By Anthony Camp for the June 2006 Walkern Journal
I have tried for some years to get fuller details of the various mills in Walkern (for there were two windmills as well as the watermill), but without much success before the eighteenth century. All three appear on maps from 1676 but it is clear that not all were in continual operation.
There was no mill at Walkern in 1086 when Domesday Book was compiled but shortly afterwards in the reign of Henry I a mill at Walkern (presumably the watermill) was given to the church by the then lord of the manor, Hamo de St Clare, for the souls of King Henry and Queen Maud and Eudo Dapifer. In 1313 the watermill belonged to the manor and a windmill is first mentioned in 1360.
However, two windmills appear on Seller’s Map of Hertfordshire in 1676, the main one at Bassus Green (in what was formerly called Windmill Field) and the second one, located somewhere in the region of Walkern Croft, which seems to have been demolished at some time before 1822.
The windmill at Bassus Green appears as “Pryers Mill” on the 1676 map and although this is not a name used later it links the mill to John Pryor of Ware who was buried at Walkern in 1696 and who mentions a windmill held of the Manor of Walkern in his will. This windmill was owned from at least 1740 by John Wenham the brother of Edward Wenham who had married Jane, the ‘Witch of Walkern’. After John’s death at the age of 82 in 1757, the windmill was left unoccupied. In 1762 William Pateman took over. but ‘went away insolvent’ in 1766 and for a while others, including Robert Chapman, seem to have managed the mill, but Mr Pateman returned in the years 1769-1773 after which it was again unoccupied.
Other millers are mentioned in Walkern records but one cannot be certain as to which mill they occupied or worked for [see the 1783 lease of land including the windmill from Samuel Mason of Bassus Green to Benjamin Heath, rector of Walkern, though who worked the mill is unknown]. In 1808 the Bassus Green windmill was sold and the sale particulars describe it as “an exceedingly good freehold Windmill, well situate at Walkern, in the occupation of Mr. Smedley, … also a bricked and tiled cottage nearly adjoining”. However, when John Izzard Pryor bought the Walkern Hall (then called Clay Hall) estate in 1825, the purchase included the eighteen acres of Windmill Field but no windmill as such is mentioned or shown on the accompanying map. From the Tithe Award in 1839 it seems that Thomas Garratt (of the watermill) also owned this windmill. The windmill house is not mentioned in the 1841 census returns but in 1851 it was occupied by a farm labourer, James Holes, and in 1861 another labourer, Benjamin Hart, lived there. His son Henry, aged 11, worked in the mill. In May 1860 another son, George Hart, aged 3, had been killed by its sail. Benjamin Hart and his family of seven children were still at ‘Wind Mill House’ in 1871, but he died in 1873. It was perhaps dismantled at that time as it is not shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1878.
The occupants of the water mill have been difficult to identify but in 1748 Benjamin Chessey paid Land Tax on it and on a windmill, which is presumably the one which used to be near Walkern Croft. It seems likely that the two were always linked.
Samuel Chessey, a Quaker, had taken over both by 1758 and in 1779 he was paying an annual rent of ~20 to his landlord, George Carrington of Codicote, mealman, who died in 1780. James Wright was at the watermill by 1795 but he died in 1799 aged 27 and the ownership is not then clear until 1828.
In 1828 the present mill building was erected by Thomas Garratt from Hitchin, a mealman. From the Tithe Award in 1839 it seems that he also owned the windmill at Bassus Green. As mentioned above the second windmill was not shown on Bryant’s Map of Hertfordshire in 1822 and had presumably been demolished. In 1841 Thomas Garratt employed two men. Although he continued to live at Walkern and died there in 1874 aged 84, by 1861 the mill, then described as a steam mill, had passed to George David Pearman. By 1871 G.D. Pearman was also farming some 153 acres and employing thirteen men and two boys. He died at Walkern in 1889.