Bridgwater Museum
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The site of the Town Mill is at the end of Blake Street (once known as Mill Lane), next door to the Blake Museum. The early history of the mill (then known as the Little Mill, goes back to the early middle ages, for it was recorded in the Domesday book and it was originally used for grinding corn. Until the end of the 17th century Bridgwater obtained its water from local streams, from wells, and from stored rainwater. It was carried round the town by hawkers, who filled their carts at places like Horsepond Lane, which in 1680 had been fitted out to allow the inhabitants to obtain water directly from the Durleigh Brook. Fire was an ever present fear then, with timber-framed buildings and thatched roofs. 1694 an agreement was drawn up by Bridgwater Corporation allowing Richard Lowbridge, an ironmonger of Stourbridge, Worcs., to dig up the streets and lay water pipes from the old Town Mill to a cistern constructed in the roof space over the High Cross on Cornhill. Lowbridge had recently purchased the mill from John Smith of Barnstaple. The Durleigh Brook discharges into the River Parrett at what today is known as St Saviour's Clyse, which can be seen on the west bank of the river near Blake Bridge. The building is quite small; no information has been found about the machinery at the mill, but it is likely that the breast-shot waterwheel of about 15 ft diameter rotated at approximately 15 rpm and drove through gearing a number of forcing pumps which drew the water from the stream and pumped it to the cistern on Cornhill through wooden pipes trenched into the roadway. It is possible that a corn mill was attached to the plant, so that water could be pumped during the miller's slack times. Numbers of wooden waterpipes were dug up from the streets of Bridgwater over the years: in 1795 when the stone town bridge was replaced by the iron one; in the 1830's when the gas mains were laid; and in the 1870's when the Water Company's pipes were laid. In 1917 more than 60 yards of elm water pipes were found in the bed of the Durleigh Brook in the garden of Ivy House, Friarn Street. The High Cross and the cistern were demolished around 1800, and for the next eighty years, during which the population grew three-fold, and there were frequent severe epidemics, the town depended entirely on rainwater butts and cisterns, wells and what water was drawn from the Durleigh Brook. The ownership, operation and finances of the Bridgwater service during the 18th century is not known. Water carriers would have taken the supply round the streets drawn from the cistern and it is probable that some large properties would have had an independent piped supply as well. The water was piped to Eastover over the stone bridge then and it is possible there was a second cistern there somewhere, but no evidence of this has so far been found. The building may have reverted to a corn mill early in the 19th century, and by 1858 had a steam engine to drive the stones. By 1886 was used as a saw mill, then became disused and was used as a food store. By the end of the of the 20th century was a builder's store. It came on the market in 1987 and was purchased with a view of incorporating it into the Museum. Two schemes were drawn up to achieve this, and involved expanding into the lower garden as well, to provide more gallery and storage space. The upper floor was destroyed by arson in 1995, and in 2009 the site was included in the property transferred with the Museum to the Town Council. Since then work has been done to re-roof part of the structure to create a store for archaeological relics and to clear tons of rubble and to floor over some of the structure to provide better access from Blake Street.
The Town Mill
From the Bridgwater Mercury, 7th September 2007 A Blue plaque has been unveiled by Bridgwater's MP in Blake Street this week. The distinctive marker was funded by a Heritage Lottery grant from 2006, applied for by the Bridgwater Civic Society to raise awareness of important places in the town, MP Ian Liddell-Grainger pulled back the cloth to reveal the latest in these plaques, surrounded by dignitaries. Society spokesman Siobhan Wilson said: "The one-time mill in Mill Street, now Blake Street, was an obvious candidate. "Situated as it is over a main watercourse, it has survived in different forms at this site for over 800 years at least. In its early days, it would have been used to grind grain for feeding the townsfolk. "In James II's time it was used to pump water for the town's piped supply at the High Cross in Cornhill, in Victoria's time it was a sawmill. "At the end of the century just past, a disastrous fire stymied attempts to covert the building to an extension to the Blake Museum and it now languishes a rather forlorn listed building in the care of Sedgemoor District Council.
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