Weymouth Tidal Mill

Notes on an early Tidal Mill at Weymouth, Dorset

(Research by Richard Crumbleholme, Weymouth from 1993)

Introduction :

The object of this research is to investigate the existence of an early tidal mill located with a dam (& causeway) in the Weymouth backwater area. The present Marsh Road  aligns with a former embankment which appears to have developed from an earlier marsh wall.Tidal Mills require a dam to trap the tide in order to operate, this dam often also served as a causeway across the surrounding low lying land. As will be seen, the case for such a causeway in this location leading to Weymouth (a bridge from Melcombe Regis did not exist until 1571) is also a strong one.

Location - OS ref approx SY 673 787   [Lat 50.6070 - Long -2.4635] = mid point of present Marsh Road.

Google Maps : 

Tidal Mill - probable site

Records in chronological order :

 a) In 988, Ethelred II granted to his minster Atsere a certain part of land in the place called by its inhabitants Wyck (Wyke Regis)[i] .This charter which still exists and describes the Wyck boundaries as follows :


                                    From the West Sea to Saggeloth

                                    from Saggeloth to Muleditch

                                    from Blackstone to Goldcroft

                                    from Soreditch to Lodmore

                                    and from Lodmore to the East Sea

Comment : Jack West & Maureen Boddy hint at the Muleditch mentioned could possibly be millditch although  its location is not clear. However as the charter relates to Wyke Regis, the lands would no doubt have been on the Waimouth (Weymouth) side of the River Wey. Whether Blackstone  is the later named Black Rock  (the Nothe) is uncertain. Tidal mills with dams (see later) are unknown this early although the possible millditch could be a reference to a primitive mill set perhaps in a channel on the river bank

The Doomsday  records of 1086 for Dorset mention some eight  Wai or Waia placenames - too many to all be along the banks of the River Wey. However, one is thought to be in the area of the Weymouth Marsh or Radipole lake as saltpans are listed. These were also mentioned in a grant made earlier in 934 by Athelstan and much later in a grant of 1665. Most water mills were listed in the Doomsday as a valuable source of revenue, so the above millditch possibility would unfortunately seem unlikely.

In 934 AD, King Athelstan granted 11,000 acres in Dorset to the Abbey at Middleton (Milton Abbas). Amongst this was ...............and all of the water within the shore of Weymouth, and half the river at Weymouth out to sea, and 12 acres for the weir and the keeper of the weir, and 3 thegns in Sussex and a salthouse by the weir........

Forty monks from Glastonbury formed the first monastery whose income grew from vast herds of sheep.[ii] All this granted land stayed intact through the Domesday Survey and right up to the Dissolution of the Monastries during Henry VIII reign in 1537. Sir John Tregonwell bought the lands from the Crown and the list of lands is almost identical.

b) In 1260 there is a possible mention of the toll levied from the causeway of the tidal mill :

30d Dorset        Abbot of Cerne v Earl of Gloucester and others.  His men on a plea that the predecessors of said Abbot for time out of mind were (extiterit) in seizin taking toll (thealon) and other customs in the middle water which is called Wymuth between the port of Weymouth and land of said Abbot in Melcumbe[iii]

c) John Leyland visited south Dorset in 1538 and uniquely records Melcombe Regis as Miltoun. This again hints at a possible mill connection in its name derivation.[iv] 

Comment : A windmill was not built in Melcombe Regis until 1617 and the nearest conventional water mill was much further up the river Wey at Radipole. This derivation would seem unlikely. Could it have been confused with Milton Abbey ? (see a above)

d) Nearly thirty years later, shortly after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, a decree[v] was issued on 28th October 1564 in an attempt to end the long running dispute between Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. The third item of the decree is interesting :

1) That the Port of Weymouth shall be common to the freemen of both sides "to intermedle in mechandize.

2) The freemen of Melcombe shall have half the Petty Customs on Weymouth side, and the freemen of Weymouth shall have full liberty to buy and sell on Melcombe side.

3) The Freeman of Weymouth shall have half the cartage and rents of Watter Mill and of  the Cuniger in Melcombe Regis.

4) That the Bushellage and Head and Fee Fishes are to remain in possession of the Bailiffs of Weymouth. All this,  provided it does not cash with the Charter & Liberties of the Towns.

(Seal lost Mi 9)

These rules were quoted later in 1618 which seems strange as they were all swept away by the Act of Union in 1571.  

Comment : This record is somewhat confusing, it is not clear whether the 

cartage & mill rent is one item refering to a mill say in Weymouth whilst the cuniger (a rubbish ditch) was definately in Melcombe Regis . The cartage hints at a possible causeway with a toll being levied.

e) From a small court book of 1582/3[vi] there is evidence that the tenants within the borough of Weymouth were limited in the number of sheep or cattle that they could pasture upon the common and on the wall, by ancient custom.

Comment : Grazing animals on the wall is a fascinating record and suggests a large turfed embankment. Whether it is the marsh wall embankment is not certain although no other walls are obvious in any records found.

f) A conveyance[vii] of 12th June 1590 endorsed  The Deed concninge Channyns worcke records that Raynolds Channynge the elder, butcher, sold to his son Raynolds his moiety of a plat pece of grounde,  and the Armes of the Sea Milles thereon erected.

Comment : Of all records found to date, this would appear to offer the best proof the existence of a tidal mill on the Weymouth marsh area. When coupled to item (h) below (ie Channyns worcke) it would appear to confirm the location as well   (plack = small field) (flat piece of ground  - f/p confusion ?)  Original conveyance not seen = in Weymouth Museum collection ?

g) Report in 1604[viii] regarding the town ditch or coneyar ditch (now Lower Bond Street) into the backwater. There is also mention of a road passing through the bulwark near the same locality (wood bulwark or earthwork). This was the same road or track that runs towards ridgeway and with water both sides of same. Also mention of  a lagoon (saltwater lake) between road and beach. Charter of 1618 mentions a tidal mill in the coneyar ditch.

Comment : John Caddy did not give the reference for these - to be checked ! If a mill existed in the coneyar ditch - how did it function ?  was the lagoon refered to the tidal mill pond - coneyar ditch was a rubbish ditch on the edge of Melcombe hardly a healthy piece to have a mill ! Could there have been two mills - one in each town ?  (see conjectural sketch below)

h) The marsh "shall be left open for the sea to cover the same as heretofore 

............that by meanes thereof the Harbour may be cleansed, and that more water may be in the same" T Feb 19th 1635 (6) (The summer feed of the Marsh was let for £14 April 1st 1636. The Plan of admitting the tide seems however to have been given up on October 1st 1636, on granting a 7 years' lease pf the Marsh at £19 per annum.[ix]

i) A parchment bound small folio volume[x] mostly of law minutes, are one or two items c in 1643 connected with finance :  A memo that the rent of Caseway mill was £16 12s 6d and later there is a copy asking a Mr B Pitt to paye the same.

Comment :  Again a tantalising record ! - suggests a causeway on the mill dam.

j) In 1650 the Borough's minutes[xi] mention ......the marsh called Chaynes Work.

Comment : see (e) above.

k) A year later on 15th August 1651 [xii]...........whereas through decay of trade and wars, town Duties have much diminished and the outlay about soldiers, paving streets and  rebuilding the marsh wall destroyed in the siege has been great the Corporation are obliged to borrow £70 of Poor's money at interest. Rate not specified.

A month later on 29th September the same records note : Received 23s wheel money (arising from a tax or fine of 2d for every iron bound wheel each time a cart or waggon passes through the paved streets, imposed June 21st 1650).

Comment : See item (4) below - the Civil War in Weymouth ! A main causeway across into Weymouth would have had great strategic importance especially as the Chapel Fort was near by - hence the damage. If the wall had been merely a dam presumably it would not have suffered.

l) On 28th May 1666 [xiii]- An order is now made to mortgage the Marsh to the lender Capt G Strangeways for 99 years but redeemable at a year's warning.

m) It was during the Commonwealth [xiv] that first consideration was given to reclaiming land from the Backwater and Radipole Lake. as well as from the sea itself. The notion that the marsh to the west of Weymouth should lie open to permit free flow of harbour tides had been abandoned long before the war and a wall constructed across the outlet. This had been destroyed during the siege but in 1651 it was rebuilt four feet high, backed with blue clay to keep out the water. Two years later men were appointed ".......to view the ground overflown by the sea betwixt Melcombe & Radipole, whether the taking of it will not be a danger to the harbour" 

The town's merchants and sailing fraternity argued that the free movement of the tides in the harbour was vital, and should not be obstructed. (see g above also)

At a meeting[xv] of Merchants & Mariners, at a Hall, reasons were given against stopping the course of the water towards Radipole :

i)  "Yf the Indraught be stpped the Tide will have but little recourse in the Harbor by reason that the Tide doth crosse the Bay ......from the Bill......... to the White North, (White Nothe) soe that the harbor hath only the benefit of the last halfe ebb in the oswing (?) to fill it upp within the East & West Moones makeing full sea in the harbor and it not full sea at Portland before the Moone is south-east"

ii) "The Tide comeinge out of the Bay from the Northward, crossing the harbor, brings in soe much wash and sand .......... into the harbor mouth, that it will not be cleared without the Tide hath a free recourse as now it hath"......  "But twas.... conceived that if any of the ground bee taken in there must be the whole Channell left in the middle and bankt of both sides, so that the tide must have its full recourse as far up as Radipoll ...otherwise it will bee the destrucon of the harbor " Sept 3rd 1649.

The  idea that the Marsh also should lie open to the tide for the good of the Harbour had been given up, for the Marsh had been walled across. The wall having been destroyed in the seige (Cp p240) it is to be rebuilt four feet high, baked in blue clay "thite soe as to keepe out the water" for £60. The Marsh was then let for 7 years at £14 per annum; with liberty to crop it for 3 years with anything but oats. March 28th & July 23rd 1651.

The whole question was again considered in February 1663, when a Royal Commission was considering the reclamation of sea marshes. At a public meeting, it was agreed that to embank any of the flats between the bridge and Radipole would hinder the "indraught which scowreth the harbor ....... and soe destroy itt"

Although at the time the Corporation appeared to take no action to dispute a claim by the Crown to own all such marsh lands, in 1672 they authorized the payment of £2 to Mr Swaine of Blandford " for the defence of the Title of the Towne for the drowned lands belnging to the said Towne when Captain Yardley was Mayor "(ie 1663)

n) In 1663 : The Town being called upon to pay tithes on the Marsh to the Clergyman of Wyke, two witnesses depose to this having been done by Mr Jas Giear when tenant, but he dened it[xvi]

o)  On 13th March 1691, the borough recorded that the marsh wall had been destroyed through a great tempest, a thing unknown before. The repair cost the tenant Mr Theo Townson £57 so a year and a half's rent was forgiven him. (No mention of any other damage elsewhere [xvii].

p) March 7th, 1785 : J Dodge & Ric Samways do., do., for as much "of the lake above the Bridge as extends North from the end of the lower rails to the mouth of Chaffey's Bridge lake"  J Whicker do., do., for ten yards wide from the Bridge to the Mouth of the Marsh Lake.[xviii]

Evidence shown on maps :

1) William Simpson's map  True description of the situation of Waymouth and Melcombe Regis 1626 [xix] clearly shows a substantial marsh wall with two small river courses flowing from the marsh area behind.

2) After the Dutch destroyed part of the British navy in the Medway in 1667, it was realised that the Dutch (having a monopoly on map & chart making) knew more about the English coast than the English themselves! In 1681, Samuel Pepys as Secretary to the Navy instructed Capt Greenville Collins to make a  survey of the English coasts.

After a 7 year survey using the "Merlin" as a survey vessel, in 1693 he issued "Great Britain's Coasting Pilot" consisting of a series of 48 charts. A French version of the South Dorset area chart "Carte des Rades de Portland et de Weymouth" is interesting as a muraille (a high wall) is annotated  at the marsh wall site in the Weymouth backwater.

3) A further map of  "The Port of Weymouth & Melcombe Regis & part of ye Bay of Portland" surveyed by the Navy & the Masters of Trinity House in 1698[xx] also clearly shows a substantial wall "e" across the marsh area. This straddles a small river draining from the marsh area behind.

Map made in 1698

Made by Edmund Dummer, Capt Thomas Whitsham, Surveyor & Comm to HM Navy together with Capt James Conaway & Capt Will Craft Masters Trinity House. (British Library MS room St 3233 f 29b)

4) Old Roads of Dorset[xxi] refers to the old communication routes into Weymouth as opposed to its rival  in the Middle Ages the separate borough of Melcombe Regis across the river. There would thus seem to be good reason for a separate route to avoid the ferry crossing from the sandspit of Melcombe Regis (the first town bridge not being built until 1571). The layout of certain footpaths and modern roads suggests "that Weymouth was accessible via an old road that ran approximately by Field Barn on the west side of Radipole Lake, and into the town by a line now represented by Cromwell road."

At Radipole there was a Causeway Farm[xxii] that would appear to be on this old route and which perhaps took its name from the causeway over which this old road entered Weymouth.  Causeway Farm was a rallying point for the Royalists during the Civil War and the post war records  show that the marsh wall suffered badly during the various engagements. Part of this old route is now interestingly called Cromwell Road. Across from the marsh causeway on the high ground behind the High Street (the present Chapelhay area of Weymouth) lay one of the major forts in the local conflict - the Chapel Fort.

During the conflict on Sunday 16th February 1645,[xxiii] William Sydenham suddenly began to feel more confident ..........ventured out of Melcombe Regis and succeeded in routing a troop of Royalists cavalry near Radipole, killing some and capturing 45 prisoners and 80 horses. They "chased the little remnant that remained up to the gates of Weymouth".  The mention of gates perhaps refers to those that would have probably existed on the causeway across the marsh.

5)  Map of Portland & Weymouth 1724 by G Van Keulen[xxiv]  - from Le Nouveau et Grand Illuminant Flambleau de la Mer. This map shows a rather distorted Portland and the windmill in Melcombe Regis. The Weymouth Wall is show on the line of the marsh wall and is annotated as such.

6) The Tithe Apportionment Map of 1841[xxv] . This shows a large embankment with the now reclaimed marsh fields behind. Water courses are also shown and some early buildings at the southern (Weymouth) end of the present Marsh Road. Marsh Road developed when ??

Recent developments  :

Westham bridge (in reality a dam) was built in 1921 rendered an old dam of 1872 redundant. The latter had been designed by John Coode (engineer Portland breakwater) to maintain water levels in the higher reaches f the backwater to avoid mud odours. Old dam was just south of new bridge - probably finally removed by major dredging operations in 1996.

North quay was constructed from about 1840 and further extended in 1871 & 1883 to finally join the High Street with Newstead Road. The railway to Portland was constructed in 1863 with a new embankment being constructed across the marsh directly behind the old marsh wall.

Within living memory[xxvi] the Wey's tide race was such that if a schooner coming alongside missed her moorings, she would be swirled violently away and cast ashore 400 yards up or downstream on the opposite bank. Sea going vessels were capsized and strong men drowned by the force of tide alone.

The gas house & gasometers were given the go ahead in a lease granted to the colliery owner and MP for the Borough William Burdon in 1834 on a site known as Littlefield.

 Hutchins (p144) notes that the difference between high and low tides is about 7 feet at spring tides. An extensive lake above the town receives at spring tides a vast body of water which at ebb passes through the harbour with such rapidity as to carry off obstructions.

The above suggested mode of operation allows the mill to be worked with both incoming (rising) and  outgoing (falling) tides. 

Tidemills in England & Wales : 

In a paper given by the late Prof W E Minchinton to the International Molinological Society (TIMS) in September 1977 entitled “Tidemills of England & Wales”, he identified two tide mills in the Weymouth area : (his refs)

110 : Melcombe Regis : Henry J Moule - Weymouth & Melcombe Regis (Weymouth) 1883 page 9.

111 : Weymouth : Moule page 101.

In his map below, it is interesting to see that these two mills operated with a tidal range of 6-8 feet and that, unsurprisingly, numerous tide mills have been recorded in areas of greater tidal range.


Footnotes :

[i] M Boddy & J West, Weymouth An Illustrated History (City: Dovecote, 1983) p 13

[ii] Wansbrough  R,  The Tale of Milton Abbas (Dorset Pub Company 1974) p32. Mention made of the lands in Athelstan's charter being  translated by A J Robertson MA Phd from Anglo Saxon Charters (p91-2)

[iii] Dorset Records (DCM) Roll 166 - Easter 44 Henry III 1260

[iv] Eric Ricketts, Buildings of Old Weymouth (Weymouth: Longmans, 1976), p140.

[v] Agreement of 1564 embodied in an Exchequer Decree (Sherren Papers No 43, Weymouth Museum archives).  A letter patent of June 23rd 1618 (in Latin & English) refers to the 1564 decree as being lost and quotes the above. Perhaps the decree was located again after 1618.

[vi] Sherren Papers No 98,  Royal manor of Weymouth, Wareham, Pimperne, & Wyke Regis, Weymouth Museum Archives. This extract appears in More Dorset Studies, M.Weinstock, Longman  1953 ?

[vii] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth: 1883), IV 33a p101.

[viii] From notes by John Caddy (FOWM) given to author. Researched from Weymouth Museum archives (no references given).

[ix] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth: 1883), p177 VI 102 Orders Cp 152

[x] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth: 1883), V 48 .1.& 8

[xi] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth: 1883) III  p118.

[xii] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth, 1883) V  p52.

[xiii] Moule, Charters of Weymouth (Weymouth: 1883) V p61.

[xiv] M Boddy & J West, Weymouth - An Illustrated History ( Dovecote, 1983), p51 - 2.

[xv] Moule H J  Descriptive catalogue of the Charters, minutes books etc of Weymouth p 201 VII  40 Orders (Eng W & M R)

[xvi] Moule H J  Descriptive catalogue of the Charters, minutes books etc of Weymouth VI 129 Orders (Eng W & M R) p186

 [xvii] Moule H J  Descriptive catalogue of the Charters, minutes books etc of Weymouth VI 129 Orders (Eng W & M R) p186

[xviii] Moule H J  Descriptive catalogue of the Charters, minutes books etc of Weymouth VI 131 Minutes (Eng W & M R) p189

[xix] Chart of the south coast of England, Portland Bill & Weymouth. (coloured). Original on vellum 89 x 58.5cm , scale approx 1: 22,000 held at National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (ref G223:2/91)  William Simpson 1624  (35mm slide & enlarged photograph obtained by author)

[xx] Survey of the Ports of SW England from Dover to Lands End. Delinerated in July & August 1698. By Edm. Dummer, Capt Thomas Whitsham, Surveyor & Comm to HM Navy together with Capt James Conaway & Capt Will Craft Masters Trinity House. (British Library MS room St 3233 f 29b)  [ sketch copy  RC 1992]

Weymouth & Melcombe Regis stands upon a small fresh from the land eastward of the Bill & Road of Portland. But here tydes rise no more than 7ft or thereabouts alike uncertain as at the two foregoing places. And have not more than 3ft water in the entrance to the harbour which to ado no more impediments that preclude entirely all thoughts of improvement for the Navy. "Incapable of improvement".

[xxi] Ronald Good M.A., Old Roads of Dorset (Bournemouth: Commin Ltd, 1966) p 75.

[xxii] M Boddy & J West, Weymout An Illustrated History ( Dovecote Press, 1983), p23 & 44.

[xxiii] M Vine, The Crabchurch Conspiracy : Weymouth 1645 (Wey Garrison, 1995), p 24.

[xxiv]  Map by G Van Keulen 1724.  Author RC saw  this map in a Dorchester map shop priced at £130 in 1997. Have not seen elsewhere to date.

[xxv] Tithe Map surveyed by John Tapperall  27/4/1841, Manors of Wyke Regis & Weymouth. Held at CRO  Dorchester (traced RC 1992)

[xxvi]  C Payne,  Dorset Harbours, 1953,  p64.  

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