Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery
On Saturday the 31st of July my six year old grandson and I visited Redbournbury Watermill, which is surrounded by farmland and water meadows. The latter provide a habitat for herons and kingfishers that feed on sticklebacks, trout fry and other fish. Generations of water fowl have eaten, defended their territory and mated in this fascinating area where there was probably a Watermill in Saxon times.
There has been a watermill at Redbournbury in Hertfordshire for at least 500 years, and probably since Anglo Saxon days. The watermill is beside the softly flowing River Ver that powers the waterwheel and millstones.
Near Redbourn village a short country road leads past a few idyllic cottage with pretty gardens to Redbournbury Watermill and Bakery
Like its larger neighbour St Albans, Redbourn and the surrounding area is steeped in history. A few Roman remains – some Roman bricks used in St Mary’s, a Norman church, hob nails, some coins, enameled brooches and curse tablets have been found in and on the outskirts of Redbourn.
In summer, 2008, the sites of what are considered the remains of four Roman temples were found. Pottery from one of the sites close to the river Ver indicates it was in use from the 1st century A.D. to the 3rd century. It is possible that the temple was used to worship water gods.
The translation of a mediaeval charter reveals that in approximately 1030, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, the Manor of Redbourn was given to St Albans Abbey (later the modern day Cathedral Abbey) by the landowner, Aegelwyne le Swarte and his wife Wynfreda. The Abbot’s Chamberlain used Redbournbury farmhouse as his Manor Court-house. The manor, which included the watermill, was then called The Chamberlain.
A mill was recorded in the Domesday Book in 1087 and it is possible that the modern day building is situated on top of the first building.
When John of Wheathampstead was abbot between 1290 and 1301 Chamberlain’s Mill was gutted by fire. Fortunately, the manor was protected by the woods around it and spared from the fire spread by an ‘unbearable wind’.
Most mills were the property of either the Church or the Lord of the Manor. Villagers were not allowed to grind their grain. The owner of the mill had the ‘Right of Stoke’ and by law grain could only be ground at the lord’s mill. The miller claimed 10% of the flour and the landlord claimed more. In 1381 there was a ‘peasant’s revolt’ against the Abbot of St Albans. Among other causes were the abbot’s milling rights
After the dissolution of the monasteries, all of the Abbey lands, including the watermill, became the property of Henry VIII.
While looking at various photographs, my young grandson was delighted because he recognised Henry’s picture. He told me the king was very cruel because he gave orders for two of his wives to have their heads cut off. Like most small boys he was fascinated by this and asked ‘bloody’ questions which I will not repeat in case you have a weak stomach.
During the reign of James I the mill was leased out by the Treasury until 1539 when the mill was bought by Sir Harbottle Grimston for £200, (Grimstone is the family name of the present Earls of Verulam). The mill became part of the Gorhambury Estate until the 4th Earl sold it to the Crown Estate Commissioners.
For a hundred and forty years the mill was leased by the Hawkins family until, at the age of 89, Ivy Hawkins, the only lady miller in England, quit the mill in 1985.
Amongst the artefacts in the mill are Ivy’s smock – dull green with vertical bands of old gold and brown on each side of the front fastening – and various items such as a washing board and basin. My grandson knew what these were for and explained how they were used but concluded: ‘I think washing machines are better.’ I agreed and admired Ivy’s pretty china jug, copper measures and ladles.
After Ivy retired, Redbournbury Mill, now a grade two listed building, was bought by the present owners. After a fire in 1987 the watermill was restored to full working order with a grant from English heritage.
My grandson and I climbed the stairs to each of the four floors. On each one were interesting displays. As well as many items pertinent to the miller’s trade was an impressive array of blacksmiths’ tools and products and one of the first sewing machines used by a cobbler.
After exploring the mill and looking out of the windows at the peaceful views, and a glimpse of chickens in the foreground, we bought bread from a stall outside the bakery in Ivy Hawkins’s converted cow barn.
An impressive range of bread is sold by the bakery. Whenever possible the grain used to make flour at the watermill is from local farms including Hammonds End in Harpenden. This means that much of the grain is gown within a mile of the watermill.
The flour is 100% organic. Some of the wholemeal flour is sifted through a bolter to produce white flour, brown flour, semolina and bran. Brown flour mixed with whole, malted wheat flakes makes delicious bread.
The mill also produces spelt flour and rye flour. Spelt flour is an ancient variety of wheat. It is more flavoursome that conventional wheat and some people think it is suitable for those suffering from wheat intolerance.
The master baker makes artisan loaves from the flour produced in the mill. He produces a wide variety of bread including, wholemeal, brown, spelt, rye, savoury breads such as foccasia and sweet breads such as date and walnut. He also makes scones, chocolate brownies, granola slices, cakes and tea breads.
I bought some excellent spelt bread that was light and tasty. As I have a bread machine and make my own bread, I also bought some wholemeal flour. In future, I shall visit a nearby village market where products from the mill are sold.
Before we left, at peace with the world, we sat outside in the sunshine near the gently flowing river, listening to the splash of the waterwheel, admiring tall hollyhocks and eating delicious eccles cakes.
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