Dr Hide’s Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother
had arrived to run the mill in about 1860. Before
then the mill had been bought in 1816 but the owner
had gone bankrupt in 1817! In 1820 it was purchased
by a London silk manufacturer and altered to have
three floors rather than the original two.
A new leat, bringing a greater water supply to the
wheel was added – it runs along the front of the
mill and joins the main leat at the side.
Dr. Hide’s family were originally drapers; they had
eight sons and one daughter. Fortunately the Didcot
to Southampton railway was
planned, and then constructed. This meant that
thousands of ‘navvies’ were needed to build the
embankment which, of course, meant the need for
food, drink and clothing.
family bought the mill and modernised it by
replacing the hand looms with power looms – driven
by the waterwheel with line shafting and belts.
One of Dr. Hide’s Great-Aunts had married a member
of the ‘Burberry’ family (also in the ‘rag-trade’)
and the well-known ‘Burberry’ material was woven at
Dr. Hide had many memories of ‘Uncle James’ who ran
the mill for his entire life; he remembers him
continually checking the speed of the waterwheel
until eventually installing the first governors.
Despite there being 21 – 27 nephews and nieces, none
of them were allowed to work in the mill! After
his death in 1955 the mill was sold.
He showed us a photograph of his Great-Grandparents
in a very early car with hard tyres and tiller
steering in which they had driven all the way to
Glasgow at 11 mph!
The silk arrives at the mill in hanks or cones and
then is wound onto bobbins. The threads for the
warp (the length of the material) are attached to a
beam; there are about 200 threads to an inch and
this can take five or six days; they are wound onto
it before being taken down to the second floor.
This is then set up in readiness for the weft (which
are the threads which are woven across the warp to
give the width).
The silk is imported from China or Italy. The moth
is a dirty yellow/white and lays its eggs on the
mulberry leaves. They are pinhead size. The grubs
hatch out and feed on the leaves (which must be
fresh) and grow to about three inches long and are
They have to have twigs to climb up (or be given
twigs if being farmed) which they eventually
climb. They extrude a liquid which is in fact a
thread of silk with which they make a cocoon for
themselves. Amazingly this thread can be two miles
long! Unfortunately (for them) at this stage they
are put into an oven to kill the grub inside. The
thread is then drawn out and about six cocoons make
up a hank of raw silk.
We were then shown many different silk materials
produced at Whitchurch; organza, taffeta, moiré,
satin, shot silk, twill and of course Burberry.
Finally he passed round a mystery material which
turned out to be parachute silk which is woven with
the gum in it and washed afterwards. This sparked
off a lively discussion about wartime underwear made
of parachute silk! (No-one admitted to being old
enough to have worn it though).
Dr. Hide was enthusiastically thanked for this most
These notes were written by Alison Stott.