Quern Stones (recreated by St Edmondsbury Local History Group)

Early Flour Production

Cereal grains form the staple food of many societies but such grains cannot easily be digested by humans until their hard outer cellulose shells have been broken up or removed. From earliest times this has been achieved by breaking open the grain between two stones. The first milling stones were hand-operated and are generally known as querns, a word derived from the Old English word cweorn.  Most querns are made from stone, hence ‘quernstone’. The upper stone (the quern) was rotated over the lower stone (the handstone). For more information about the history of querns please click the link History of Milling

In the medieval period the use of querns was widely prohibited as many manorial tenants were compelled to have their grain ground at the manorial mill, which could be some distance away, and to pay a toll for the privilege.  Not surprisingly, some preferred to use their own querns and manorial accounts frequently contain references of fines for those not taking their grain to the lord’s mill. 

Saxons and Water Mills

From Grain to Flour by Peter Jackson

 It is generally accepted that the Saxons 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 populationThere 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.

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. 

The Cloth Trade – 13th Century

Fulling was one of the many stages in producing cloth in the 13th century. Some flour mills in Suffolk were converted to mechanical fulling mills in order to process wool into cloth. Flatford Mill might have been amongst them.

By the beginning of the century the cloth trade in Suffolk began to grow rapidly and as it did so Suffolk was transformed into a very wealthy county.

Fulling equipment drawn by Lisa M Lane

The villages along the Stour Valley became 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

Two phases of the Cloth Trade

  • Up to1500 – East Bergholt and Flatford became wealthy during this first phase which peaked around 1500. 
  • Up to 1600 – the cloth industry had virtually disappeared by 1600. 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. Click here for more information about the Cloth Trade  

Fulling Mills to Corn Mills

Flatford Mill

By 1733 Flatford Mill was a corn mill and was probably built out of wood.

In 1742 it was acquired by Abram Constable who rebuilt and renovated the mill largely in brick which is what you will see today if you visit. 

John Constable’s father (Golding) inherited Flatford Mill from his uncle Abram in the middle of the 18th Century.