River Lea, Bromley by Bow, London, UK
date 1776, 1817
era Georgian |
category Watermill |
ICE reference number HEW 2295
The two surviving mill buildings on this site are the largest tide mills in Britain. The area has been known as Three Mills since Medieval times, although the Domesday Survey of 1086 records eight mills. This is one of the most important industrial heritage sites in London, and perhaps the world. In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games, the Three Mills Partnership hopes to restore the water wheels and generate hydroelectricity on site.
The machinery for all the mills on this site was driven by the flow of Bow Creek, a tributary of the River Lea. The mills were used originally for grinding wheat flour for London bakeries, although in 1588 one of the (now gone) mills was producing gunpowder. From the 1730s, corn and other grains were milled both for the Royal Navy Victualling Office and for distilling gin.
In 1728, Peter Lefevre, a Huguenot, bought the Three Mills site and formed a partnership with Daniel Bisson and others. The mills worked with a local distillery, using the waste products to run a large piggery.
The two mills that remain are named the House Mill and the Clock Mill. The third mill was a windmill that fell into disuse around 1840. Daniel Bisson built the House Mill in 1776, on the site of an earlier mill and between two miller's houses. The building has five storeys, two within the twin-ridged roof.
The south wall of House Mill is brick and the north wall is timber-framed, clad in weather board. The timber ground floor rests on cast iron beams spanning the mill race. The first and second floors comprise timber beams aligned north/south supported by cast iron columns. The third and fourth floors are constructed entirely from timber — posts, beams and boards.
House MIll was powered by four undershot water wheels, three of 6.1m diameter and one of 5.8m diameter. These wheels drove two rows of millstones, one of eight pairs and one of four pairs. The mill operated until 1941.
The adjacent Miller's House was destroyed during the Blitz of the 1940s (World War II), and demolished in the late 1950s. The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust acquired the mill in 1985, carrying out extensive refurbishment from 1989 and reconstructing the Miller's House in 1993-4. The European Union funded the work, which earned a Civic Trust Commendation for outstanding architecture in 1996. The mill now has Grade I listed status, and is open for guided tours in summer.
The Clock Mill, opposite House Mill, was rebuilt by the MP and industrialist Philip Metcalfe in 1817. The only original part remaining is the elaborate clock tower at the west end. The newer building is 24.4m long and has five storeys. The structure is stock brick with a slate roof and weatherboarded lucam on the top storey. There is an iron wall crane on the south wall, and two conical kiln roofs at the south west corner. The interior features timber beams and floor boards supported on circular cast iron columns.
Clock Mill was powered by three iron undershot water wheels, two of 6.1m diameter and one of 5.9m diameter. These wheels drove six pairs of millstones at 130 revolutions per minute. This mill operated until 1952. After the distillery closed, it was converted to offices, but is now disused.
When the mills were both operating in 1938, the site employed one millwright and four carpenters. During the daily 7-8 hours of tidal power, the water wheels ran at 16 revolutions per minute with a working head of 3.0-3.7m. This produced some 7-9kW to turn each millstone.
Iron water wheels: Fawcett & Co, Phoenix Foundry, Liverpool
Clockmaker (1753): Charles Penton, Moorfields