Hampshire Mills Group



Ellis Family
A Historical Note by Mary Yoward

Headley Mill is on the B3004 between Alton and Liphook (186 SU 812357) and is said to have had its origin in Saxon times when Earl Godwin (father of King Harold) owned the site.   A mill is recorded here in Domesday and in 1272, the miller Robert Horlebat enlarged the pond to give more power. In later years, Bishops of Winchester were the owners and there are records of the copyhold leases to named millers in the diocesan records.


In 1794, Danial Knight insured the utensils and trade of his brick, timber and tiled mill here for 250 and from 1849 until 1907, the Lickfold family were the millers.    It ceased work in 1907 until Frederick Ellis bought it and started it working again in 1913.


The house and bakehouse with its bread oven is on the northern end and was partly rebuilt in 1796, when the bridge over the water supply to the wheel was replaced in brick and the wheel enclosed to form a continuous building. The south western end of the mill building dates from the 16th century. The whole is a stone building with a tiled roof, sitting over the River Wey and the mill has a pond of about four acres, which has never failed to supply the 7.5ft head of water necessary to run the 12.5 x 7.5ft breast-shot wheel.


The old oak and elm wheel was replaced by Coopers of Romsey in 1926 with an iron one on the original 1817 iron shaft.    New bearings fitted them were replaced in 1977 by Armfields (Ag.) of Fordingbridge.    The iron 9' pitwheel has oak cogs designed, made and fitted by the Ellis family in 1977 and the great spur wheel is 8.25ft in diameter.   It is of iron with beech cogs and is capable of driving two of the four pairs of 48" stones, 3 pairs of burr and one peak, at any one time.    Bevel gears from the crown wheel drive the grain cleaner, mixer, crushers, rollers,cake cracker, sack hoist and 110v electricity generator.


The Ellis family took over Headley Mill in 1913, but milling started in the family when John Edward Ellis was apprenticed at the age of 13 to the miller of Cross-in-Hand windmill in Sussex.   After completing his apprenticeship, he worked at Thakeham, West Chiltington and Hardham mills before taking the lease of Greatham mill in 1889 and starting to trade there as J Ellis and Sons.    In September of that year, he transferred the business to Sheet Bridge Mill and worked there with his sons Fred and Frank.   Another son, George, took the lease of Hurst Mill, between Petersfield and Harting in 1891 and stayed there until 1928.


Father John retired in 1907 and the tenancy passed to Fred and Frank, but when John died in 1913, Fred moved to Headley Mill while Frank stayed at Sheet Bridge.    Both traded as J Ellis and Sons, although there was no financial connection, but when Fred died, Headley was run by his sons John and Peter as J Ellis and Sons (Bordon) Ltd.

Frank also ran Sheet, Liss and Abbey (Winchester) Mills and Iping mill in West Sussex.  His sons Clive and David carried on the business after his death in 1955 as J Ellis and Sons (Petersfield) Ltd.


In 1850, the Bonham Carter family acquired a large area of Sheet, including Sheet Bridge Mill and in 1858, John Bonham Carter modernised the mill by replacing the wheel with an Armfield Turbine and building a large brick extension to the west. 


The mill used a bank of cylinder pumps to provide water from the ancient St Mary's well to the newly built house at Adhurst and it became a condition of the lease that they must be driven every day except Sunday.    A steam engine in the mill did not form part of the lease or drive any of the mill machinery and it is assumed that it was held in reserve in case the turbine failed.


The stones there were removed in the 1920s and replaced by an Armfield Dreadnought Grinder and later by other high speed grinders.  There was also the other usual machinery there - oat crusher, cake crusher, maize cutter, fountain mixer and seed cleaning plant.   The turbine could not cope with all this, so a diesel engine was installed.


With acknowledgements and thanks to members of the Ellis family - as the leaflet written about the mill says, "Headley Mill is not a `resurrected ' water mill, but has a known record of service for over 1,000 years".


Mary and Tony Yoward

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