Local History Society

 Properties - The Mill

Death of Charles New at the Mill, 1921

Arborfield Hall Sale document, 1919, Old  Water Mill

Arborfield Hall Sale document, 1924, Old Water Mill

Arborfield Hall Sale document, 1926, Old Water Mill

The Reading Mercury of 15th August 1953 quoted a previous issue of the Reading Mercury dated 4th August 1794, which detailed the auction of Arborfield paper mill. It stated "Arborfield Mill - well supplied by the river Loddon, with every conveniency for a considerable business". The River Loddon flows below the former gardens of Arborfield Hall and in 1953 a curiously castellated brick ex-mill, the foundations dating back to 1500, was standing where mills have stood for centuries - with a pool still supplying eels, as it did for the Bishops of Salisbury at Sonning, at the time of the Domesday survey.

There had been a grist mill existing at Arborfield for a great number of years and fishing rights which stretched back to the 16th century. This mill was established as a paper mill by Mr. George Dawson.

A number of paper makers worked at the mill, a Mr. Hodgson being the earliest known in 1787. In 1826 Charles Edward James worked at Arborfield Mill as a paper maker and at this time attached to the mill were three brick built cottages, one lodge and a piece of meadow land. The wheel was described as “the great water wheel” and a new 48 inch paper machine was in use. In 1837, Thomas Miles, paper maker, is mentioned in the registers and according to an article in the Reading Mercury in 1953, it was claimed that banknote paper was produced at Arborfield Mill; however, there are several documented references that it made fine brown paper. The millers are thought to have lived in an old house called “Sans Souci” situated in the meadow between the two arms of the river, close to the mill.

The mill was a mixed blessing to its owners and operators. It was known to have caught fire at least twice, with two different accounts from 1829 ('The Times', whose proprietor owned the Bearwood Estate, and the 'Reading Mercury'), and again in 1861 (an account in the 'Reading Mercury'). We are grateful to Dr. Daven Chamberlain, who is researching the paper-making history at the Mill, for supplying us with many fascinating notes covering its various owners, policies for fire insurance, auction sales, bankruptcies and other events, including the absconding of an employee.  

George Pelsant Dawson (son of George) inherited Arborfield House and Estate from his father. In about 1840, he sold the park and house to Sir John Conroy, Controller to the household of the Duchess of Kent, Mother of Queen Victoria. Sir Edward Conroy in turn inherited Arborfield Hall from his father, but finding that he could not afford to live there, sold the Hall and park to Mr. John Hargreaves in 1855 for his son Thomas. Captain Thomas Hargreaves died in 1891. His heir was his second son Mr. John Reginald Hargreaves and his mother Mrs. Hargreaves lived at the Hall. In 1861 a Deed of Arrangement had to be drawn up between the Hargreaves family and the then mill owner, Alfred Towgood.

Here is a map showing the layout of the Farm and the Mill:

At some later date Mrs. Hargreaves is said to have had some of the Mill pulled down. It must have been rebuilt because a sale document of 1919 describes the mill as “A picturesque building of brick with tiled roof, fitted with a 40 H.P. water wheel and a 26 H.P. Turbine, with necessary shafting etc. providing power for driving the pumps for water supply, Dynamo for Electric Current and for working the machinery on Home Farm”.  This view from the early 1950's is taken from near the weir.

Old Paper Mill from behind, 1950's

Mr. H.C.Longhurst who visited the Mill at Arborfield probably in the 1960s recalled that the millstones were in position on the first floor of the two storey buildings at the farm and that there were a number of pulley wheels on the outside of the building facing the River Loddon which was about 150 feet away. His main interest was in trying to discover what form of power had been used to drive the grist mill that he remembered being taken to see. He wrote up his findings in 1984.

Longhurst found a block plan of Sir John Conroy’s farm buildings which revealed an engine house but no water turbine (this plan must be dated between about 1840 and 1855 when Sir John owned Arborfield House and Estate). He was pleased to discover that the engine used by Sir John Conroy had been one from the Reading works of Barrett, Exall & Andrews, although it was not possible to learn if the two steam engines for the later paper mill were from the same source.

Longhurst eventually found, at the Berkshire Record Office, a mention of a water turbine on the paper mill site which had been used by Hargreaves to drive a dynamo with which to light Arborfield Hall and other buildings. This turbine plus dynamo could not have been part of the paper making concern. However the turbine had been built by Charles Louis Hett and had driven a 100 watt dynamo with lead acid batteries and its date of manufacture was 1885 (the first use of electric lighting in a house was in 1880).

In the early 1920’s Guthrie Allsebrook had become the owner with a view to using the water rights to supply the local authority with water. The Allsebrooks had found the turbine with dynamo at Arborfield and had used it to sink a new borehole on the site and eventually to drive a pump. They also found a large iron pipe lying in the bed of the river from which fountains could be produced from a pump driven by the turbine. A water spectacular at Arborfield!

Finally it was discovered that the small grist mill mentioned earlier had been driven from the old water wheel, a breast-type 10 foot diameter x 8 foot, by a system of shafting which ran for most of its length in shallow ducting. The Allsebrooks dismantled the old water wheel.

The ground floor remains, roofed with corrugated asbestos sheeting. It is now used by Thames Water. The Local History Society visited the site on 14th June 2004, and in this photo Barry Salter is showing an ornate window with embellishments now partially hidden by pebble-dashing, and two stone slit windows hidden by ivy.

Front of Mill, 14 June 2004

ref: Berks. Record Office - D/EAI T4, D/EX 1211/50/1,
      W.I. 1922,
      Church Centenary number 1963,
      T. Collins April 2000 Arborfield.
      H. C. Longhurst paper, 1984
      Daven Chamberlain, 2005

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