Back in the late 1800’s there were four windmills in the area of Mile Cross, two situated on the Eastern side of Aylsham Road (Catton) and two on the western side actually within the boundaries of Mile Cross, and it’s these two Mills that I shall be focussing on in the piece. The northernmost of these two Mile Cross Mills would have stood just behind the old Parsonage (the beautiful 3-storey Georgian Houses stood opposite the Windmill Pub) and it was owned by a Philip Rose, Miller and Baker.
I can’t find out too much information about this Mill apart from it being a steam mill and that it burnt down in 1876. It appears that Mr Rose had another Mill at his command and sought to assure his customers – via a post in the Norfolk Chronicle – that despite the loss of this mill it was business as usual. He also gave thanks to the Fire brigade for their prompt assistance in containing the fire to just the Mill, preventing it from spreading further as well as thanking Norwich Union for insuring his premises. Where his secondary mill was located I’m not too sure, but Philip Rose remained in the area and was listed as a baker and a miller up until the turn of the century. It seems that during his time on the Cross Mr Rose had an eventful life, including a few brushes with the law:
In 1877 Mr Rose summoned an upper Hellesdon neighbour to court for the use of obscene language in the street (presumably Aylsham Road). I hate to think what Mr Rose would make of the language he would have heard strolling down Aylsham Road today, especially from the benches outside the Windmill pub during a televised England match!
Mr Rose found himself in court again a year later for ‘late night drinking in a pub’. He was caught drinking in the Light Horseman Public house (most likely on Botolph Street) with a labourer from Pye’s Yard at 1130pm (what a scallywag). He pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined 7 shillings and imprisoned for 3 days.
It seems that once again the drink got the better of Mr Rose and in 1879 he was charged with assaulting his wife in an argument over some pears, striking her to the ground and breaking her nose. For this crime he was sent to the castle prison for 3 years and ordered to pay his estranged wife 12 shillings a week. He was not put to work in the castle on the basis that he had at the time a bad ankle.
The second mill on the estate was a little further south, just off Press Lane and was known as ‘Witard’s Mill’ or ‘‘Upper Hellesdon Mill’, and it would have stood roughly in the center of the below photograph of Byfield Court:This site was home to three mills since the 1700’s, presumably because of it’s lofty position but, this third mill, an all-brick Tower Mill, was built in 1875 after the previous Post Mill (known as St Clement’s Mill) had been demolished and all the machinery sold off at auction. This new mill stood at an impressive 9 storeys tall and 88 feet, the tallest in Norwich, and in 1905 it was promoted to being the tallest Windmill in Norfolk after Press’s High Mill in Yarmouth was demolished. This Mill stood a whopping 122 feet tall and doubled as a lighthouse. It was also the tallest Windmill ever to be built in Europe!
The impressive Upper Hellesdon Mill was owned by the Witard family for 28 years until it burnt down in May 1913, the cause of which being an electrical fault in a building next to the mill tower. The tower was saved by the fire brigade, but the damage to the adjoining buildings and all the machinery proved too much to repair and the mill was closed for good. The Tower was finally demolished in 1920 but in an interesting twist the bricks were salvaged and re-used when building new houses along the nearby Angel Road. The Mill had previously had another brush with disaster when one of the sails were destroyed by a lightning strike in 1906 causing the Mill to have to struggle on with just the two sails for a few months until repairs could be carried out. You can see why this mill would have been at the mercy of the heavens, standing at 95 feet from kerb and on top of a ridge on the Northern side of the Wensum valley, you can see it standing tall in the background of many old photographs of Norwich – such as this one – taken in 1912 of City Station during the floods.
It seems that the Witard family were never too far from tragedy or disaster. In 1877 Ephraim and Maria lost a son only aged just 9 weeks, another Wittard family member named William (46) died in 1880 leaving behind a wife and 10 children, Another William Wittard lost a son aged just 5 years in 1887 and further to the loss of his son, poor William was killed himself aged 43 in a tragic accident at the bottom of Ketts Hill. On Monday the 9th July, 1900 William had left the mill at 1430 on his horse and cart to deliver Barley and Oats, somehow he was thrown from the cart and subsequently run over by one of the cartwheels. It was said that the combined weight of the cart and it’s load was in excess of 150 stone and it had passed directly over poor William’s chest.
The following photograph shows the junction of Stone Road and Aylsham Road with Trafalgar House sat in the middle. This house would have been inhabited by the Wittard Family back in the late 1800’s:And a picture of Press Lane with some of the original flint boundary wall that stood in the shadow of this impressive Mill:
Sadly, most of the mills have since disappeared from Norwich with only the one tower remaining in Lakenham but it’s good to know that Mile Cross was home to its fair share of them back in the day and that their mark can still be felt in the fabric of the estate to this day.
I had thought that there would be nothing left of this mill to photograph seeing as it was demolished almost 100 years ago so I was most surprised to find part of the building still standing. Mill House is hidden in a corner of Byfield Court and set back from Stone Road. I must have passed this hidden gem a thousand times without realising it was still there hidden in a rather overgrown-looking garden.As well as Mill House I was also surprised to find that one of the metal posts that stood either side of the Aylsham Road entrance had managed to survive. It stands by the path in the front drive of an oddly-positioned house built on what used to be driveway leading to the Windmill.
Thanks to the Norfolk Mills Website for most of the information, go and take a look at the site, it has some fantastic history and photographs and you could easily lose hours reading what they have researched.
Thanks once again for reading,
7 thoughts on “Windmills”
Another terrific piece of local research.
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Thanks Stuart for this piece. Very interesting for me, I was born at 8 Press Lane, my Aunt Ethel Eastoe was a retired midwife and had special permission to deliver me. The Eastoe family rented the house from the Witard family for many years. I think my Grandfather and Great Grandfather may have worked on the Mill as they were both Millwrights. I remember the house very well. My Dad used to say he remembered being taken to the site of the windmill by his Grandfather.
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Fantastic memories, Marian. Thanks.
My nan was born in the old parsonage house. He mother was in service there.
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My parents live just off Press Lane so I’d always been interested in the fact that there was a Mill here, but I never realised that the old overgrown house was a part of it. I have so many memories of shuffling past the front garden trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious house through the dense trees. I’m so surprised and will look forward to sharing that with my folks!
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