Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sarehole Mill - A Brief History


Sarehole Mill. Pencil & Ink. 2010. By Barry Van-Asten.

During the Pre-Reformation, before the Dissolution, Sarehole Mill in Birmingham was the property of Maxstoke Priory, which was founded in 1333.

In 1542 the mill was rebuilt. Daniel Benford of Yardley gave John Bedell of Beoley, permission to build a corn mill. During Tudor times the mill was known as ‘Biddle’s Mill’ (or ‘Bedell’s Mill’). Nothing remains of this early mill.

In 1545 the mill was advertised for letting. In this period of the mill’s history there are no barns, engine house or chimney.

1721 – Sarehole, known as ‘High Wheel Mill’ is bought by Robert Eaves of Sarehole. The mill is let to various tenants.

1727 – The tenant of the mill is William Richards.

1746 – The mill is owned by Robert’s brother, Richard Eaves who was made bankrupt in 1754. (Richard bought the Yardley estate in 1727). The tenant during this time is James Green.

1750-52 – The tenant at this time was Judd Harding (or Harden), a sword cutler.
John Eaves (Richard’s son) joined Edward Ruston, a relation to buy land in Hockley Brook to build a pool and watermill – Ruston’s Pool was made and in 1762 Matthew Boulton (junior) leased the estate for the building of his Soho works in Handsworth. John Eaves died in 1763 and his brother Richard Eaves became the owner of Sarehole Mill. Richard was made bankrupt in 1775 after rebuilding Greet Mill.
Other tenants during the 1750’s were William Tallis and Joseph Bellamy.

1756-61 – The tenant at this time was Matthew Boulton .and the mill is used for metal work. Matthew Boulton senior rented Sarehole in 1759 and he died there some months later. His widow retained the tenancy for the following year of 1760.

1768 – Richard Eaves has permission from John Taylor, the Lord of the manor of Yardley (who bought his Lordship in 1766) to construct a new channel or head race, half a mile long from the River Cole at ‘Whyrl Hole’ (small basin) now known as ‘the Dingles’; with a sluice, four yards wide, upstream on Sarehole Common.
The water for the mill originally came from Coldbath Brook, known at the time as Bully Brook, which is now part of Moseley Golf Course (laid out in 1904). The Brook fed three pools before entering Sarehole Mill Pool, but it was not reliable. Richard Eaves paid three guineas annual rent for the use of the new channel.

1764-68 – Eaves erected a mill building with three floors and a single storey forge at the side. A bake-house and attendant barns with a stable are also constructed.

1768-75 – The tenant at this time is John Jones, corn grinder. The mill is also used for grinding blades for cutlery and edge tools. Along with the mill there was 68 acres of land, owned by the Lord of the manor of Yardley, who in 1767 was John Taylor. Sarehole Mill was known at this time as ‘Little Mill’.

In 1773 the mill became a corn mill and was rebuilt by Richard Eaves.

1775 – Eaves is made bankrupt and the mill is put up for sale.

About 1777-1780 – The tenant is John Allen.

1783 – Nearby Titterford Mill is built.

1790’s – Part of the mill machinery is used for wire drawing.

In the late 18th & early 19th Century the mill’s tenants was the Siviter family.

1807 – A second waterwheel is added (the South waterwheel) installed to drive blade grinding. This second wheel (the overshot wheel) is 10 feet 8 inches in diameter. The original (North) wheel (the high breast shot wheel) has an iron frame and measures 12 feet in diameter and 5 feet wide. Also a steam engine is installed in the Granary.

About 1840 – The forge at the South end beyond the overshot wheel is converted into a cottage with a barn added.

1841-47 – The tenant is Thomas Anderton, who went bankrupt in 1847. The next tenant was Joseph Briscoe and it was during this time that a barn was built.

1851 – Samuel Batsford is the next tenant. In 1851 Robert Summers a millwright carried out extensive repairs to Sarehole Mill. He added another steam engine, installed new wheels and corn grinding machinery which was taken from Titterford Mill.

1851-58 – The tenant is John Manders. John was paying interest to the Taylor family estate on the cost of installing the second steam engine to supplement the mill’s water power. John married Jemima Tackley in 1847 in Kings Norton, Birmingham and they lived at the mill with their two daughters and three servants.

1855 – The chimney is added to the mill.

1856 – William Deakin, the gun maker and sword cutler uses the mill (from around 1800-1850’s ‘Deakin & Son’ use the mill’s grinding facilities for the East India Company).

1858 – John Andrew becomes the next tenant (the mill stays in the tenancy of the Andrew family for the rest of its working life).
During the late 1800’s the mill was used to grind bones for fertilizer but it remained essentially a corn mill until 1919.

In the summer of 1896-1900, Number 264 Wake Green Road is rented by Mabel Tolkien, mother of JRR Tolkien and his brother Hilary. It was then known as 5 Gracewell Cottages.

1914 – The Taylor family sold the estate and the mill is bought by Arthur Henry Foster (1843-1928), a solicitor of Green Road. In the 1861 census Arthur is aged 17 and living at 9 Wellington Road, Edgbaston. He is a solicitor’s clerk living with his father Robert Hale Foster aged 45 and an attorney (he died in 1877 aged 67); his mother Helen aged 48 and Sisters Ann Francis 22 and Emily Helen 20, are also at the address (Emily married in 1873).

In the 1881 census Arthur is living at Sarehole and he is the head of the household aged 38 and a solicitor. His mother is 68 and a widow and his sister Ann is 42. With them are Thomas Perry, a 21 year old servant (groom) from Cheltenham and Emma Cole, 18 from Malvern who is a general servant.
In the following census of 1891 they are still at Sarehole with Arthur’s 16 year old nephew George and two servants: Kate Withington, 19, housemaid from Red Hill, Shropshire and Mary Walsh, 30, cook and domestic servant from County Limerick in Ireland.
Arthur’s mother Helen died in 1896 aged 83.

Also from the 1891 census we find George Andrew at Sarehole Mill. He is 44 and a corn miller from Harbury, Warwickshire. Living with him is his wife Hannah, 47 from Rowington, Warwickshire, and their son, George aged 18 a miller born in Yardley, Worcestershire. They are also found on the 1881 census at the mill.

1919 – The mill fell into disrepair and the Andrews are unable to make repairs and so the mill is disused and becomes derelict.

1928 – Arthur Henry Foster died and bequeathed the mill to Birmingham City Council on the death of its present tenant Mr George Andrew, the son of the last miller also named George.

1946 – Sarehole Mill bequeathed to the City of Birmingham.

1959 – The death of Mr George Andrew (bachelor) the last tenant of the mill. At the time of his death the miller’s house had two floors but the top storey was removed during restoration work in the 1960’s. Mr Andrew had also erected a greenhouse overlooking the mill pool.

July 1960 – vandals destroy much of the interior of the mill and an appeal is made to restore the mill. Tolkien himself becomes a contributor to this appeal to save the mill from demolition.

1968 – Restoration begins.

Sunday 13th July 1969 – The mill is opened to the public as a branch museum under the care of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

1974 – Restoration is completed and the mill is designated a grade 2 listed building.

The John Morris Jones Walkway is a path on the River Cole in Hall Green, (in an area once called Sarehole). It is part of the Shire Country Park.
John Morris Jones was a headmaster of George Dixon Junior School in west Birmingham from 1960 – 1980. He wrote extensively about the local history of the South Birmingham area, particularly Yardley, Hall Green and Sarehole.

The Tolkien Society was formed in 1969 and Sarehole’s significant connection to his writing has played a large part in the mill’s recent popularity. The mill and the recreation ground beside it with the lovely River Cole have hosted the ‘Tolkien Weekend’ since 2000 or as they are now known ‘The Middle Earth Weekend’ in May. The first Tolkien weekend took place on Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th May 2000 from 2-5 PM, and featured guided walks around Moseley Bog and historic crafts etc. Other weekends increased in popularity:

2001 – Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th May.
2002 – Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th May.
2003 – Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th May.
2004 – Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th May.
2005 – Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th May.
2006 – Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th May.
2007 – Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th May.
2008 – Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th May, 11-5 PM.
2009 – Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th May, 11-5 PM. Tenth Anniversary.
2010 - Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th May, 11-5 PM.
2011 - Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd May, 11-5 PM.
2012 - Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th May, 11-5 PM.

For more information about the Middle Earth weekends visit

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