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Shalford Mill History

Shalford Mill stands picture postcard perfect on the Tillingbourne, as much a symbol of the village as the parish church nearby. In the water that turned the mill wheel ran the lifeblood of the village. From the Middle Ages to the Victorian years the stretch of Tillingbourne between Lemon Bridge and the Mill was home to most of Shalford’s industry. At various times brickmaking, ironworking, fulling, tanning, brewing, malt and flour milling all depended on the shallow fast-flowing little river.

Flour milling was the first industry to arrive and the last to depart. There was a mill here by the time of Domesday Book in 1086, one of five mills belonging to Bramley. (Most of Shalford was part of the great manor of Bramley: the Shalford of Domesday Book was East Shalford). Milling finally ended in 1914 after a thousand years’ history or more. The site of the Mill could well predate the parish church, the site for the church chosen because there was already a farming community here.

Almost nothing is known about the early owners and operators of the mill. In 1408 it belonged to John atte Lee of Guildford. The mill was later recorded as Pratts Mill, a name that could go back to the fourteenth century. A list of taxpayers in 1332 shows a John Prat living in the area of the mill. In the sixteenth century it was in the hands of Sir Edmund Walsingham, then the Mores of Loseley. Sir George More sold Pratts Mill to George Austen, new owner of Shalford Rectory Manor, in 1599. He built a second mill beside it and the two mills operated side by side. When the property changed hands in 1653 there were two corn mills and a malt mill there. Many alterations to the Tillingbourne, the millpond and the sluices took place over the years. By 1751 just ‘one water corn mill’ was in operation, sold to John Mildred. He rebuilt the mill to give us the building we see today. The mill came back into the Austen estate in 1794.

Gradually the old village industries disappeared. Clothworking collapsed in the early 1600s and the malting and brewing that replaced it operated until the 1890s. During the nineteenth century the economic heart of the parish moved to the area near the Common, beside the Wey Navigation and the railway station. The old village belonged to the Godwin-Austen estate and became fossilised, the large houses occupied by well-to-do tenants and the smaller properties by labourers and servants.

The Mill finally succumbed to economic pressures and closed in 1914. It became a store for Fogwills seed merchants, then a furniture store before lying empty and vandalised. The waters slowly drained away to leave a swamp in place of the gleaming stretch of millpond. In the sweeping changes that followed the First World War, with brutal and insensitive development threatening the countryside, the Mill took on a new identity. No longer part of the full-bodied life of a working village it came to represent the decay of Old England and a heritage that was rapidly being lost. It was saved from demolition in 1932 by Ferguson’s Gang and presented to the National Trust.

 

John Macgregor was the Trust’s architect and converted the eastern part of the Mill, where there was no machinery, to residential accommodation. During the 1930s his family used it as a holiday home; when war broke out they took up residence there full time. The Mill played host to artists, intellectuals, musicians and Austrian refugees from Nazi Europe – how the old millers would have stared!

For years the Mill stood open so that visitors could explore at will, admiring the great beams and wheel, awed by the cascading waters beneath, and climbing up steep ladder stairways to peer out of tiny diamond-paned windows, whose ancient glass discloses wobbly views of the river and meadows beyond. Now the National Trust operates a programme of guided tours instead.

Like the Conservation Area of the old village Shalford Mill is now protected as a visual treasure, part of our national heritage. Not so that we can yearn nostalgically for a lost way of life – for who would want to return to the hardships, the toil, the filth, of former times – but as a protest against harsh destructive modernity, and as a reminder of a simpler age.

Taken from More Scenes of Shalford Past by Margaret Dierden, 2006