Mount Bures Community Web Site
Cambridge Mill (Map Ref No1)


Perhaps as early as the Saxon era, a mill was in operation on the Cambridge Brook in Craigs Lane.
The Domesday survey suggests its presence.

This mill was probably the one from which St Johns Abbey, Colchester received 13s 4d a year as a gift by Jordan de Sackville.

Craigs Lane was the ideal location for a water mill as there is a good rapid flow of water along the brook.

The stream, in its normal state of flow, would have generated insufficient force or consequently head of water to drive a normal mill wheel. It has been suggested that the Saxons used an undershot mill in the first instance. With an undershot mill, the water wheel either lies horizontally (see Tamworth Mill below) or vertically in the water. The shaft rotates the grinding wheel at the other end.
The mill stones were often no more than eighteen inches in diameter and ground very slowly. One revolution of the water wheel only produced one revolution of the stone.
This type of mill was only for use in minor streams.

1871 mill Picture left- Example of undershot mill. This was excavated at Tamworth in 1971 and radiocarbon dates it back to the mid eight century.

Later they may have tried damming the water to increase its head and force to drive a more efficient wheel.

craigs lane
craigs lane
This evidence is "damming" still visible, the remains of a mill dam are still apparent.
On the photograph, look directly above the railings.
There you will see a long, low, tree covered mound which was the embankment.

The Colchester Archaeological Group cut a section through this mound and concluded from their findings that "the mound was built as a dam across the valley of the brook in order to hold back sufficient water to drive a small mill"
Once a dam had been constructed, a large embankment wall would have been required to hold back sufficient head of water to drive a normal milling wheel.
The picture below indicates the position of this possible storage lake and undershot wheel, now using a storage lake and dam

mill diagram mill diagram

The level of the water in the mill pond was maintained by wooden hatches fitted in two separate channels. When the wheel was stopped the water was diverted into the brook via a `spillway`. The overflow hatch (D) was lifted to achieve this. Well, in advance of starting work, the miller replaced the spillway hatch to build up a good head of water and thus store power for the mill. The sluice gate (C) was then raised allowing water to turn the wheel.

undershot mill
Artists impression of what the Mill may have looked like.

Unfortunately, no mills survive which is not surprising when you consider the hazards they were exposed to. Many stood on marshy ground which provided very poor foundations. Timber piles rotted away in water logged soils.
Rivers in flood also posed another danger. Vibration of the machinery tended to weaken the complete structure. Friction between the grinding wheels could at any time spark of a fire.

As time progressed two changes may have happened:-

With more productive farming methods there would have been a greater need for milling, Secondly the mill pond and dam walls may have been extended so that a more efficient overshot wheel could be used. This is the type we see today, instead of the water going under the wheel it pours over the top.
The dam wall would have to be in the region of 10 feet high, to allow water to pour over the top of the wheel. This height, gave a more efficient use of power, some 68% against 35% because it now utilised the weight of the water, not just its flow.

Ref to:-
The Watermill in the Manor of Mount Bures at 1086 by S Walker (199

NB:- Back to more modern times, during the 1950 and 60`s, Cambridge Brook was used extensively for the extraction of water for local farms.

Click here for link about hydraulic water pumps in Bures