A brief history
The earliest surviving reference to our mill is in the Domesday Book – a survey of England in 1086 CE. It’s possible there was a mill here as far back as Roman times (c200 – 400 CE), but any evidence of this will be underneath the mill and the bridge. Our current building is over 200 years old.
The Heyday of the Mill
The mill was always owned by the Lord of the Manor. Originally this was the King of England, as Eling was a royal manor. In the 1200s, King John sold the manor and mill. They went through various hands until 1382 CE, when they were purchased by the Bishop of Winchester. He gave them to a school he was founding as a source of income. The school – the famous public school Winchester College – owned the mill from 1382 to 1975 CE, though they didn’t run it directly, but leased it out on long leases.
Some of the grain for milling was from local farms, but more of it came from the Eastern side of England and travelled several hundred miles round the coast by barge. When the tide was in, the barges could sail right up to the mill. Running both waterwheels and all four sets of stones at full speed for both tides, the mill’s maximum output would have been about 4 tonnes of flour in a day.
Tide mills were often rebuilt every two or three hundred years. We don’t know exactly when the first mill was built, but it has been rebuilt many times over the years, the last being in the 1770s when it and the bridge were completely rebuilt after a series of storms and floods.
The milling machinery was last replaced in 1892 CE. The old, wooden undershot wheels were replaced with cast iron Poncelet wheels which were more efficient. The main gearing was also replaced with cast iron axles and gears. It still has the same style of parts working the same way as they have done for centuries.
The end of the Mill...almost
The invention of steam power plus cheaper imported grain arriving in the mid-1800s resulted in steam-powered roller mills in docks across the country to mill grain from Canada and elsewhere. Small mills using millstones (whether tidal, wind or river-powered) found it very difficult to compete. Eling, like many others, struggled on by producing animal feed. By 1936 CE the machinery was broken and the last miller was using a diesel engine to power the machinery. In 1946 CE production in Eling Tide Mill came to a stop. The mill was no longer used, though it remained a local landmark.
In 1975 the mill was bought by New Forest District Council who, working with dedicated volunteers and professionals, began to restore it as a site of industrial archaeological importance. Eling Tide Mill Trust was established to oversee the final phase of the restoration and ran the mill as a working museum once it opened in 1980. In 2009 the mill, along with the nearby heritage centre and local outdoor spaces Goatee Beach and Bartley Water, became part of the Eling Experience, run by Totton & Eling Town Council. The Eling Experience gives visitors the opportunity to experience a working historic mill, discover the mill’s story and how tidal power could be used in the future, and explore our wildlife and find out why our local habitats are so important.
The mill originally had two waterwheels, which each drove two sets of millstones. One waterwheel has been restored, along with one set of millstones. As you would expect with working machinery, visitors can view from a safe distance. Our unrestored millstones are still in place, giving visitors the chance to have a close view of identical machinery which is static and safe.