The Old Mill House
The Domesday Book records that there was one mill in Witham in 1086. This would have been located on the River Brain, probably here. The mill was lost in the 19th century although a new extension to the house has been added in the style of the original mill building.
The house occupies a large plot of land next to the River Brain and has the mill pond to the front and there are a number of trees bordering the road providing an important backdrop to the river and the ancient green of Chipping Hill. A Grade II listed brick bridge takes the road over the river to Chipping Hill where there was originally a ford.
The rest of the lands of the house border the river upstream forming gardens opposite the town’s River Walk. A very important feature of the Witham. The frontage to Powers Hall End also sits opposite the next part of the River Walk towards Armond Road.
Robert Bretnall owned Chipping Hill Mill in the 19th century, which had been the manorial mill for Witham. He was a very prosperous miller and flour was taken by waggon and horses as far away as Colchester. The mill, which stood next to the house (the double arches through which the water flowed beneath the mill still exist under the new extension), was burned down in both 1775 and 1882 but was not rebuilt the second time. At the time of the second fire, it had two pairs of stones worked by water and two by a 6 horsepower steam engine.
The history of the mill is tied up with that of Witham Place which was situated behind the Tudor Wall further up Powers Hall End. Both the mill and the mansion were owned by members of the Bretnall family at various times, but the mansion has vanished leaving very little trace.
The Mill House remained as a private residence until the 1980s when it became empty. By September 1991 its rapid deterioration had left it derelict. It came into the hands of property developers who attempted to develop the lands by the river, which did not succeed. Neither the County Council nor the District Council felt the house was sufficiently important to warrant listing.
Although completely derelict The Mill House was subsequently sold as a private residence to children’s author Kes Gray who, after refurbishing the house decided to take up the challenge and rebuild the mill. Work started in 2000 using old photographs of the mill as a guide. The building was completed and has since been sold to a new owner-occupier.
Sources: The Origins of Witham, Maria Medlicott; D. A. Dove; Some Essex Watermills, Harvey Benham; Images of Witham, Janet Gyford; Witham & Countryside Society; Maurice Smith; and Essex Chronicle.
The old postcard image below shows the Mill House and bridge before the area was shielded by trees with the ford clearly visible.