Potterings in Potterne

on Friday, 05 April 2013. Posted in Architecture

One of our latest visits took us to Jenny Mill in Potterne, to look at a mill that had been turned into the Mill School when the last miller left in the mid-C20. Without a map, it would have been very difficult to find Jenny Mill as it is as literally ‘the back of beyond’ at the end of a narrow track.

According to the Domesday Survey, there were six mills at Potterne in 1086. In his ‘Notes on Potterne’ (WSHC 1172/193), written in 1914, the then Rector, Rev. H. E. Medlicott, suggested that ‘Five Lanes Mill’ (as it was then called) was ‘no doubt one of the Domesday mills’, but offered no evidence to support this conclusion.  The mill as it stands has been rebuilt over again, probably several times, and what is there represents a rebuild of the 18th and 19th centuries, incorporating fragments of an earlier, timber-framed building. Still less remains of the workings of the mill; the leat that fed the wheel has been diverted and conduited around the site, and all that remains are two huge mill-stones propped decoratively against the gable end.

Members of the Jordan family appear to have been associated with the woollen industry over a long period. A will in the history centre refers to John Jordan as a ‘fuller’ in 1685. Although he actually lived in Devizes, the mill referred to in his will may well have been that known as ‘Jordan’s Mill’ on the 1773 map, situated as it is not far to the south of Devizes. The inventory compiled on his death, besides listing the contents of each room in his house, also refers to goods ‘at ye mill’:-
  ‘Item – 4 serges at ye mill - £12
  ‘Item – one piece of lynsy woolsy at ye mill - £1. 10s.’
His house evidently incorporated a ‘shop’, where he either dealt in or manufactured woollen and linen fabrics, pieces of which are listed in his inventory. There is also reference to a ‘warping barr’, which was part of a weaver’s loom, and ‘five serge looms’, besides various lengths of cloth, including ‘mixed worsted’, ‘fancy serge’, ‘mixed serge’, ‘lynsy woolsy’, and ‘dressed serge’. The contents of his house show him to have been an affluent man, and the inference is that in 1685 ‘Jordan’s Mill’ was in fact a fulling mill. Although rebuilt in the early C18, the living accommodation cannot have improved and could really only be described as modest, even when extended in the early C19.

In ‘Wiltshire and Somerset Woollen Mills’, Ken Rogers refers to Jordan’s Mill as having become a specialist dye-house during the 18th century, when some clothiers operated dye-houses completely separate from their factories. Transporting their materials to and from the dye-house at Jordan’s Mill would not have been easy down the narrow, tortuous tracks. Rev. Medlicott in ‘Notes on Potterne’ quoted the ‘Diary of John Saunders’, written in 1727, describing the state of the lanes. He recorded that in the lane at Five Lanes ‘that turned towards Worton, we came to a great deep myre across ye lane. We had no waye to ride bye so was forced to pass through it, with great difficultie to the horse and danger to oneself. Ye horse flundered, ye tackel broke, and I had a very dangerous fall.’ (Medlicott remarked that the road was no better in 1912, despite complaints from the Parish Council for over 50 years.)

Dorothy Treasure and Margaret Parrot
Wiltshire Buildings Record

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