Engraving of mechanised fulling process

Ancient 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, the Flatford Mill recorded in 1068 had been there some years by that time. It would have been a corn (flour) mill used for milling grain into flour.   .

What happened in Essex and Suffolk is as follows:

  • Until the 20th Century Suffolk and Essex were dependant on farming. Because of the difficulty in transporting goods, people living in the villages had to be self sufficient and Flatford Mill would have produced most of the flour for the village’s inhabitants.  Most of the baking would have been carried out in people’s homes with very simple equipment
  •  It is generally accepted that it was the Saxons who engineered the river and built most of the water mills. 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 the late 13 Century the cloth trade was beginning to grow quickly. 
    • Some flour mills (and Flatford Mill might have been amongst them) were converted to mechanical fulling mills in order to process wool into cloth. Fulling was one of the many stages in producing cloth  
    • As the cloth industry grew,  Suffolk was tranformed into a very wealthy county. .
    • Also in the 13th century wind mills started to appear and they would have produced flour for the local inhabitants
  •  By 1400 the villages along the Stour Valley were major producers of woollen cloth and by 1520 it was the wealthiest area in the country outside London, with most of the Stour Valley cloth being exported through London.
  •  There were two phases of the Cloth Trade. East Bergholt and Flatford became wealthy during the first phase which peaked around 1500.  However, by 1600 the cloth industry had virtually disappeared. After that, East Bergholt may have continued to make a little old style cloth for the local trade but like many villages, it declined into a spinning village which earned very little money 
  • 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 18th Century.

Click here for more information about the Cloth Trade