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THE MILLS OF BIRMINGHAM

There was a time in the eighteenth century when the city known throughout the world as a centre of industrial production was powered by the elements and not coal, oil or electricity. The area that Birmingham now covers had three rivers although none of them were very large as rivers go. The rivers, The Cole, The Rea and The Tame all had one thing in common, they all flowed through terrain that lent itself to the easy construction of mill pools where water could be collected ready for use when motive power was needed. These pools were in fact the “fuel tanks” of the mills. At one time in the early eighteenth century there were upward of fifty such water powered mills around Birmingham and nearly as many windmills where water power was not an option. When the mills were first built their primary purpose was the grinding of corn to make flour. In medieval times the knights and farmers came to use the motive power of the mills to put an edge on the metal tools of their respective callings. As populations grew they tended to concentrate around the areas where work was to be found, travelling to work was not an option as few people owned horses and walking was the only way to travel,So getting up at six in the morning to catch the six o’clock horse to work did not really hold merit when you work from sunrise to sunset. The population growth was around where the mills stood and as the mills produced flour then bakeries were to be found quite near having a captive market that could not as yet just nip down to Sainsbury’s for a loaf of bread. This mini eco system was how industrialisation began, as the population around these mills grew more work was needed to employ a rapidly growing population and transport began to improve as the produce of these centres of production sought and found new markets. The mills at the turn of the eighteenth century began to diversify into light engineering, having a water wheel was a bit like owning an engine that no one else had, that could do things that no one else could.Some mills began light metalwork, culminating in the production of sewing and knitting needles and buttons. In a similar manner Sheffield turned to the production of knives and cutlery. The last of these water mills in Birmingham is Sarehole Mill. Sarehole Mill was originally called Beddle’s Mill When John Beddle obtained permission to build it. In 1542, later known as Biddles Mill and in the 18th century it became known as High Wheel Mill, then Little Mill until the father of Mathew Boulton rented the nearby Sarehole farm which came with its own mill. The Mill became known as Sarehole Mill as Mathew Boulton began his limited light engineering endeavours at the dawn of the industrial revolution. The mill was used In Boulton’s time for metal rolling, by 1760 John Jones was grinding cutlery and sharp edge tools there, the mill was rebuilt in 1765/8 by Richard Eaves but e went bankrupt in 1775 and the mill was sold. In 1807 a second water wheel was installed to service the increasing blade grinding being undertaken by William Deakin Who was now grinding sword blades for army and naval use, gun barrels were made there around this time for The East India Company. John Andrew rented the mill in 1858 and it finally ceased milling in 1919 although it remained in the Andrew family until 1959. It was later bought by the city and restored to what is there today. It was extensively depicted by J.R.R.Tolkien as the mill in Hobbit town and the nearby Mosley Bog was taken as the model for his idea of middle earth where he spent time as a boy whilst living in Wake Green road. Today it is a free to enter museum a facility provided by Birmingham City council.The mill pool is still there as is the steam engine installed by Boulton prior to his move to industrial premises in Soho, Birmingham. The bakery is just across the blue brick yard from the Mill.

JP.





Posted: February 14, 2005 



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