Occasionally on TV we see examples of where communities have decided to renovate local historic buildings like wind or water mills and return them to productive units. Pondering whether that could ever happen to the Horsted mill, I had to conclude that, barring huge amounts of excavation, the days of Jimmy McBriarty emerging from his dust laden environment will be irretrievably for history only.
In the mill’s heyday, which I can only just remember, the power that drove it was a combination of no fewer than four water sources, two major ones and two lesser, but it is the two main ones that would no longer be available if the large wheel was required to turn again.
Probably the primary, and certainly most controllable flow was derived from the main Broadhurst Lake/Swimming Lake. No doubt commensurate with the damming of the Lake it was equipped with two outflows, one at either end, and, when power was needed for the Mill, a sluice could be opened at the village end to allow water to flow along a special channel that would now follow the fence at the bottom of the field. That has long since been filled in but evidence of its existence is preserved via the distinct hump at the bottom of Mill Lane where it once flowed underneath. If need be, a similar sluice at the Manor end could be raised to prevent unnecessary loss of water that way and ensure maximum flow to the Mill. Strangely, the Mill Lake is something of a misnomer as it has nothing to do with the Mill and was, in fact, a field until around 1921 when my Dad could remember seeing pigs grazing in it.
Click to enlarge
Ludwell spring was the other principle contributor but, to see how it fed the Mill, one has to resort to the aerial photography afforded by Google Earth or similar. Until the water was diverted elsewhere, it flowed along a small channel above road level where every lad, parched from cycling up Waterbury Hill, has at some time stopped to drink the clear crystal water. Entering the field above Waterbury Castle, it passed along the top hedge in an easterly direction, but this is where one needs computer technology to trace the geological scar that shows where the hedge once was. The stream along this stretch could always be relied upon to provide a helping of water cress, but it eventually arrived just south of Flaggy Pond where it tumbled down a mini-ravine (still visible today) before crossing the footpath and entering Flaggy. A bespoke channel along the bottom of Mill Wood took the water along to above the water wheel where it met that from the main lake.
Postcard of the Mill House
These two sources were therefore vital to the Mill’s operation, but Flaggy was augmented to a lesser extent by natural drainage via the Rectory Pond, and the Churchyard spring contributed separately, having risen in the gardens of Church Cottages and wound its way down through Mill Wood.
So, the march of farming efficiency means the Mill wheel can never turn again, and the prospect of ‘Horsted Whole Grain’ flour will remain amongst the list of ‘What Ifs’.
Horsted Keynes Mill House 1910
Editor's Note: At the time Nick writes about the water mill was used for corn grinding. Earlier it was associated with the Wealden Iron industry and was used to power a hammer.