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 pair of cottages. The windmill was built in 1803 and the steam mill was added in 1811. An auctioneer’s catalogue shows that the mill house and most of the other buildings were in place by 1849. The two cottages were replaced by a more substantial pair later in the nineteenth century when new stabling was added and other improvements were made.
The milling business closed in 1935 and the site was sold for development. In 1937, Essex County Council made an order preventing the demolition of the windmill but not the other buildings. In 1940, they purchased the windmill and a very small area of land surrounding it from the developer. The engine from the steam plant was removed to South West Essex Technical College and has long since disappeared.
All the buildings on the site fell into disrepair though, in the late 1940s, work was undertaken to repair the windmill. The planned development of the site did not take place and, in 1955, the windmill was listed as Grade II* on List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. In 1960, Essex County Council purchased the land and demolished the derelict buildings, leaving just the windmill standing in the field as we know it today.
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. This 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 exposed 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 other work to ensure its preservation. The history of the engine has been researched and an electronic model constructed.
The volunteer archaeology group still meets once a month. If you would like further information, please email
Revised 18 October 2020