Up the Creek - South Coast
Eling Tide Mill, Southampton Water
The only surviving tide water mill that harnesses the power of the tide to grind wheat into wholemeal flour in the United Kingdom still working and in production. Situated on the edge of Southampton Water beside the renowned New Forest, there has been a mill on the site for over 900 years, although it has had to be rebuilt several times, with the current building being some 220 years old. It is not known when the Mill was first built, but the earliest surviving reference to it is in the Doomsday Book - a survey of all England - in 1086 AD. It is possible that it may even go back to Roman times (c.200-400 AD), but any evidence of this will be underneath the Mill which of course is now a dam. The Mill was always owned by the Lord of the Manor of Eling, and originally this was the King of England as Eling was a royal manor. In the early 1200s, however, the manor and Mill were sold off by King John. They went through various hands until 1382 AD, when the title, and with it the Mill - was purchased by the Bishop of Winchester and given to a school he was founding (along with many other properties) to be a source of income. This school - Winchester College, the famous public school - owned the Mill from 1382 to 1975 AD, though they did not run it directly, but rather leased it out on long leases. Although a very small operation by today's standards, in the past it was not just a small local business. While some of the grain for milling was from local farms, more used to be brought several hundred miles round the coast in barges from the Eastern side of England; when the tide was in, the barges could be sailed up Southampton Water, into Eling Creek, and right up to the Mill. Maximum possible output, running both waterwheels and all four sets of stones at full speed for both tides, would have been about 4 tonnes of flour per day. The Mill has had to be rebuilt many times over the centuries, the last time being in the 1770s when it (and the dam) were completely rebuilt after a bad series of storms and floods. The current building is therefore some 220 years old, although it has been on the same site and always a tidal powered flour mill for at least 920 years. The milling machinery was last replaced in 1892 AD, when the old wooden undershot wheels and main gearing were replaced by cast iron Poncelet-type wheels (which increased the efficiency) and cast iron axles and gears. Basically, though, it still has the same parts working the same way as it always did. The market for all of the small, millstone-using mills (whether tidal, wind or river powered) was destroyed in this country about a hundred years ago by the large, steam-powered roller mills built at the docks to mill imported grain from Canada, and in England all of these small mills failed and closed in the first half of the century. Eling struggled on just doing animal feed, as did many other millstone-using flour mills, but by 1936 all of the tidal powered machinery had broken down and there was no money left to fix it. For ten years the last miller carried on with a small diesel engine running the animal feed machinery, but the mill was abandoned in 1946 and just left to rot until 1975. In 1975 the Mill was bought by New Forest District Council (the local government body) who began work to save it from collapse, and to restore it as a site of some industrial archaeological importance. Eling Tide Mill Trust was then set up to oversee the final phase of the restoration, and to administer the Mill as a working mill/museum after the Mill reopened in 1980 as both a working mill, and a museum. It is, in fact, one of only two productive tide mills known in the entire world, and the only one producing what it was built to produce. The mill originally had two waterwheels, each driving two sets of millstones. One wheel with one set of millstones has been restored and the other side left un-restored so that people can see the machinery without modern safety screens around it.
To get there, passage to the very top of Southampton Water past the Container terminals then over to the West side (approaching Eling Great Marsh) following through the Port & Starboard piles up the Eling Channel. Should you wish you may drop anchor before entering the Eling Basin but be adventurous and enter the Basin. Moor either alongside at the Eling Sailing Club’s pontoon by the Mill itself (room only for about one vessel), pick up an unattended buoy or drop anchor. Dinghy ashore of course. Apart from the Tide Mill itself which is the main reason for the visit, try the Anchor pub for the best meals and beers in the area. There’s not much of interest in the village itself apart from the old cottages but the surrounding area is well worth a stroll. Cross the Toll Bridge (still in use) to view the upper reaches of Southampton Waters. The wildlife by the water is second to none especially with the Great Marsh so near. There’s a Board and a Stone Plaque either side of the Tide Mill Car Park giving details of interests in the area. Try Eling Sailing Club next to the Mill where visitors are very welcome for a real ale and light lunches.