Mendham Mill History

oldmillThere has been a watermill on this site in Mendham for over 1000 years – the 1086 Domesday Book records the mill. The current building dates from 1800 with later additions and ceased milling in the early 1930’s. An 1863 sluice gate under the building still controls the flow of water under the wheel. When installed (at the same time as the sluice) it was the largest wheel on the Waveney. There is a good history of Mendham Mill at the excellent Norfolk Mills website.

After milling ceased in 1932 the property was purchased for £1600 by Grace Philcox who spent £20,000 converting the main ‘factory’ part of the mill into a home. At a time when the average house price was £545 this was an enormous sum and the extravagance scandalized locals. The work was of excellent quality and has stood the test of time. She created further scandal some years later by running off with her chauffeur!

By 2006 the future of Mendham Mill was in doubt after it was acquired, along with its outbuildings and land, by a property development company. It might have been spilt up into a number of apartments with part of the land used for new housing. Instead, we bought the entire property in 2008 turning it back into a home while also creating five luxurious holiday cottages which make the most of this exceptional setting. We love this property and enjoy sharing this magical estate with our visitors.

Sir Alfred Munnings and Mendham Mill

The painter Sir Alfred Munnings was born in The Miller’s House in 1878.

Often regarded primarily as a sporting artist his paintings, particularly those including horses, have always been highly regarded and valued (the current auction record of $7.8 million was set in 2007). However, Munnings was inspired by the landscapes which surrounded him as he grew up here at Mendham Mill and some of his most famous paintings (including ‘The Path to the Orchard’ and ‘Stranded’) were not only painted while he was still living here but were also painted in the grounds of the Mill. His landscapes and even country fair and similar scenes show innovative use of colour and technique which defy categorization (some paintings are impressionistic in style but it would be wrong to label Munnings as being an ‘impressionist’).

In 1919 Munnings purchased Castle House, in Dedham – in the Stour valley on Suffolk’s border with Essex, not far from Flatford Mill, with its views made famous by John Constable. After his death, Sir Alfred’s widow transferred ownership of Castle House, its 40 acres of grounds and astonishing collection of Sir Alfred’s paintings to The Castle House Trust which is now home to the Munnings Museum. It is a 50 minute drive from Mendham Mill and well worth visiting. Links between Mendham Mill and the Munnings Museum are, once again, close: as well as being owner of Mendham Mill, James Johnston is also Chairman of the Castle House Trust.

Munnings was elected President of the Royal Academy of Art in 1944 and was knighted in the same year. He was an outspoken champion of realist, or representational art believing, for example, that ‘If you paint a tree – for God’s sake make it look like a tree…’ There is little doubt that the beauty of his childhood home shaped his approach to art. He loved Mendham Mill, especially the river and wrote extensively and passionately about it in his autobiography.

Memories of the River – Sir Alfred Munnings

My home was on a river. The Waveney, which divides Norfolk from Suffolk. Now, when I’m often far from it, my one desire is to find time, which I never can, to write about it browse back on the past, to picture its lovely mills, each in turn, and lastly one of the largest on the river – our mill where we lived……

Until I pass out I shall always long for the river and the warblers’ song going on and on, and now and then the wind through the willows turning the surface blue and purple. – Then comes the first breath of autumn, and the willows, still whiten, and the lines of the wooded horizons are dark and lowering, and the glory of the river-herbs is dying, and the long, decaying stalks of river-parsley lie yellow, straggling along the current, caught up by some standing rushy clump, sending the stream in wrinkles, and leaving eddies on either side……..

I lived to the hum of its grinding. The summer time, blue river and the yellow, flooded, roaring monster of winter, and all its happenings were part of our lives……..

What didn’t we do on that peaceful river? When shoals of cut water-weed lay against ‘the rack’ as we called it, which stretched across from bank to bank above the weir and kept all floating weed from going down to the mill, we fished for perch from that old boat gazing down into the dark amber depths as the worm swung in the current below. We fished for roach and dace, we found moorhens’ nests with their eggs, and in the reeds, small nests of reed warblers. Their continual song was a background to our frolics and adventures.