Archaeology at the Mill site
The site once comprised sixteen buildings including the windmill, a steam mill, a range of ancillary buildings, a large mill house and a second house that was converted into two cottages. The windmill was built in 1803 and the steam mill was added in 1812. An auctioneer’s catalogue shows that the houses and most of the other buildings were in place by 1849.
The milling business closed in 1935 and the buildings and land were eventually purchased by Essex County Council in 1940. Their intention was to demolish the buildings, including the Mill, and develop the site for housing. The engine from the steam plant was removed to South West Essex Technical College and has long since disappeared.
A public outcry prevented the demolition, though the buildings fell into disrepair and became unsafe. Around 1960, some structural repairs were undertaken to ensure the Mill was safe, though the Mill House and outbuildings were demolished.
The archaeology of the site was undertaken by a team of volunteers led by Paul Sainsbury. The first task was the excavation of the site of the former Mill House. The revealed a large basement area including a sandstone sink, a recess for a kitchen range, a wine cellar and a pastry oven. A flowery Victorian toilet pan and several colourful ceramic tiles were amongst the many finds.
The team then moved to exposing the remains of the other buildings, the foundations of which enabled precision mapping and electronic reconstructions of the whole site, filling many of the gaps in the knowledge acquired from historic documents and photographs.
By far the greatest find was the discovery of the foundations of the former steam plant, from which the engine had been removed around 1940. The engine had been manufactured by Matthew Boulton and James Watt at Boulton’s Soho factory in Birmingham. Its destruction was a tragedy, though a sister engine survives and is on display in the Science Museum. Notwithstanding the loss of the engine, the team had uncovered the only known example of a steam plant foundation of its kind, leading to its professional recording and subsequent reburial to ensure its preservation. In the meantime, the history of the engine has been researched and an electronic model constructed.
The volunteer archaeology group still meets once a month. If you are interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org