Engraving of mechanised fulling process

Ancient Fulling Mill

There has been a water mill at Flatford from at least the 11th Century – we know this because it is listed in the Domesday book of 1068. However, that mill had obviously been there some time by the time it came to be recorded in the Domesday Book. It may not always have been used for milling grain into flour. It is possible that it was also used in the production of cloth as a fulling mill.

What was happening in Essex and Suffolk was as follows:

  • 2000 years ago Suffolk and Essex were devoted to farming. Because of the difficulty in transporting goods people living in the villages had to be self sufficient in producing flour to make bread. Most of this would have been carried out in people’s homes with very simple equipment
  • When the  Romans arrived in East Anglia in 43 AD, they had developed technology to power water mills and it’s probable that they would have built some water mills on the River Stour
  • By the time the last Romans left Britain in 410 AD, the Anglo Saxons who took over would have made use of the milling technology developed by the Romans
  • By the time the Domesday Book was written in 1086 most of the villages along the River Stour had at least one water mill producing flour – mainly for the local population
  • By 13th Century wind mills started to appear
  • By the late 13 Century the cloth trade had grown fast.  Some flour mills were converted to mechanical fulling mills in order to process wool into cloth and make Suffolk a very wealthy county
  •  By 1400 the villages along the Stour Valley were major producers and by 1520 it was the wealthiest area of the country outside London, with most of their cloth being exported through London.
  • From a peak in about 1650 the cloth trade in East Anglia declined and almost died out by 1800. A major reason for the decline was the refusal of East Anglia’s cloth workers to accept mechanisation.   
  • As Cloth Trade declined fulling mills were converted back into flour (corn) mills. Flatford was a corn mill  when John Constable’s father owned it in the 17th Century.

Click here for more information about the Cloth Trade