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August 5, 2015 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Apley archives – a short history of Linley Brook mills

Smithies Mill, from Stephen Dewhirst

Smithies Mill, from Stephen Dewhirst

Willey furnace pool, from Stephen Dewhirst

Willey furnace pool, from Stephen Dewhirst

In the course of my ongoing Apley Estate archive project, I met Stephen Dewhirst at one of our Apley Archive Exhibitions in The Creamery Café at Apley Farm Shop. I’ve mentioned him in past blogs, for example after he took Gavin & I on a guided industrial archaeology walk around Linley Station, Forge & Bridge Cottages, which at the time were our 3 holiday cottages.

Recently, he sent me a detailed article for the Broseley Local History Society about the history of Linley Brook mills, which he has very kindly summarised below. Linley Station House is on the Apley Estate but the Willey furnace pool is on the neighbouring Willey Estate – ie. the area he’s writing about is right on the border between the 2 estates.

Linley Brook rises south of Barrow Church falling 150m over its 8km length flowing into the Severn at what is now called Apley Forge. Along the brook and its tributaries there were a total of 8 sites where water was used to power mills and forges.

The first downstream water features are the three Willey Pools. They are associated with the picturesque landscaping of Willey Park and the nearby Hall. By the dam of the lower pool was the short lived Harpers Mill, which was in use during the 17th century.

Willey Furnace operated from the early 1600s until 1774. It was fuelled by charcoal and used ironstone from Shirlett and limestone from Benthall to make pig iron. During its long life it was operated by various well known ironmasters the last being ‘Iron Mad’ John Wilkinson.

Upper Smithies mill is the only site where the mill still stands. Built as a corn mill in the early 17th century it finally operated as a sawmill for the Willey estate. Just downstream was Lower Smithies mill which in the 17th century may have been a forge. Between 1783 and 1842 it was used, along with the Upper Mill, to grind materials for Caughley China Works

An insubstantial mill stood on a small tributary at Bould. This operated in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Later Lord Forester installed a RAM pump made by John Blake to supply water to Bould Farm. This still remains but is out of use.

Linley Mill was downstream of the Broseley to Bridgnorth Road. Another small mill it was run as a corn mill and smallholding. The mill was in use by 1639, the last miller being Thomas Grinelley who rented the mill in the 1840s prior to it being closed.

Frog Mill is said to have been the parish corn mill for Astley Abbotts, first being recorded in 1291. Also run as a smallholding it went out of use in the late 19th century when small mills could not compete with the new larger industrial roller mills. In 1756 it was described as ‘the mill, with a messuage, barn, stable, garden and orchard with 14 acres of land for 30 years at a rent of £19 per annum’.

In the mid 18th Century, close to the river Severn, three forges were built by Jesson and Wright to make use of their patented method of converting cast iron into malleable wrought iron. These took advantage of the river, the cast iron coming from the furnaces of the Coalbrookdale coalfield, the finished blooms being transported downriver to be converted into iron goods. The middle forge was on the site of a much earlier Waulk or fulling mill which was used to finish woollen cloth. The lower forge replaced Needhams mill which may have ground corn. On such a small stream water to drive the machinery was always in short supply so they installed a Boulton and Watt steam engine in 1779. This pumped water back from the river to the lower forge dam. In 1815 the forges had become outdated so the machinery was auctioned off and the valley fell silent again. Later the lower forge dam was re-used to power two RAM pumps to supply water to Apley Hall. These still remain but were superseded in the early 20th century when main water was laid on to the hall.”

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