Mills and Millers

Mills and Millers

Windmills were a feature of the Forncett landscape for many centuries. There were mills in Forncett in the 13th century:

"At Forncett in 1279, the Lord's mill produces little by reason of its rickety condition and because hardby there were two mills newly built." Timber Buildings in England - Fred Crossley (Batsford) 1951

...and the last windmill in Forncett was finally dismantled in 1932. Consequently millers have lived and worked in the parish for well over 400 years. On Faden's map of 1797 there are no windmills shown in Forncett, though there are three in nearby Tacolneston. However when Bryant's Map of Norfolk was published thirty years later (1826) there were three mills in Forncett.

The White Mill

This postmill stood behind the Jolly Farmers at Forncett End and was probably built about 1790. It appears to have been owned and operated by the same family of millers, the Knights, from at least 1813 until it collapsed in 1917. A detailed history of the mill can be found here.

The White Mill, 1902 (Harry Apling archive)
The White Mill, 1902 (Harry Apling archive)

The Black Mill

The Black Mill (also sometimes known as Spratt's Mill) was also a postmill. It stood at the crossroads in Forncett End directly opposite Austhorpe House. The mill is said to have been moved to this site in 1824 where it worked until the 1930s.

The Black Mill, 1927
The Black Mill, 1927

Forncett Smock Mill

Forncett smock mill stood at the cross roads at the top of Mill Lane (now Mill Road) and a windmill is recorded here in the 1565 map of F G Davenport. The smock mill first appears on a map of Forncett (below) published in 1817. It appears to have ceased working sometime between 1883 and 1888, though it was still shown on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1898 and exactly when the smock mill was demolished is not known. A detailed history of the mill can be found here.

Forncett Steam Mills

Unlike windmills, mills driven by a steam engine were capable of grinding all day regardless of the strength of the wind, and by the late 1800s steam-driven roller mills were becoming the most efficient way to produce flour. Over the course of the next quarter century flour milling underwent a radical transformation. These changes were driven by two related factors: the growing demand for white bread and the increased importation of hard wheats from North America, Russia and also Australia and India, to meet demand. These hard wheats gave good quality flours, naturally higher in gluten than native soft wheats, which enabled the production of well-risen white bread. The new roller mills were not only better suited to milling hard wheats than traditional millstones, but they also extracted a greater proportion of fine white flour. 

In the 1880s Henry John Ludkin installed a new steam mill in Forncett End. The Mill was on Long Stratton Road, adjacent to the Methodist Chapel, where Mill House stands today. Reference to this new mill appears in White's 1883 directory and its operation may well have led to the demise of the smock mill at the top of Mill Lane. 

Norfolk News  6 August 1892

A second steam mill was installed at Grove House around 1900. This was mentioned when the estate was sold in June 1901 (see below - EDP 21 June 1901) and the roller mill was described as being a 1½ sack roller plant made by E.R.& F. Turner of Ipswich, who were one of the pioneers of roller mill construction in England. The building constructed to house the mill machinery at Grove House still stands and is described on the Norfolk Heritage Explorer as: This 19th century steam mill has three storeys and is built of red brick with yellow arches. It is a remarkable building to find in a rural Norfolk location."

To learn more about the impact of the steam engine, during and after the industrial revolution, why not visit the wonderful Forncett Industrial Steam Museum, open Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the year.