The Welham brook is a tributary of the River Parrett which forms part of the southern boundary of the parish of Tintinhull. It is also adjacent to the higher, lighter, sandier soils of the parish which favour arable farming.
A (water) mill was recorded at this location for the Domesday Book of 1086. It was valued at 30d. A mill served about 40 local households at this time grinding their grain into edible flour. Water mills had been known in England since Roman times, but spread when the local economy and diet dictated the need for more productivity than could be produced by hand driven quern stones in use since prehistory – our Iron Age forebears are believed to have spent two hours a day grinding corn! It is possible that the mill was established by the Saxons, who at one time were living south of the Yeovil- Martock road (see ‘Huish’ field names). However their number of households was almost certainly insufficient therefore I think it more likely that it was Robert de Mortain’s castle and the need to feed his entourage post 1066 that necessitated the building of the mill. Mills were built for the benefit of the local ‘Lord’ (Robert of Mortain, half brother to William the Conqueror) as the peasants, probably from both Montacute and Tintinhull, were obliged to use the mill thus providing an important and regular source of income. The mill formed part of the Montacute Priory demesne after its establishment ca.1100 when William, son of Robert de Mortain, created a Cluniac Priory to atone for his father’s massacre of the Saxons when they attempted to storm the castle on St. Michael’s Mount. The mill was known as ‘Welhams’ by 1273.
By 1319 the Priory had leased the mill to Walter and Maude de Welnham; it is worth noting the use of the Norman name 150 years after the Conquest showing that the Saxons, who would have formed the majority of the population, were still suppressed. Then came the Black Death, the great plague of the mid C14th, which reduced the population by a third. Many mills were abandoned because of falling trade or a lack of skilled millers. Interestingly Welhams – the mill, a messuage (mill house) and a carucate (a hide) of land - was acquired for life by John Bondeman by 1374. In 1381 Bondeman sold(?) the mill with 120 acres of land (roughly the equivalent of a Saxon hide or Danish carucate), of meadow and pasture in West Welham and Stockett to John Breyton. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 the Priory lands reverted to ‘The Crown’. Sir William Petre, Secretary of State, was ‘given’ the Manor of Tintinhull and by 1541 the mill, ‘held directly of the Manor’ was leased to Robert Stybbes. By 1605 the tenant was Ambrose Bishop. There was a period of economic growth during Elizabethan and Stuart times fuelled by changes in the ownership of lands previously held by the church, improvements in standards of living and an increase in population. Agriculture flourished and millers became owners, not merely manorial tenants. In consequence the mills at Welhams became the freehold property of Samuel Burr. He was succeeded by his widow in 1644 and Hann was her miller from 1650. For the first time we have more than one mill mentioned at Welhams.
The mill as depicted on the John Napper map of 1786
Typically one milling unit equalled a wheel driving a pair of stones so it is probably that another wheel and pair of stones was added. The most expensive piece of the milling equipment was the stones – in C14th they accounted for about 11% of the cost of a windmill, about £1- so their addition would have been necessary. It is likely that both of these mills were used for grinding corn in our very wealth agricultural area. However we need to remain open minded on this as mills were used for many things including fulling (felting woven cloth), scrutching (processing flax) and grinding bark for the tanning industry; all three of which happened in the local area. John Bishop was the owner from 1654 to at least 1670 by which time the mill was in decay. However business must still have been good, for Welhams, like many other mills around this time, was improved; mills were either enlarged or simply rebuilt using more durable materials. The durable material in this area is of course hamstone. The buildings at Welhams are listed as C17th, but have yet to be surveyed by the Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group to confirm this or discover any indications of earlier work. A succession of millers can be traced through the C19th and C20th, the last being Esau Saunders in 1902. By 1960 there were few commercially operating watermills in England and Welhams came into private occupation in 1968.
Bibliography:- VCH, Vol 3. Martin Bodman Papers, ‘Water and Wind Power’by Martin Watts
Mills to visit Burcott at Wookey, near Wells. Grinding and selling flour, lunches/teas play area and some small farm animals Gants at Bruton. Teas and a plants woman on site. Now producing Elecricity to power 17 houses.
Prepared by Denny Robbins October 08