, in 1887 (Victoria County History of Buckinghamshire volume 1), and the moth became well established within a few years – keeping it from snacking on the flour was essential to maximise a miller’s saleable goods and minimise any wastage in the home. A bay leaf in the flour would keep the moth away though, a method that was used by the families of Wing. Fire was also an ever-present risk to a mill, and by 1904 the insurance companies were insisting on sprinkler systems that kicked in automatically should temperatures reach 150°F, with at least two independent sources of water.

The steam mill, a more efficient and economical operation than the watermill, was operational up until at least 1912. The last remaining Heley of Heley Bros, James William, died in 1911 and his estate (which included the mill and millhouse) records the lease of the property to the Heley Bros business up until Midsummer 1912. It is likely the mill was demolished after the lease expired – certainly by the 1915 Kellys directory no milling businesses were listed in Wing and Heley Bros is simply recorded as corn and cake merchants.

The sale catalogue for William’s estate in 1911 survives. He owned the mill, the mill house, and The Chestnuts, as well as a row of brick cottages (the yellow icon on the map above) further down the road towards the original Wing Mill. The 1911 Kellys directory records a Mrs Heley (presumably Thomas Soame’s widow as a Mrs Heley had been resident there since 1903 when Thomas died) living at the Chestnuts, and a Miss Heley at Hollybank. It is curious that Hollybank does not appear to be part of the estate sale. Thanks to Chris Mesley for assistance with information in relation to the Heleys’ occupation of Wing Mill.

By Electricity

Levi Rickard outside Page's Mill in Wing Buckinghamshire
Levi Rickard outside Page’s Mill

The final mill in Wing’s history was Page’s Mill – proprietor George PAGE jnr according to the 1899 Kellys directory, succeeded by “George Page & Son” by 1907 and Arthur Page, corn merchant, by 1928. Page’s Mill (marked in blue on the map above) was situated on Church Street opposite the village pump, existed approx 1900-1950s timeframe, and would have featured an entirely automatic production process. A description of the business from Ken Bandy on the Bandy One Name Study website reads: “The Mill was electrically driven and situated up a courtyard in a brick building behind some black wooden storage sheds, the area being entered by a large flat arch to the left of the shop. The shop was on the pavement and had a door divided into an upper and a lower part. The shop was fitted with various built in wooden bins and had a tiled floor. As well as various cereals and animal foods, it sold lemonade in returnable bottles. (After the shop closed, the garden of the house was concreted over and a garage opened known as Mill Motors)”.

The book Wing As It Was notes that Levi RICKARD worked at Page’s Mill, and he is recorded as a miller in both the 1891 and the 1901 census so likely had worked for the HELEYs before joining Page’s Mill. Another possible employee of Page’s Mill was George CORKETT of Leighton Road, recorded as a 42-year-old corn miller in the 1901 census (he may also have worked for the HELEYs as the steam mill was still open at that time). After Page’s Mill closed, stones from it were used to form the pavement of the lych-gate at All Saints Church (see photo below).

Mill Miscellany

Resident at the Mill (presumably the Old Mill House) in the 1891 census but not noted as millers were these two families – note that baby Ada TEMPLE’s birthplace is given as Wing Mill!

Millstones under the Wing lychgate, September 2013
Millstones under the Wing lych-gate
© Alex Coles September 2013

[1891 census, RG 12, piece 1266 enumeration district 2 folio 28 page 15]
John SINFIELD HD M 55 agricultural labourer, employed, born Beds Toddington
Sophia SINFIELD WI M 59 born Beds Millbrook
Elizabeth SINFIELD DA S 18 born Beds Toddington
Sydney J SINFIELD SO S 14 agricultural labourer, employed, born Beds Toddington

[1891 census, RG 12, piece 1266 enumeration district 2 folio 28 page 16]
John TEMPLE HD M 37 shepherd, employed, born Alscott
Fanny TEMPLE WI M 32 born Oxon Fewcott
Emily TEMPLE DA 9 scholar, born Oxon Ardley
Annie TEMPLE DA 8 scholar, born Oxon Ardley
Alice TEMPLE DA 6 scholar, born Oxon Ardley
James TEMPLE SO 5 scholar, born Oxon Ardley
Dorothy TEMPLE DA 3 born Oxon Ardley
Ada TEMPLE DA 1 born Bucks Wing Mill

By the 1901 census the Temple family were still living at Wing Mill. A new road, Mill Road, appears as an address for several households immediately before Wing Mill.

Further Resources

For more information about the milling industry, including detailed descriptions of machinery, wheat, and the general role of the miller, check out the following books:

  • History of Corn Milling (in particular volume II Watermills and Windmills), Richard Bennett and John Elton, 1899, available on Internet Archive
  • Technics of Flour Milling – A Handbook for Millers, William Halliwell, 1904, available on Internet Archive
  • Wheat and the Flour Mill – A Handbook for Practical Flour Millers, Edward Bradfield, 1920, available on Internet Archive