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Changing Times | The history of Petworth’s Coultershaw Mill

Situated in a small rural community just south of Petworth, Coultershaw Mill is first thought to be mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, where there is reference to a mill at Petworth.

 

After its demolition in 1973, the site and accompanying Beam Pump were abandoned, until volunteers from the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society began a five-year project to restore it.

 

In 2002, the Coultershaw Trust was formed to develop the heritage site, which re-opened in 2014 after a major grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

 

There have been a number of mills on this site which is located on the Rother Navigation, constructed between 1791 and 1794 by the 3rd Earl of Egremont as a way of improving movement of trade.

 

The Domesday Book shows that the mill at Coultershaw was valued at an annual rent of 26 shillings and a bucket of eels, and was used by local farmers to grind their grain into flour. However, there were a variety of different mills at Coultershaw, including by 1240 a fulling mill, used to prepare cloth. By 1534 the site included a malting mill along with two corn mills, which by 1666 had risen to three.

 

In 1782, a beam pump was installed by the 3rd Earl of Egremont to pump water to Petworth. Beam pumps are known by a number of different names, including a ‘nodding donkey’ or a ‘horsehead pump’. It is a counterbalanced pump which pumps liquids up and out of the ground using a drive motor and a system of pistons and counterweights. The pump could deliver 20,000 gallons of water per day, requiring over 6,600 revolutions of the waterwheel.

 

The corn mill was modernised in 1907 by John Gwillim, who was in charge of mills in Fittleworth and Midhurst. The wooden machinery and grind stones were replaced with steel shafting and rollers, which increased efficiency in production.

 

He was also able to increase productivity by controlling the water flow through the three mills he owned that were on the River Rother. Sadly, in 1923, the mill burnt down, but was rebuilt within 12 months.

 

It was beset by misfortune again in 1946 when another fire severely damaged the mill, but this time it was able to be repaired. The mill was managed by the Gwillim family until its demolition in 1973.

 

The beam pump stopped pumping water to Petworth in 1960. It was adapted in 2012 with support from the Leconfield Estate, and an Archimedes screw turbine was installed which generates electricity from a sustainable source.

 

It now supplies the fountain at the heritage site so that it can be seen in use. Although the original design of the pump is not known, it is an almost exact copy of George Sorocold’s pumps which were erected under London Bridge in 1705, and the Coultershaw beam pump is now the only surviving example.

 

The Coultershaw Mill Heritage Site is operated and maintained by volunteers, and is open on some Sundays and bank holidays. Visitors can see the beam pump in action, alongside the new Archimedes screw turbine.

 

There is also an engine house, 18th century lock, canal warehouses and stables to visit, set around a mill pond. For more information about opening times and admission prices, please visit: coultershaw.co.uk/

 

By Portia Tremlett, public programme engagement officer at the Novium Museum

 

Posted in Lifestyle.