LAVENDON MILL – OLNEY ROAD
The appearance of Lavendon Mill has changed significantly since this view was taken. In the late 1960s or early 1970s the mill building itself was demolished because the structure had deteriorated, and this essentially left the Mill House standing alone. The latter was built in the late 18th century and subsequently altered, including the addition of a two-storey bay on the right-hand side which removed the symmetry of the original build. The Mill House is now Grade II listed. Lavendon Mill straddles the present day Three Shire Bridleway which passes northwards towards Lavendon Grange and the former Abbey with which the mill was closely associated from the earliest of times.
Early Views of the Mill (click to enlarge):
In his History of the Village of Lavendon, written in 1947, the Revd R R N Rendell noted that “many members of the Perry family, who were millers for a considerable number of years, are buried in Lavendon Churchyard.” The Perrys were Lavendon millers in the 18th century, and scrutiny of the early census records and trade directories show that James Perry was a Miller and Farmer at least between 1841 and 1851. His son John S Perry took over upon James’ death in 1851, at least until 1871. By 1876 Frederick Parsons was the Miller, followed by Albert Edward Skevington (who drowned in the mill race) by 1883, William Osborn by 1901, Joseph Howson by 1911 and John Maurice Cony by 1924. The Cony family continue to live at the Mill to this day.
More recent views of the Mill, including the River Great Ouse in Flood (Click to Enlarge):
Millstone Reminders of the Past (Click to Enlarge):
The River Ouse & Lavendon Mill
Lavendon Mill has an ancient history, as is clear from the Victoria County History: “… down by the river is Lavendon Mill, probably on the site of that watermill which Humphrey held of the Count of Mortain in 1086. The mill is again mentioned in 1246, and in 1534 was the scene of a quarrel between the Throckmortons of the neighbouring parish of Weston Underwood and Thomas Hill, who had obtained leave from the abbot to wash 400 sheep in the mill dam. At the Dissolution it was described as three mills under one roof and was valued at £4 yearly. This was not, however, the only water-mill in the parish, for there was also a mill ‘and a moiety’ in the chief manor of the Bishop of Coutances in 1086, and this was probably that held at the close of the 13th century by Henry de Norwich of John Pever. In the reign of Edward I a water-mill with a free fishery was appurtenant to the manor of Snelston, and two water-mills are mentioned in an extent of about 1323.”
John Perry’s Book of Newton’s Sermons
In 1841 James Perry lived at the mill with his wife Rebecca and six children, together with three male servants and one female servant. The more detailed 1851 census shows that he was farming 150 acres of land and employing two Millers, a Waggoner and a number of servants and labourers. James was born in 1790, the fifth child of John & Jane Perry; he was their only surviving son. James’ father, John (1760-1805), was also the miller at Lavendon and is believed to have owned other mills elsewhere in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. James’ grandfather was also a John, born in 1724 at Lavendon, and his great grandfather was Francis Perry (1698-1775) who was likewise a miller and churchwarden at Lavendon.
In his village history the Revd Rendell noted that “the Revd. John Newton, who was Curate-in-charge of Olney for 16 years, and a friend of the Poet Cowper, used to hold prayer meetings in a barn attached to the Mill”. Indeed, in his book The Town of Cowper published in 1886, Thomas Wright noted that “It had long been his [the Revd Newton’s] custom to conduct services not only in the church, but also in the villages and isolated houses in the neighbourhood; for, like the other great evangelical preachers, he did not confine his labours to his own parish. One of his favourite resorts was Lavendon Mill, where he would take tea with his friend Mr. Perry the miller, and preach afterwards to the people who had assembled to hear him in a large barn. It was the custom of both Mr. Bull [Rev. William Bull of Newport Pagnell] and Mr. Newton to spend the whole of the Friday of Whitsun-week at Mr. Perry’s, which custom, kept up by the Bulls, father and son, after Newton’s removal [to London in January 1780], lasted sixty-seven years”.
It is evident from the foregoing that the Perrys were pillars of Lavendon society and also religious men. Some further evidence of the latter comes from the recent sale of a book of ‘Sermons Preached in the Parish Church of Olney’ written by John Newton ‘of the said parish’. A copy of the title page is shown here bearing John Perry’s name which would likely be either that of James’ father or his grandfather given that the book was published in 1767.
The Revd John Newton was not the only famous visitor from Olney to visit the Perrys at Lavendon Mill. Newton’s friend William Cowper was fond of walking in the district and often traversed the meadows from Olney across to the Mill. He was particularly fond of sitting, and doubtless dreaming, beneath a group of poplar trees that were once near the Mill beside the River Great Ouse in a field known as the Lynch Close. However, in 1784 Cowper was much upset because he discovered that his favourite poplar trees had evidently just been felled. He was moved to write the following lament:
THE POPLAR FIELD
[Written 1784, published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Jan 1785 and afterwards in 1800.]
The poplars are fell’d, farewell to the shade
And the whispering sound of the cool colonnade,
The winds play no longer, and sing in the leaves,
Nor Ouse on his bosom their image receives.
Twelve years have elaps’d since I first took a view
Of my favourite field and the bank where they grew,
And now in the grass behold they are laid,
And the tree is my seat that once lent me a shade.
The blackbird has fled to another retreat
Where the hazels afford him a screen from the heat,
And the scene where his melody charm’d me before,
Resounds with his sweet-flowing ditty no more.
My fugitive years are all hasting away,
And I must ere long lie as lowly as they,
With a turf on my breast, and a stone at my head,
Ere another such grove shall arise in its stead.
‘Tis a sight to engage me, if any thing can,
To muse on the perishing pleasures of man;
Though his life be a dream, his enjoyments, I see,
Have a being less durable even than he.
© N B Stickells, May 2017