Five centuries of Cradley's mills on the River Stour
MORE ABOUT THE MILLS ON THE STOUR
by NORMAN BIRD
The River Stour and its tributary mark out Cradley's boundary on three sides, and as one would expect, their water power has had a great influence on the economy of the Manor, and later, on the development of its industries. At first the water mills were used solely for grinding corn into flour. Later they ground flour following the harvest and then turned to forging the rest of the year. Finally, they were used solely for forging, rolling and slitting iron.
In medieval times it was compulsory for everybody to take their corn to be ground at the Manorial mill, where the miller retained a percentage of the flour as a fee to be handed over to the Lord of the Manor. There was a mill in more recent times located near each ford or bridge across the Stour but there is not sufficient evidence to be definite about the position of the Manorial mill.
There are records still in existence, of some of these mills, and as the first known written evidence of a mill at Cradley is bound up with the addition of the suffix 'Owen' to 'Hales' to make Halesowen, the circumstances might be interesting. In 1177 Henry II gave the Manor of Hales to David ap Owen, Prince of N. Wales who had married his sister Emma. When David was imprisoned by his nephew Llewellyn in 1193 this gift was confirmed by King John, Henry's son. About this time Emma surrendered to the King her Manor, which in the meantime had become Hales Owen due to the Welsh connection. In exchange she received a yearly allowance of £22 6s. 8d.; 3/- of which was to come from Cradley Mill.
In 1290, Roger de Somery, another Lord of the Manor died and the following year an inquest (Inquisition post mortem) for taxation purposes was held on all his income from properties and privileges. It seems that death duties were not unknown even in those far off days. As far as this inquest related to Cradley, it revealed that he had two mills; one valued at 22 pence and the other at 12 pence per annum. There was also a capital messuage worth 6 pence a year and mast in the Park which realised 12 pence annually. Corn production must have been high to have kept two mills turning if they both worked at the same time (which is doubtful). The capital messuage was no doubt the Manor House and the mast were the fallen acorns on which the grazing pigs grew fat in the Autumn.
In 1535 the Abbot of Halesowen Abbey was paying the king 16/4d yearly for the farm (renting) of Cradley Mill. The Lord of the Manor at this time was Sir John St. Ledger who lived mainly in Devonshire. He was a weak and irresponsible character and greatly diminished the family fortunes by his reckless spending. He married twice, had eleven children, and although related to the Royal Family and whose daughter married Sir Richard Grenville, some of his children died in poverty. It was from him and on account of his reduced circumstances that Sir John Lyttleton bought Cradley Manor in 1564.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Birch "claimed the liberty of making a fish pond or stank or damme head for the pond called Birches Mill Pond, by rendering 2d." This among other things was probably a licence to fish there. The remains of Birches Mill still exist and I well remember the mill pond in Birches Lane. Although this mill was in Lutley it might well be the one referred to, Lutley belonging as it did to the same owner as Cradley, Sir John Lyttleton. On a wall at the back of this mill there is fixed a cast iron plaque, divided into two halves and bearing the following inscription:-
HAMLET of LUTTLEY HALESOWEN PARISH
This evidence remains to remind us that Halesowen was part of Shropshire for nearly 800 years and the mill stream was a county boundary.
Note by Cradley Links:
This article was first published in the Cradley Parish Church Magazine, July 1957.
The author, Norman Bird, took an active interest in Cradley history, and was a regular contributor to the parish magazine. Deputy Head Master at the Cradley Church Schools for more than 20 years, he died suddenly in the school staff room in the late 1950s.