19 May 2022

Afternoon walks by
the old mill and millrace
in Stony Stratford

The mill race and the site of the former mill by the Ouse River in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days I have taken a number of walks from Market Square in Stony Stratford, passing Stratford House and along Mill Lane to the Mill Field and the site of the Old Mill by the banks of the Ouse River.

A corn mill stood on the River Ouse on the Calverton side of Stony Stratford from early days, although it is not certain whether this mill dated back to the mediaeval period.

There is a reference in Domesday to a mill at Calverton Manor and there is mention of two mills at Calverton in 1331 and three along the course of the river Ouse in 1586. But the documentary evidence is unclear about whether these mills were at Stony Stratford, which was then part of Calverton Parish.

A mill stream or leet comes in from the south east, while the main river passes around Mill Field on the west, and there are references to a Milnmede in the 15th century. From the evidence available, it seems probable that a mill was established there by the late Middle Ages.

Penn House on Mill Lane recalls the name of the Penn family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The first proper documented reference to a mill at Stony Stratford dates from 1581, when John Penn bought the corn mill from Thomas Piggott. John Penn seems to be from the same Penn family who included Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670); his son, William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker who was involved in the foundation of Pennsylvania; and John Penn (1729-1795), the last governor of colonial Pennsylvania.

After buying the mill and land at Stony Stratford, the Penn family diverted the river and established a water mill on the corner of the river. The Millrace is a channel of the Ouse River that was used to take water to the wheel of the mill.

Over the years, alterations were made to the mill, most notably by the Stony Stratford architect Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works can be seen throughout the town. However, the Old Mill burned down in a fire in 1985, and has been replaced by housing and apartments.

The Penn family is remembered in the name of Penn House on Mill Lane. The family was also involved in the tanning industry in Stony Stratford, and established a tannery in 1600 at Stratford House on the corner of Market Square.

Stratford House on Mill Lane … some of the tan pits still exist within the walled garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The earliest records are non-existent, but in 1712 Robert Onely of Leicester mortgaged to John Ward of Castlethorpe ‘all the messuage or tenement commonly called the Tannhouse and the Tanyard’ and the orchard there.

Robert Onely sold the tannery in 1720 to Thomas Harris, Cordwainer, of Stony Stratford, who in turn sold it in 1790 to Mr Warren, a leather seller in Church Street. Leather and tanning continued at Church Street into the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the tan pits still exist within the walled garden at Stratford House.

From Mill Lane I have walked in the afternoon evening sunshine into the fields and pastures along the banks of the Ouse River, or along the Millrace, which remains as a quiet, tree-lined backwater behind Mill Lane.

The Millrace remains as a quiet, tree-lined backwater behind Mill Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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