The sections of the Ivel discussed here are from the river source at Ivel Springs, just north of Baldock down to Stotfold Mill, a distance of 3.65 Km. The first 2.5 Km from Ivel Springs to just below Radwell Mill the river can be described as a “classic chalk stream” with clear steady temperature water, below that it flows out onto the clay and becomes increasingly turbid from runoff.
There are 4 water mills on this stretch of the river. Blackhorse Mill, Norton Mill, Radwell Mill and Stotfold Mill. According to Domesday records, there have been mills on this stretch of the Ivel for at least 900 years.
Before the railway came it was not easy to transport heavy or bulky goods great distances. These mills were a critical infrastructure which relied on a constant flow of water to make staple foodstuff out of local grain for local people all year round.
Blackhorse Mill, Bygrave/Baldock
Extract from A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Bygrave pp 211-217. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
Near Baldock a small portion of Bygrave parish lies to the west of the North Road. It consists of some rough pasture, water-cress beds and rush-grown waste, and is traversed by the River Ivel. This extension over the Roman road was made by the early settlers with the object of obtaining the waterpower from the Ivel to drive the manorial mill. The pathway from the village which comes into the Roman road near to Blackhorse Farm or Blackhorse Mill is still known as Miller’s Way.
In 1086, The Domesday Survey recorded one water mill at Bygrave assessed as worth 10s.
The land west of the Great North Road (roman road) was transferred to Baldock Parish in 1881.
Blackhorse Mill was made famous in 1743 when a ballad was penned describing “The Lass of Baldock Mill” who was famed for her beauty. (The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1743).
Blackhorse Mill (Baldock Mill), Chapman, 1787
According to the UK census 1841 Blackhorse Mill was operating in the 1840’s under the management of William Bishop. It ceased to operate as a mill in the middle of the 19th Century thereafter the focus of attention turned to watercress production.
Norton and Norton Mill:
Extract from “A history of the county of Hertfordshire”,1908:
In the north and east of the parish cornfields cover the higher slopes, while on the lower levels the little River Ivel, fed by springs and marking the eastern boundary of the parish, winds slowly through swampy meadows. Watercress used to be much grown here, but competition has spoiled the market. Other springs near fill the manor moat and uniting into another stream flow into the Ivel.
In the Domesday Book (1086) there was mention of two mills in Norton and Norton Mill remained fully operation up until 1902.
Census and local electoral documents identify Charles Christian as a Master Corn Miller, living and working at the Norton Mill, from 1871 until 1902.
Nortonbury Farmhouse – showing a large pond (1903-05)
A Garden City document of 1904 says: Constant springs are found at Nortonbury. (Garden City Collection – lbm3058-7-14). Norton Mill has quite a large pond, and it was previously linked to the old moat and pond at Nortonbury Farmhouse which today has almost completely gone, but it was a substantial body of water.
Stretch of the River Ivel near Norton (1903-1905)
Garden City Collection (2007.60.9)
In 1904 Messrs. Lothian and Clement Sawrey-Cookson purchased rights to operate a trout-rearing and fisheries operation on the river Ivel between Norton and Radwell called Norton Fisheries. Clement Sawrey-Cookson was a gentleman who lived at Radwell Lodge and owned Norton House (1904-1915). The fishery ceased commercial operation in about 1915, probably because of the First World War.
OS County Series 1922 – Bedfordshire (partial), 1:2,500. Map showing the trout rearing fishponds
Painting:Fishing for Trout at Norton Fisheries (1906)
Norton Fisheries operated along the river between Baldock and Radwell raising trout in hatcheries and fry ponds and growing them in screened parts of the river.
Trout Fishery workers living on North Road.
A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3 Radwell. Originally published by Victoria County History, London,1912.
In the reign of “Edward the Confessor” and in the early days after the Conquest there were two manors in Radwell. The Domesday Survey noted that the larger manor was assessed at 4 hides and had a mill attached worth 8s. The smaller manor in Radwell was assessed in 1086 at only 2 hides and had a mill worth 6s. 8d.
In 1650 Sir Robert Berkeley sold the manor to Thomas Cole, citizen and merchant tailor, of London. The sale included a water corn mill, all watercourses, floodgates and dams on the manor, the liberty of a swanmark, or of keeping swans in or near Radwell, court leet and court baron. Thomas Cole continued to hold the manor until 1677, when he sold it to Robert Bell. Radwell remained in this family until 1720–1 when It was purchased by William Pym of Nortonbury.
According to the UK Census 1851 Radwell mill was operated by Richard Christy, employing 4 men.
In 1866 a legal case by the owner (Mills) & the tenant (Allen Flitton) of Radwell Mill to restrain the churchwardens and overseers of Baldock from polluting the river with sewage, so bad that “no fish can live therein” (Mills v Bally Nov 1866). Note the river is named Rhee in this case, but is clearly the Ivel
By 1901, the UK Census identified James Flitton as the Corn Miller at Radwell Mill.
A map of Radwell, showing Radwell Watermill and Millpond, OS 25 Inch map, 1892-1914
Photograph of River Ivel at Radwell, 1920.
Garden City Collection (lbm3058-7-14)
Radwell Millpond 1905
Stotfold pp 300-304 A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
In the Domesday book of 1086 four water mills were identified in Stotfold. One of those four was the currently named Stotfold Mill. The combined rents, payable to Hugh de Beauchamp, Baron of Bedford was £4.
OS Map 25 Inch 1892-1914 – Map showing River Ivel at Stotfold Mill
Stotfold MiIl was in continuous operation for over 900 years The Randall family were the last milling dynasty operating the mill from 1872 until 1966.
The Stotfold Mill Preservation Trust was set up as a charity to restore the Mill to working condition and transform the adjoining meadows into a nature reserve. In 2006, after many years of dedicated work by volunteers and specialists, corn was once again ground in Stotfold Mill. The Nature Reserve was officially opened in June 2011. (Stotfold Mill).
Blackhorse, Norton, Radwell and Stotfold Mill Operating Capacity:
The mills on this stretch of the Ivel operated for at least 900 years and were central to the rural economy. The mills relied on a constant flow of water to make staple foodstuff out of local grain for local people all year round.
With reference to Table 1, both Radwell mill and Stotfold mill are of a size to run 2 stones @ c.15 Hp which required c. 400 l/sec. 12 It is probable the river rarely had a flow like this, but that is the reason for Radwell Mill pond, which has a reserve capacity of about 7 Ml. If the incoming flow was at least 165 l/sec or 14 Ml/day the miller would be able to run at full power for 8 hours without exhausting the reserve, and it would have refilled before work started the next day.
Stotfold Mill has a much smaller reserve, and it takes about 1 1/2 hours for water to travel between them, so if both mills started work at about the same time the slug of water from Radwell would be arriving just as Stotfold’s own reserve was running out. Both mills could work the same hours and were both dependent on a flow equivalent to about 14 Ml/day at Radwell.
Same as Radwell or Stotfold, Norton Mill had an overshot wheel with about the same fall but was much narrower and was probably only capable of running one stone. Nevertheless, this would still have required a continuous flow of at least 7 Ml/day which is entirely possible because the springs at Nortonbury were also a very active source, A Garden City document of 1904 says: Constant springs are found at Nortonbury and Baldock. (Garden City Collection -lbm3058-7-14). Norton Mill has quite a large pond, and it was probably linked to the old moat and pond at Nortonbury Farmhouse which today has almost completely gone, but it was a substantial body of water. It is entirely reasonable to think Nortonbury Springs and Ivel Springs combined could have supplied 7 – 10 Ml/day to Norton Mill.
Blackhorse mill had much less fall than the others, and likely had a breastshot or undershot wheel so it probably wasn’t very efficient which explains why it was the first to fall into disuse as a mill in the middle of the 19th Century. As industrialisation increased through the late 19th century even the most efficient local mills lost their competitiveness.
A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Bygrave pp 211-217. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Norton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Radwell pp 244-247. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
The Gentleman’s Magazine vol. 13, Poetical Essays; May 1743 p. 267
Garden City Collection (2007.60.9) photos
Garden City Collection (lbm3058-7-14) photos
Garden City Collection LBM3000.47
UK census records 1851
UK census records1881
UK census records 1891
UK census records 1901
UK census records 1911