Windmills of Mill Meadows and Mill Cottages
The Windmills of Mill Meadows
A windmill located on Bell Hill was first recorded in the 1560s. In the 1593 survey the copyholder was Thomas Andrews who also had 24 acres of land on the western side of Southend Road.
This mill is traditionally associated with the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower, it being believed that it provided the flour for the Mayflower's crossing in 1620.
This mill continued to be used into the early 1900s. During the First World War the mill was used as an observation post.
It eventually collapsed in November 1928, following a severe storm.
“There was a loud noise and the mill was seen to disappear in a cloud of dust with a plume rising high into the sky.” (1)
The incident was reported in many local newspapers around Britain. In the 1970s the mill stones were removed to Thaxted by the then owner and until very recently a few remains of the mill could still be detected in the undergrowth. A mound in the garden of Mill Cottages is all that remains today.
The second mill, a post mill, was built to the north west by Thomas Wood, the famous Billericay Miller, noted for his special diet and incredible weight loss. A pictorial representation of this mill can be seen in the portrait of Thomas Wood, but we have found no other images of it.
It first appeared on a map in 1777 and was positioned further along Southend Road between the original mill and School Road. In 1892 the sails were removed, the mill itself was later demolished and by 1919 houses had been built on the site.
A windmill is used today as a logo for The Billericay School and the Mill Meadows Society.
Additional pictures of the windmill, complete and derelict can be found on the Mills Archive website:
(1) Jasper Layland quoted in Billericay Times, Images of the 20th Century from The Cater Museum, Ted Wright P43)
Mill Cottages are a pair of semi-detached, timber-framed and weather-boarded houses situated on Southend Road, close to the location of the original windmill.
The cottages were occupied by the millers, who operated the two windmills, and their families. The most famous resident was Thomas Wood (1719-1783) who was born in one of the cottages on the 30th November 1719 and lived there all his life with his wife Elizabeth and their four children. Thomas (1754), Elizabeth (1755), Abraham (1757) and Isaac (1758).
Thomas (1754) took over the mills, living in Mill Cottage. He married Elizabeth Finch (1768) and had eight children: Elizabeth (1788-1860), John (1793-1797), William (1796-1866), Finch (1800-1876), George (1804-1877), Mary, Sarah and Charles (dates unknown). Thomas (1754) died in 1831 and is buried in Great Burstead churchyard, with his 4 year old grandson, John. His headstone inscribed ‘Thomas Wood of the Mills’.
Elizabeth (1788) went on to marry and had two children, William, and Elizabeth born 1809. By 1839 records show her as the owner of the mills and cottages. The 1851 census shows Elizabeth (1788) in residence at mill cottages with her daughter Elizabeth (1809).
William Wood (1796) took over one of the mills. He died in 1866 aged 70, his headstone can also be found in Great Burstead churchyard with the inscription ‘William Wood of the Mills’.
His brother, Finch Wood (1800), ran the mill on the west side of Southend Rd and we can see him as resident in Mill Cottages in the 1851 census, age 51 and employing one man. He is still resident in the 1871 census.
The son of either William, Finch or Charles was William Wood (1831), who committed a murder in 1850.
William Wood (1796) died in 1866 and in1867 Stephen Sewell is recorded as living in one of Mill Cottages as a tenant of the executors of William Wood’s will. In 1868 Henry Ward paid £100 to Finch and Williams brother, George Wood (1804) for more land including the windmill. Robert Agnis took over the mill and resided in one of the cottages.
The 1871 and 1881 censuses show Robert Agnis as unmarried and living in one of the cottages as a lodger of Charles Hart, a retired miller who lived with his wife and niece. By 1891 the Hart family had left, Robert Agnis was still resident but married and living with his wife, Charlotte and nephew Robert Walker. He died in 1914 aged 79.
Robert Walker took over as the last Billericay Miller, living in one of Mill Cottages. By then milling was in decline and it is not clear when it finally came to an end in Billericay.
In a survey carried out between 1910 and 1915 the cottages were occupied by Mrs Collins, they were described as having gardens and a quarter acre of land. They contained a scullery with sink, kitchen with dresser and range, sitting room, four bedrooms, two staircases and an old timber scullery with a wooden earth closet at rear. There was a range of tumbledown timber tiled stabling and an old dilapidated windmill.
Following the end of milling the Ward family began to use Mill Cottages as homes for the servants working for Mrs Ward at Lockers Hall and the wealthy families living in Gatwick House.
Leonard Quartermain was employed by Mrs Ward of Lockers Hall as a chauffeur/ gardener. As an employee he was entitled to live rent free in 1 Mill Cottages along with his wife and seven children. He remained in Mrs Wards employment until her death in 1943 after which time he worked for two successive families until retiring in 1953.
The Porter Family lived next door at 2 Mill Cottages. Edward Porter worked as a gardener to the Faber family who lived at Gatwick House. He died in 1967 age 77.
The cottages are Grade II listed and can be seen today from Southend Road.