A Visit to House Mill, Three Mills Island
The last time I had been into the House Mill – apart maybe for a tea in the cafe there – was back in 2014, when I led an EFOG walk from Stratford to Trinity Buoy Wharf, by the Thames. (here)
This return visit was arranged by Eleanor, who works at the Mill as a voluntary guide. So, on a relatively sunny and relatively warm Sunday 17th June we met Eleanor by the House Mill, in the complex known as Three Mills at Bromley-by-Bow. Including Eleanor, there were nine EFOG members, only two of whom had been on the previous visit.
Eleanor began by taking us to an open area between the Lee Navigation and an arm of the River Lea, from where we had a view of Three Mills two remaining mills – House Mill and Clock Mill. It is somewhat uncertain exactly where the third mill was situated, but at one time there would probably been a lot of mills dotted about. Not too far away, indeed, is Pudding Mill Lane, where it is known that a windmill stood – which looked like a pudding…
House Mill and Clock Mill, however, are not windmills but are tide mills. That is to say, they harness the power of the river tides to turn water-wheels to provide power to do all the heavy jobs a mill is designed for. Both mills have been used in the production of gin for London’s prolific gin-drinking times in the 18th and 19th centuries, the House Mill continuing in production until it was bombed in 1941 and Clock Mill up until 1952. Prior to the gin-making, bread was produced and the mills may have even been used in the production of gunpowder at some time in their histories.
Whereas Clock Mill – with its twin conical cowls which were used in the drying process – is now a school, the House Mill is under the care of the House Mill Trust, and is on the National Heritage List for England as a Grade 1 listed building. There is a nice little cafe in an adjacent building – which would have been the miller’s house – and a pleasant garden area at the rear.
Entering the building by way of the cafe, we began the tour. There are, I believe, three floors, plus an attic area, all of which were used in the milling process. Thus there are numerous stairways to negotiate, plus some narrow and low doorways, and much of the building is of wooden construction. All of these mills, the miller’s house and the adjacent customs-house building, are – remarkably – built on an artificial island. The River Lea here is a complex system of channels – the Bow Back Rivers – and would have been exceptionally marshy. This is a wonderful example of land reclamation, but the Lea – London’s “second” river, as it is sometimes known – has a big tide rise-and-fall here, and so apart from the generally damp condition anyway, is prone to frequent flooding. What with the stairs and doorways, wooden beams and mill-mechanisms, even rotting floorboards presented something of a hazard, but all were negotiated safely, and Eleanor’s information was full of interest.
The group spent about one-and-a-half hours on the tour – more than is usual I understand – but there was no follow-up group to hurry us along so we were able to really appreciate the excellent guide to the wonderful building.
Some of our group had pre-ordered food, so stayed to eat it in the cafe or the garden, whereas Trevor and I, fancying a walk, strolled (or paced) on past Bow Locks, leaving the Lee Navigation to channel through to Limehouse Basin, and alongside the River Lea to lunch at Cody Dock, about a mile south. (here)
Paul Ferris, 18th June, 2018
Eleanor, Fred, Ken, Lynne, Marilyn, Maz, Paul, Peter, Trevor