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Mill House

Water is finally flowing past Mill House as opposed to through it, following rebuilding works over the Summer for the first time since The Water Mill was demolished in 1939.

Mill house Poynings

A History of Manor Mill, Poynings

See you the little mill that clacks,
So busy by the brook.
It’s ground its corn, and paid its tax,
Ever since Doomsday Book.

From Puck’s Song – Rudyard Kipling

Poynings Mill History

This report has been prepared at the request of Mr. Kevin Thornton, owner of the Mill House, Mill Lane, Poynings, to establish its history and with the longer term view of perhaps restoring the old mill itself, which has now all but disappeared.

Description of The Site

Poynings is a small, scattered community, situated at the northern foot of the South Downs, a few miles to the north of Brighton. At one time it boasted two mills, but the other one, known as Spring Mill, only seems to have had a short life from about 1860 to some time in the 1870s, when it burned down, and now very little remains of it.

The site of Manor Mill (sometimes referred to as Poynings Mill) is situated to the north of the main part of the village of, and occupies a long, narrow plot, tapering slightly towards the end. Immediately to the south is the former mill pond, although this appears to be now silted up and overgrown. However, at the far end of the present garden (south) is the remains of a brick construction adjacent to a sluice gate, through which the stream continues to flow, from its source further south at the foot of the Downs.

Somewhat further along the garden stand the remains of the wheel pit of the old mill. This is of brick construction, and
although in a partially ruinous state, is perhaps the only extant evidence that a watermill once occupied this site. Within the pit are to be seen the rusting remains of the old water wheel. The course which the water from the mill would have followed has now been filled in. Modern Poynings Mill

Nearby stands a small brick building with a slate roof, currently used for the storage of garden furniture, but from photographic evidence, it once housed the pump for the mill, when it was converted to steam power, during the latter part of the 19th. Century.

The mill house, which stands at the northern edge of the site, is a Grade II listed building, of two storeys. It is of flint construction, with brick dressings and quoins, and has a half-hipped tiled roof. The date “1625” is carved into the lintel over the front door. On the south side of the house, is a projection, which, photographic evidence shows, is the point where the old mill was attached to the mill house.

Description of the Mill

Although the mill has all but disappeared, fortunately, photographs survive to give us some idea of what is once looked like. Even more fortunately, the mill was visited in 1939, when it was still standing, by Sydney Simmons (1901-1973), who made it his life’s work to visit and record as many mills (both water and wind) as he could. His description of the mill reads as follows:-

“Inspected 17-5-39

Undoubtedly a very ancient building, and probably one of the oldest watermills in Sussex. It is now in a very bad state of repair, and was already in a weakened condition when its working days were brought to a close in 1919.

A comparatively small mill, comprising two floors of tarred weatherboarding on a ground floor of brick. Its structural timbers are for the most part rotten, and it is ending its days peacefully as a store for discarded household effects and miscellaneous lumber.

The upper floor, which is partly formed by the steeply pitched tiled roof, contains some very old and time worn bins, whilst the middle floor which is entered by a door from the ground level on the east side, contains two pairs of stones by Hughes, the only modern touch being a flour bin by T & V Summers, of Gloster.

On this floor will be found a most interesting wooden crown wheel of the clasp arm type, which is most solid, iron bound and wedged in position on a slender and probably modern upright shaft of iron. The line shaft which engages with it by means of an all iron nut, has a pulley attached at the outer end which protrudes from the mill for use when auxiliary power was required, but the outbuilding which housed the steam engine has been demolished.

To gain access to the pit-room it is necessary to walk round the west side; the pit wheel is iron. The waterwheel was overshot: today only the arms remain. The watershaft is similar to that at Bolney.”

The History of the Mill & Its Owners

At the time of the Doomsday Survey of 1086, according to the Victoria County History, there were two mills in Poynings. Poynings came under the Rape of Lewes, which was held by William de Warrenne, and the manor was held from him by William son of Rainald, who was most likely Rainald de Poynings son of Reiner. The Poynings were an important family during the Middle Ages, and the barony of Poynings was created in 1337.

When Thomas de Poynings died in October, 1339, among his properties was “a water mill in the manor of Poynings, worth yearly 20 shillings and not more because of scarcity of water in summer time.”

During the years 1339 and 1369, it was recorded that the mills were idle during the summer through lack of water.

The manor stayed within the Poynings family until 1430, when Robert de Poynings died, leaving no male heir. His son, Richard, had pre-deceased him, and the manor passed to Richard’s daughter, Eleanor, who was married to Henry Percy, the heir to the Earl of Northumberland. It was to remain as part of the Northumberland estates, until 1531, when Henry, the 5th. Earl, mortgaged it to Sir Edward Seymour, and in 1535 it was conveyed to trustees for the use of the King (Henry VIII). In 1537, Henry granted the reversion of the manor to Sir Anthony Browne, who was King Henry’s standard bearer, and his wife, Alice, with remainder to his heirs male.

Apart from Poynings, the grant included Perching (in Edburton), Preston Poynings (in West Firle) Pangdean, Ashcombe, and Waldron, and included all messuages, lands, mills etc. within those manors.

Thus when Sir Anthony died in 1548, the manor passed to his son, also Sir Anthony Browne, who owned Battle Abbey and Cowdray Park, and was created Viscount Montague in 1554. The manor was to remain within the Montague family, until 1797, when the 9th. Viscount died, leaving nor heirs, and the estate reverted back to the Crown. However, in 1804, Elizabeth Mary Browne, the sister of the 8th. Viscount ( who had tragically drowned in the Rhine some years earlier) married William Stephen Poyntz, and they were granted a 31 year lease on the estate, but when that lapsed, it once again became Crown property.

During the Poyntz period of occupation, however, the mill seems to have been something of an exception, for in an agreement drawn up in 1826, whereby the Rector of Poynings (Samuel Holland) exchanged his glebe land with the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Woods Forest and Land Revenue, for some land nearer the church and rectory, on the map that accompanies it, the mill is shown as being “Property of the Crown.” The land Tax Records, however, show the landowner as being William Poyntz, although the documents do actually refer to “Mill Land”, so perhaps that meant the field on the other side of the road, which was known as Mill Field.

The first name we have come across that actually relates to the occupants of the mill, is that of Thomas Payne, who, according to the burial records, was the miller when he was buried in 1606.

The Land Tax Records show that in 1780 the mill was in the ownership of Lord Montague, and the miller was James Souch. The land was assessed at £10, and he was paying £2 tax. The following year, the land was reassessed at £15, and his payment duly rose to £3. A note in the Cowdray archive shows that his rent to the Cowdray Estate was £10 per year, although for some reason he received an allowance of £1 2s. 6d., so he in fact paid £8 17s. 6d. Possibly the balance was paid in kind.

From 1799-1801, the name of the miller is given as Diggens, in 1802 the name Thomas Souch appears, and then in 1803 it is Robert Loase. It is Robert Loase, who is mentioned in the
Defence Schedule of that year, whereby it is noted that he would be able to produce 30 sacks of wheat every 24 hours. However, in their book “The Watermills of Sussex”, Stidder and Smith comment – “With just 2-pairs of stones and an irregular water supply, this must have been some feat, and is probably wrong.” Poynings Mill in 1799

In 1804 the owner is shown to be The Treasury, and the following year William Poyntz becomes the owner, and it is his name that appears each year until the final Land Tax Assessment was made in 1832. However, as mentioned earlier, the Crown appears to have retained ownership over the mill, and as we shall see later, seemed to have a particularly special relationship with the Souch family.

From 1809 -1813, the miller was Jacob Caffyn, while from 1814-15 it was John Caffyn. The following year the miller was James Graimes, whose family was to be associated with the mill for the next half century.

In 1826, written into the agreement mentioned earlier between the Commissioners and Samuel Holland, are the following paragraphs:-
“subject to the interests therein of Thomas Souch of Poynings, who holds the same for and during his own life and also for and during the lives of his two children Mary Ann Souch and Thomas Souch, and the lives and life of the survivors of them.”

The document then goes on to say:-
“saving and reserving to His Majesty and his successors and his and their lessees and tenants and occupiers for the time being of the mill called Poynings Mill, the use of the water in the ponds, for the purpose of working the said mill, and also a right
of way for themselves and their servants and all workmen and others employed by them on foot and with horses carts and carriages across the north of the piece of land numbered 1 on the said plan for the purpose of repairing from time to time the said Pond head and otherwise preserving the water in the pond for use of the mill aforesaid.” Poynings Mill

It seems clear from this that the Souch family were effectively head lessees of the mill, although they had not worked it themselves for a quarter of a century.

The Census of 1841 tells us that the following people were living in the Mill House:-
James Graimes 60 Miller
Elizabeth Graimes 60
Charles Graimes 25
Ann Septima Graimes 15

At 25, one would have expected for Charles Graimes to have an occupation, but there may have been a reason he was unable to work. In the Census of 1881, he appears as an inmate in the Chailey Work House, although he must have been married at some point, for he is listed as being a widower.

In the Tithe Apportionment of 1843, the owner of the mill is stated as being Queen Victoria, and James Graimes, as well as occupying the mill, was also in possession of a number of fields around the village, amounting to just over 14 acres.

In the Census of 1851, the following were living at the mill:-


Name Age & Relationship
to Head of House Occupation
James Graimes 73 Head (Widower) Miller
Timothy Graimes 32 Son Miller
Elizabeth Graimes 35 Daughter in law
William Graimes 5
Sarah Coppard 15 Servant

Ten years later, the Graimes family were still in occupation:-



Age & Relationship
to Head of House


James Graimes

83 Head (Widower)


Timothy Graimes

48 Son


Elizabeth Graimes

49 Daughter in law

Louisa Graimes

15 Servant

General Servant

In an article that appeared in the Sussex Archaeological Collections in 1863 (Vol. XV P.54), about Poynings, written by the Rev. Thomas Agar Holland, the Rector, he wrote “…. at the other mill, lower down the stream, the dwelling house attached to which bears the date 1625 over the door, the original apparatus is not inaptly represented “clappering” in primitive, yet still efficient simplicity.”

By 1871, although still in the family, James Graimes must have passed away. Young James Hollingdale was probably the son of James Hollingdale, who appears as living at Mill Cottages in the 1841 Census, and was working as an Agricultural Labourer.



Age & Relationship
to Head of House


Timothy Graimes

48 Head


Elizabeth Graimes

49 Wife

James Hollingdale

Millers Servant

Shortly after this Census, saw the end of an era, with the ending of the Graimes’ tenure of the mill, for the 1874 Kelly’s Directory lists the miller as being Charles Tulley, although it is unlikely he worked it himself, for he is later listed as being the farmer of Manor and Hill Farms. This is born out by the Census of 1881, where the occupants are Joseph Cockerton and his wife, and his occupation is that of a “Journeyman Miller”, thus indicating that he was actually an employee.



Age & Relationship
to Head of House


Joseph Cockerton 26 Head Journeyman Miller
Sarah Cockerton 23 Wife

The 1882 edition of Kelly’s shows that Albert Hill was the miller, and he is also listed as being a shop keeper. The mill itself is noted as being of both water and steam. However, as we see in the 1891 Census, the Cockertons were still at the mill, so presumably Hill was trying to make a go of it, although his tenure did not last for very long, for in 1890 it appears back under the name of Charles Tulley.



Age & Relationship
to Head of House


Joseph Cockerton 36 Head Corn Miller
Sarah Cockerton 33 Wife

Edith Cockerton 3 Daughter
Arthur Cockerton 1 Son
Louisa Edwards 19 Boarder Chapel Teacher
Rhoda Pelling 13 General Servant
Thomas Nutley 20 Corn Miller

Although the Tulleys continued to be in possession of the mill site until the 1930s, it seems that the last miller was William Sayer, whose name appears on Land Tax Records in 1896 as occupying the mill, house and mill bay. However, his name is crossed off the schedule for 1899/1900, indicating that the mill ceased working, at least on a commercial basis, around that time, which is in fact a few years later than had previously been thought.

Certainly, small, locally based mills like the one at Poynings were closing down in droves all over the country, during the latter part of the 19th. Century. This decline began following the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, which allowed cheap, foreign wheat to be imported, and was further hastened by the introduction of large steam powered roller mills, from the 1880s onwards, which meant that the imported wheat would be ground at the ports themselves, before being despatched as flour up and down the country, on the railway system.

When the 1901 Census was prepared, the Mill House was listed, but not occupied, and there was a tick in the box which reads “Not up to occupation” By then, the Cockerton family had moved to Hurstpierpoint, where Joseph’s occupation was listed as “Millers salesman”, perhaps working for one of the three mills that were still operating in Hurstpierpoint at that time.

It seems that the mill continued working for some years as a farm mill, and Simmons says that it finally ceased working in 1919, yet under the entry for Poynings in the Victoria County History, which was published in the 1930s, it states , “The village of Poynings lies at the mouth of the coombe (Devil’s Dyke) having apparently been founded on the stream which flows thence and still works a mill at the northern edge of the village.”

This photograph taken of the mill in 1939 shows it to be in an extremely dilapidated condition, and Sydney Simmons wrote in his notes on the 28th. February 1946,
“Poynings Mill has just been pulled down. The brick foundations are still very obvious. Some shafting remains on the ground nearby. The mill house has been repaired slightly on the south side where the mill stood.” Poynings Mill 1939

Of course, Poynings Mill was not the only mill to disappear. Mills, by their very nature, are relatively fragile, and very expensive to maintain. Once their working days were over, most owners would see little point in spending further money to maintain these old buildings that had outlived their usefulness. Of the 132 mills that once stood in West Sussex, 83 have all but vanished. It is only in recent years that we have begun to fully appreciate these testaments to our industrial rural past.

Poynings Mill old Map

Poynings Mill Old Map