Horstead Mill
River Bure


Drainage Mills (Windpumps)
Steam Mills

David Hodgson painting - 1816

Horstead watermill was the last mill on the Bure, it was also one of the biggest, best known and most photographed mills in the county.

However, for several hundred years there were two mills under the same ownership at Horstead, the second being a fullmill that ceased to operate in the 1700s.
The lords of the manor have ... one water-mill for grinding corn and another mill for thickening woollen cloth commonly called a grist-mill and a fulling-mill. In 1809 the fullmill was reported to be very ancient and dilapidated.

The site was probably at least Saxon, it was recorded in Domesday and mentioned as belonging to the Benedictine Priory at St Benet's. When King Henry Vlll dissolved the monasteries he presented it to King's College Cambridge. Ownership remained with King's College over the centuries until 1910, when R. J. Read bought the mill.

There were two wheels, the largest was the older and was undershot with the other having been replaced by a more powerful turbine in later years. By 1957 only the turbine was being used to drive the mill mixing machinery.

The mill ceased to grind corn for flour early in the early 1900s possibly as a result of the loss of its water transport after the 1912 flood. However, corn was ground once more in 1915 after Read's Norwich mills broke down and this carried on until the end of WW 1 when the mill reverted back to producing animal feed. Although hopper feed mixing machines had been installed, many of the old flour dressing and milling machines still remained to the end.

c.1890 c.1895

The final structure was probably built in 1789 to take two pairs of stones. The building was mainly of white weatherboard over a brick lower floor consisting of six dark brick arches. The pantiled roof section on the downstream side had six small matching gable sections with a seventh larger one to the right. The 4th and 7th gables bore lucums for the loading and unloading of wherries that came down the Aylsham Navigation, which had been completed in October 1779.

East Norfolk Roller Mills c.1900
East Norfolk Roller Mills c.1900

Tuefday laft a journeyman miller at Horftead fetting up to work fell afleep in the meal trough, the flour by degrees rifing above his mouth, he was found in the morning fuffocated.
Norfolk Chronicle - 2nd November 1793

Water Corn Mill to be Sold

The spacious new built Water Corn Mill situate at Horstead in Norfolk within 7 miles of Norwich upon the Navigable river running to the Port of Great Yarmouth between which and the Mill there is no toll payable. The Mill is built on an improved plan, is capable of manufacturing 300 quarters of wheat weekly and is now in the occupation of Messrs Colls and Watts, the proprietors, who have mutually agreed to dissolve their Partnership at Michaelmas next at which time or sooner the Purchaser may have possession of the Mill.
Norfolk Chronicle - 8th April 1797

c.1902 with an unloaded wherry
c.1902 with an unloaded wherry

In May 1773 An Act of Parliament passed for making the River Bure Navigable. But the Navigation was not completed till 1779. It extends from Colteshall to Aylesham for boats of 13 Tons Burden & Cost sox thousand & one punds - To the Prejudice of the Trade of Horstead Mill..... and to the Great Damage of T J Batcheler, Esq's meadows & royalty from Colteshall to meyton Bridge. The land being frequently flooded & The Fish & Swans Disturbed or Stolen.
Dr.Charles Grape, rector of Horstead - c. 1800

Coltishall Lock c.1905 Great Eastern Railway postcard of Coltishall Lock c.1907
Coltishall lock c.1905
Great Eastern Railway postcard of Coltishall lock c.1907

Coltishall lock house 1929 Coltishall lock 13th September 2008
Coltishall lock house 1929
Coltishall lock 13th September 2008

Wind & Steam Mills.
To be Let with possession at Michaelmas next.
The WINDMILL driving three pairs of Stones for Wheat and one pair for Barley; and the Steam Mill adjoining driving three pairs of stones. Situate at Stalham in the County of Norfolk.
Apply to Messrs. Clowes & Flowerdew, Norwich or to Mr. Samuel Cooke, Horstead Mills.
Norfolk Chronicle - 17th September 1859

TO BE LET with possession at Michaelmas next, the WINDMILL driving three pair of stones for Wheat and one pair for Barley and the Steam Mill adjoining driving three pair of stones. Situate at Stalham in the County of Norfolk.
For particulars apply to Messrs. Clowes & Flowerdew, Norwich or Mr. Samuel Cooke, Horstead Mills.
Norfolk News - 17th September 1859

St. Ann's Iron Works,
King Street, Norwich, Feby. 12-1864.

Mr. Cooke,
Dear Sir,
Having carefully gone through the items in reference to a New Water Wheel in Horstead Mills I find there will require three New Cast Iron Ring fitted and bolted together. All new float boards, Back boards and Oak Starts. Bolts and Nuts with Mens time fitting and fixing the same and taking out the old Wheel will be about one hundred and ten pounds and all the old materials.
about £110.-.-.
Waiting your reply,
I am, Dear Sir,
Your Obt. Servt,
Thos. Smithdale.
  Back Boards 12" wide, 9ft long, 1" thick.
  Float Boards 12" wide, 9ft long, 1" thick.
  Struts, Oak 4" wide 2ft. 6" long 1" thick.
  Extra Bolts about 72 long to bolt arms together.
  Small Bolts repairing.
  Bolts saything about 5".
  Wedges about 8" long, 3" Wide, 2" thick.
  Oak Wedges, 12" long 6" wide 2" thick for Hanging Water Wheel.
  Stone of Gate Nails.
    Time for 3 men, 4 Weeks each.
  Oak Plank for Starts.
  of 3" Poplar.
    Time 1 Week.

The inscription on the cart reads:

Thomas Phillippo Junior
Contractor & Engineer
Swanton Abbot


By early evening on 2nd September 1939 Mr. Godbold, the Horstead Billeting Officer had placed all the evacuees in homes around the village – except two – a boy of thirteen and a seven year old girl, cousins. None of the households he had approached could accommodate these two children so he was immensely relieved when Mr. R. J. Read, the owner of Horstead Mill, offered to take them in.

I was the seven year old, and sublimely unaware of what problems had been caused by my electing to be evacuated with my cousin rather than with my own school.

The next morning Mr. Read called together all the members of his household; I can remember quite a number of people all standing in the Courtyard in front of the Stables, listening attentively as Mr. Read announced that England was now at war with Germany. Naturally enough, the implications of this announcement went straight over my head.

Mr. and Mrs. Read lived in the Mill House with their three daughters, a cook (Jean) and a housemaid (Kathleen). They also employed a number of outside staff to care for the grounds and the animals. Ever thoughtful, they quickly invited my mother, my uncle and aunt to visit and stay at the Mill House to reassure them that we were happy and being well cared for. In fact, I was having a wonderful time. Mr. Howell, the Headmaster of my cousin’s school, eventually set up a classroom for the boys in the Village Hall. This took about six weeks to arrange and during that time we explored the countryside and generally enjoyed the unfamiliar liberty.

The youngest daughter of the household, Marigold aged 12, took me under her wing and I was allowed to ‘help’ her; she rose at 6.00 am each day and her first task was to take water to the horses. The galvanised iron buckets were very heavy. We carried them down the bank of the little stream that ran close by and could only half fill them with the clear, cold water as they were beyond our combined strength to carry if they were full. Marigold was small, wiry and very strong for her age. When this chore was done we mixed up a smelly concoction of bran, filled bowls with grain and carried them through the Mill, deserted at that time in the morning, out to the ducks and hens all around the Mill Pond. While they were feeding we collected eggs and carried them back to the house. Quite often we stopped inside the Mill to feed the cats although this was frowned upon as the cats were supposed to fend for themselves and survive on the abundant supply of mice and rats attracted by the Mill smells.

I was not allowed into the Mill while it was working – not that I minded, as to a small child it was dreadfully noisy, smelly and a pretty frightening place to be. In the early morning it was empty but never quiet; the timbers creaked and groaned all the time as if they were complaining, and the rush of water through the Mill Race seemed deafeningly loud to me. I was also fascinated by the eel boxes on either side of the Race. One day, on an errand for Jean, the Cook, I went into the larder and saw a plate of black shiny eels, cut up and ready for the pot. Imagine my horror when I touched a piece experimentally and it moved on the plate. I’ve never willingly encountered eels since then.

The wonderful period of freedom had to come to an end and I was duly taken along to Horstead School Infants class. My teacher was Mrs. Ida Durrell and I have the happiest memories of being taught by her as she was kindness personified and made lessons thoroughly enjoyable.

My cousin and I were both very sad to have to leave the Reads and Mill House. As an adult I can understand their decision to move to a smaller property, easier for them to manage, although at the time I was upset. Their staff were all being conscripted, Jean and Kathleen were joining the A.T.S. and the men were being called up. Mr. and Mrs. Read tried to take us with them but were not allowed to move us out of Horstead village – red tape and bureaucracy prevailed - so we were finally moved to The Forge where Harry and Lily Foulger, the Blacksmith and his wife, made us very welcome. I stayed there with them until mid May 1945 and left Horstead Village with great reluctance as well as vivid and happy memories.
Valerie Walker-Dendle - 23rd June 2006

c. 1910
c. 1910



Joseph West painting
Joseph West painting

Drawing by B.C. Boulter c.1920
Drawing by B.C. Boulter c.1920

Mill dam c.1920 Mill dam 13th September 2008
Mill dam c.1920
Mill dam 13th September 2008

1935 Wheelhouse and granary 1935
Wheelhouse and granary 1935

1942 Horstead Mill in its heyday
Mill in its heyday c.1955

Watercolour by Leslie L.H. Moore c.1920
Watercolour by Leslie L.H. Moore c.1920

James Starling drawing
James Starling drawing

.Turbine cap end .Turbine cap end detail
.Turbine cap end
.Turbine cap end detail

I am a Horstead resident born and bred remembering the mill from the mid 50s to date. Also as  compilation editor of  our community magazine, The Marlpit, am looking for information regarding the turbine fitted in the mill with fond memories of its groan when started and its swirling flow so much liked by the shoals of dace to be found there. 
I would like to feature a photograph of a cast iron cap that was saved from the scrap yard by one of the people working on the clear up after the fire. In your narrative little is said regarding the turbine and perhaps we can together change that with some research from the name plate on the cap. I would like to be able give some technical description of the turbine in The Marlpit. I have attached photos of the cap which may be of help.

David Pye - 5th February 2020

Jack Drayton stone dressing in 1960
Jack Drayton stone dressing in 1960

It was nice to see a picture of my husband's uncle, Jack Drayton (stone dressing 1960). I believe it was taken from an Anglia TV documentary made about that time.
As far as I'm aware, Jack was the last miller. He lived to a good age and served in Mesopotamia in the First World War. I remember him coming to my wedding in 1969. His wife Ida was the village schoolteacher. She'd been brought up with her three sisters and one brother (my father-in-law, Leslie Durrell)at The Limes in Horstead. We were down last summer, looking round the mill ruins whilst my husband reminisced about school holidays spent playing with the mill cats and "helping" Uncle Jack.

Ruth Durrell - 22nd February 2006

William Woolston snr was listed as journeyman miller in the 1851 census and his son William was at that time working at Hoveton Steam Mill.

Millstones leaning against the wheelhouse July 1947
Millstones leaning against the wheelhouse July 1947

c.1900 c.1950

Mill invoice 13th December 1953
Mill invoice 13th December 1953

Mill working c.1955


Mill dam c.1960 Millpool c.1960
Mill dam c.1960
Millpool c.1960

c.1960 with the lock keeper's house still standing top left

Horstead Mill was gutted by fire on 23rd January, 1963, which was one of the coldest winter's in many years. Three appliances attended the blaze. Holes had to be carved in over a foot of ice in the river to allow access for the water hoses and the even then water froze on the ends. Although the fire was brought under control within an hour, it was too late to save the mill. It is thought the cause of the fire may have been an electrical fault.

24th January 1963 24th January 1963
Still smoking - 24th January 1963

Mill remains - c.1964
Mill remains - c.1964

March 1967 Wheel channels 29th April 1999
A millstone still sits on the first floor with its machinery beneath in
March 1967
Wheel channels 29th April 1999

On 11th May 1973 the Eastern Daily Press reported that the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Authority had almost finished building a water gauging station on the mill site to measure the flow of the river. At this time Read's, who still owned the site, were contemplating a hotel using outline planning permission that had been granted some time ago but this did not come to fruition.

Wheelrace February 1983
Wheelrace February 1983

February 1983 February 1983
February 1983
February 1983

February 1983 9th January 2003
February 1983
9th January 2003

I bought a small notebook with some sketches and poems in at an antiques fair about ten years ago. I have recently been researching the owner. I have found this to be Harry Colls who is the great grandson of John colls the last Colls mentioned in the timeline on your website. John Colls son was a flour merchant in London, his son Lebbens was a picture dealer, and Harry Colls, his son, was an Artist and Draughtsman. His brother Walter was a photo etcher and engraver of some note, and is mentioned on many websites as being quite cutting edge in his time. I have researched some more on the family.
Jill Meech - 4th March 2009

Although the source of "Lebbens" as a name in the foregoing remains to be explained, it is certainly as reference to Ebenezer Colls, on whom the National Maritime Museum (which has a pair of paintings by him) has supplied the following note:
"Colls was a marine painter who exhibited pictures at the British Institution, 1852-54, from an address in Camden Town but practised for a longer period. His work is competent and attractive, and he was certainly prolific since examples regularly appear on the market. His dates were not known until about 2004 when a genealogical web posting stated that he was born in 1812 at Horstead, Norfolk (on the outskirts of Coltishall), into a family with a local history as owners of water mills. It is now fairly clear that his grandfather was John Colls, miller and farmer, who with H. P. Watts rebuilt Horstead Mill in 1789, was it part owner until 1797, and died in 1806. He appears to have had a son (Richard ?) , who was a flour merchant in London , and Ebenezer was one of the latter's children. He was both a picture dealer and an artist, though how his career as both began is not yet known. In January 1841 he married Harriet  Beal, a Kent-born girl about ten years his junior, in the Thanet area (in or near Ramsgate) and they had four daughters and three sons who figure in the St Pancras, London, census returns of 1851 - 81: Richard, the eldest son, became a bookseller, and his younger brothers eventually well known artists; Walter as an etcher and engraver and Henry (Harry), as a late-19th-century marine painter. The eldest child, Harriet, initially taught music and Sarah became an accountant. The third and fourth daughters were Isabella (d.1885) and Florence (the youngest child, born about 1865). In the 1851 census Ebenezer's profession is given as 'picture dealer'; in that of 1861 'marine painter'; in 1871 he was living on ' "Dividends" ' (with the landscape painter, Edmund Gell, a boarder in his house) and in 1881 he is again called 'artist'. His final address from before 1871 was 79 King Henry's Road, Regent's Park, and he died there aged 75 on 23 September 1887 ('Morning Post', 28 September)".

Dr. Pieter van der Merwe - 2nd June 2011

I have written a book about my great grandfather called "The True Tale of Charlie Plant." under my maiden name Jane Sherwood.
Charlie's great grandfather was John Colls (1744-1806) he married Elizabeth Everard in 1768 and they had 11 children between 1769-1788.
His son Richard Colls (1775-1836) married Sarah Hood Ansell in 1802 and they had 6 children between 1802-1818 including my great great grandmother Mercy Colls, Charlies mother.
The family fell on hard times, Charlie was born in the workhouse and orphaned at the age of 7. The following is an extract from my book which is available on Amazon as paperback and kindle with pages free to view.
Chapter II. A Short History of the Family Colls.
"Mercy's father, Richard Horton Colls, leased a large house in Hanover Square and owned a great deal of land and property in Norfolk. Mercy grew up in the country, at Horstead Mill, surrounded by many brothers, sisters, and several servants. The mill was owned and worked by her father and his father before him. They were Quakers and came from a long line of yeoman farmers, millers and corn merchants, who were highly respected in the city of Norwich.
John Colls, Mercy's grandfather, was an overseer at Norwich Corn Market and a Trustee of the Town Lands, where he distributed his rent receipts to the poor.
He was aquainted with the Gurney family and all business was carried out within the Quaker community.  However. his son Richard, did not favour country life and eagerly took on the London Corn Market trade. Richard preferred the big city to parochial Norfolk, but still continued to run the mill after his father's death."
I have illustrated the paperback version of the book and this image appears on page 14.
Horstead mill
I hope you will find this interesting.

Jane (Sherwood) Walter - 24th February 2019

Some time ago now we had a campaign to locate and photograph or scan many of the paintings of the mill owned by our readers.    This is the link - https://www.themarlpit.co.uk/horstead-mill/    We are sure there are more and would appreciate hearing from anyone with a painting. 
David Pye - 5th February 2020

Oil on card painting
Oil on card painting by Maurice ?

Idly surfing recently because of a query from a relative (and because I passed through Horstead and Coltishall on holiday last week), I stumbled on the website for Horstead Mill again.
As reported by my wife Ruth in 2006, my uncle, Jack Drayton, was the last Head Miller and my father and mother (Leslie and Audrey Durrell) lived with him, his wife (the Horstead teacher Ida Drayton) and her mother (Annie Durrell) during the War, when I was born, moving (unwillingly) to Manchester in 1946, where I grew up (and still live). However, we stayed in Horstead for pretty well the duration of every school holiday until I went to University and I used to go down to the Mill with my uncle nearly every day before breakfast. I think I can probably still remember every corner of a place which is one of my fondest childhood memories.
Two things I recall in particular were the continual battle between my uncle and the person who he regarded as a total incompetent who was in charge of the mill at Buxton, who would always mismanage the water flow coming downstream to Horstead. And the eel trap on the right hand side looking back from the mill pool which was a valuable extra income source, as the eels would be collected regularly and sold to be jellied in London.
My grandfather, Hay Joseph Durrell, was Chief Clerk at the Mill in the early 20th century until 1912, when - as I was eventually told, since it was for long a closely guarded family secret - he ran off with a girl from a visiting fair or circus. I never knew him, of course, but he was apparently still alive in the early years of the War.
During one visit, probably in the 1950s, my father bought a small picture (oil on card) of the Mill which I still have. I have a not altogether clear recollection that it was painted by a local man called Maurice (or Morris?) - surname unknown, but he must have been well known in Horstead or Coltishall.
Martin Durrell - 16th August 2020

O.S. Map 1880
O.S. Map 1880
Courtesy of NLS map images

O.S. Map 1881
O.S. Map 1881
Courtesy of NLS map images

O.S. Map 2005
O.S. Map 2005
Image reproduced under licence from Ordnance Survey

College survey 1586: Two water-mills, one a grist-mill and the other a fulling-mill

1667: Andrew Wortley

Lease 1685: Daniel Warren (rector of Horstead) tenant of "
two water-mills for to grind corne and the fullen-mill with the Mill house built upon the Common Streame", sub-let to Thomas Lane of Horstead, yeoman

1687: Stephen Watts (grandfather of Henry Palmer Watts) renewed lease of Horstead with the College. Thomas Palmer was leaseholder of the mill and mill house - daughter Alice married Daniel Warren

1700: Daniel Warren died

1700: George Warren

1728: George Warren died childless and left his estate to Henry Palmer Watts snr

Thursday 16th March 1775: The first keel or wherry went through Coltishall Lock - Mr. Ansell's Grampus

Mary Hardy's Diary Thursday 29th February 1776: John Colls of Horstead, miller

1780: Henry Palmer Watts snr died leaving his wife, Mary Watts as leaseholder

c. 1789: Mill rebuilt by Henry Palmer Watts jnr. John Colls, miller & farmer

October 29th 1793: John Neal a miller's lad about 17, fell asleep and suffocated in a meal trough

1796: Colls & Watts

29th September 1797: Colls & Watts partnership dissolved. Mill advertised for sale

Faden's map 1797: Horstead Mill

21st December 1800: Benjamin Harmer aged 10
smothered casually at the Mill

1802: John Colls

1806: John Colls died in Yarmouth and was buried near the south door of Horstead church

1806: Richard Colls

17th September 1814:
Joseph Mitchell, married man, aet 73. Mary the wife of Joseph Mitchell, act 73. These poor people came to their death casually & by misfortune as stated in the Coroner's Warrant. They were paupers & found drowned on 17 Sep. 1814 in Horstead Mill Pool.

1816: David Hodgson painting

1835: Richard Colls

White's 1836: Cooke & Gambling, corn millers
White's 1836: Samuel Cooke,
Mill house

White's 1845: Samuel Cooke, miller - Cooke & Gambling (also at Buxton)
White's 1845: Mr. Samuel Cooke,
Mill house

Census 1851: Samuel C. Cooke (49) - miller employing 8 men - Mill House Horstead
John Chastney (50) - journeyman miller - Cottage, Horstead
William Woolston (48) b.Hickling, journeyman miller - Cottage, Horstead
John Kendall (41) - journeyman miller - Cottage, Horstead
William Johnstone (41) - journeyman miller - Cottage, Horstead
John Pratt (33) - journeyman miller - Coltishall Street, Hautbois Magna
John Lee (32) - miller - Cottage, Horstead
John Colls (30) - journeyman miller - in service at Mill House, Horstead
William Lowe (46) - miller's labourer - Cottage, Horstead
Charles Folk (63) - retired journeyman miller - Lodger at Cottage, Horstead

White's 1854: Cooke & Gambling, corn millers

1859: Samuel Cooke, miller

White's 1864: Samuel Cubitt Cooke, corn miller,
Mill house

Census 1881: Samuel Benjamin Cooke (44) - miller (corn) emplyng 9 men & 3 boys - The Mills, Horstead
William Johnstone (71) - miller (corn) - The Mills, Horstead
John Colls (60) - miller (corn) - The Mills, Horstead
James Lay (55) - miller (corn) - The Mills, Horstead
Thomas John Shingles (38) - miller (corn) - The Mills, Horstead
Edward Filby (38) - miller (corn) - The Mills, Horstead
Henry Fish (18) - miller (corn) - grandson living with William Johnstone
Harry Filby (18) - miller (corn) - son living with Edward Filby
Thomas William Shingles (14) - errand boy, possibly at the mill - son living with Thomas Shingles + 3 others

Kelly's 1883: Samuel Benjamin Cooke

Kelly's 1892: Benjamin Barwood - miller, East Norfolk Roller Mills, The Mill, Horstead

Kelly's 1896: Benjamin Barwood - miller, East Norfolk Roller Mills, The Mill, Horstead

Kelly's 1904: Benjamin Barwood - miller, East Norfolk Roller Mills, The Mill, Horstead

Kelly's 1908: Benjamin Barwood - miller, East Norfolk Roller Mills, The Mill, Horstead

1910: Mill bought by R. J. Read from King's College, Cambridge

Kelly's 1912: Robert John Read

1918: Mill ceased to grind corn for flour

Kelly's 1922: R. J. Read Ltd

Kelly's 1937: R. J. Read Ltd - millers (water), The Mill, Horstead - Tel. Coltishall 5

1937: An additional lucum added to the gable end of the mill to cater for road transport.

23rd January, 1963: Mill destroyed by fire

Yates 1966: R. J. Read Ltd., Horstead. Ph. 205

1973: East Suffolk and Norfolk River Authority installed a water gauging station

If you have any memories, anecdotes or photos please let us know and we may be able to use them to update the site. By all means telephone 07836 675369 or

Nat Grid Ref TG 26711936
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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2006