Inside Flatford Mill by Thomas Pyne 1891 (detail)
19th Century owners
The detail from Thomas Pyne’s painting above shows the inside of Flatford Mill at the end of the 19th century. This painting is owned by Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service.
1846 Flatford Mill was owned by Abram Constable
1846 -1864: Flatford Mill was owned by William Bentall & Stephen Durrant Lott
- 1846 Abram Constable sold Flatford Mill to William Rufus Bentall and Stephen Durrant Lott for 2,000 guineas.
- William Rufus Bentall married Ann Lott who was raised at Valley Farm and whose great uncle was Willy Lott.
- Stephen Lott was Ann Lott’s brother and he formed a partnership with her husband, William Rufus Bentall and they bought Flatford Mill together
1846-1849 - years of progress & profit
Bentall and Lotts modernisation
- A large and more powerful iron water wheel replaced the original wooden water wheels and gearing used by the Constable family.
- This iron water wheel could drive at least four pairs of mill stones.
- The new water wheel was made of metal with 40 curved, open-ended buckets around its perimeter.
- It measured 16 feet by 14 feet and was possibly the largest wheel on the River Stour.
- Because it was far too big to be accommodated inside the old mill building, a single storey wheelhouse was built behind the old mill in which it was housed.
- Water from the River Stour was diverted along the back of the mill building, under the new water wheel and into a millpond in front of the lock.
- Barges (called lighters) would then pull up at the back of the mill to load up with flour.
- The inlet arches at the back of the mill were bricked up and the mill race channels that had run through the mill building guiding water through it, were closed up
- The exit arches were not closed up and can still be seen opening into the old mill pond which was been made so famous by John Constable in his painting The Haywain.
- The water colour painting by Thomas Pyne at the top of this page depicts the inside of Flatford Mill in 1891
- It shows the mill stones enclosed within a wooden framework (see also 5th photo above) that would have been at shoulder level and enclosing the main gearing.
- The millstone frame in view in the painting is labelled ‘Number 2’. Number 1 is to the right and out of sight behind a brick wall although the grain shute that feeds it is clearly visible.
1849-1900 - years of decline
The arrival of steam power marked the final days of Flatford as a working water mill. It was much more reliable and efficient to burn coal to generate the power needed to drive mills than to rely on the vaguaries of river power.
In 1849: Stephen Lott transferred his share of Flatford Mill to William Bentall and emigrated to Australia. William Bentall then modernised the Mill still further and installed a coal-fired, steam mill at The Granary
- 1864-1878: Richard Barrell owned/operated Flatford steam mill and watermill
- 1878-1892: Walter Benneworth owned/operated Flatford steam mill and watermill
- 1896-1901: William Green owned/operated Flatford water mill. Arthur Benneworth owned/operated Flatford steam mill
- 1900 Flatford water mill ceased trading
1901-present - after flour milling ceased
- 1901 – 1904: Lancelot Docura converted the mill into a private residence and lived there with his wife Catherine and two sons, Thomas and Leonard, both millers (according to the 1901 census)
- 1904 – 1926: Viscount Buckmaster bought the mill which had fallen into serious disrepair. He restored the machinery to grind corn, oats and beans and adapted the machinery to generate electricity. Other people lived there at the same time: Major O.H. Fisher and E.Page (1904 -1905), Miss Octavia Lewin (1905 -1907), Miss Annie Madelaine Pulley (1907 and still there for the 1911 census) with a cook and a house maid
- 1926 -1943: Thomas Robert Parkington, an Ipswich builder and philanthropist, bought a near derelict Flatford Mill and a dilapidated Willy Lott’s House in 1926.
- He carried out basic repairs and opened the Flatford Mill as an arts and leisure centre.
- He stripped out all the mill machinery and had the iron water wheel removed in the early 1930s.
- In his will, he left both properties to the National Trust but died insolvent in 1943 which meant the National Trust had to purchase them from the Official Receiver. However, when Mr Parkingtons’s financial affairs were finally resolved, there was money left over to reimburse the National Trust.
- 1943 – present: Flatford Mill was acquired by the National Trust on the death of Thomas Parkington.
- On 7 August 1946 the National Trust leased both Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s House to the Field Studies Council, an arrangement that continues to this day. The Field Studies Council is an environmental charity providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore and understand the environment. It opened it first establishment at Flatford in 1946.
- For more information about the Field Studies Council please click Field Studies Council
In 2012 the Field Studies Council installed a reverse Archimedes Screw in the cavity that once housed the nineteenth century iron water wheel.
It experiences some of the same problems that the Constable’s were familiar with – maintaining a sufficient head of water to turn the wheel/screw.