Mills And Pumps in Lakenheath
There has been at least one windmill in Lakenheath from at least the C16 as 'one miller' is mentioned in records from that time onwards. Four windmills are known to have existed in the C19/20. In a Directory of 1873 three millers are listed: Messrs. Josiah Halls, James Holden and James Trudgett - although by that time there are records of only two mills. By 1908 George Fincham is the only miller listed and he was at Claypits Mill which was probably by then the only one still working. Competition from the big steam mills at Mildenhall may have hastened the end of the windmills. Nothing remains of the oldest of the four mills, built in 1783, but it is commemorated in the name 'Mill Road'. It stood opposite the school and its mound or 'tump' can still be seen - now crowned by a bungalow. It was a smock mill. I do not know when it ceased working or was demolished but it is marked on the O.S. map of 1882. Photographs show it still had four sails in 1880 but by c.1877, although still standing, its sails had gone. The second of the four was built just south of the Claypits in 1824. Slight remains of the walls still remain. It was a small three story tower mill with four patent sails, a domed cap and two pairs of stones. It continued to work by wind until 1913 when the sails were blown off in a gale. [The entry in the 'Bury Free Press' of 2 January 1915 reads: "The violent storm which raged here on Monday night was responsible for a good deal of damage to the Undley windmill, the property of Mr.Geo.Fincham. The sails and the top were blown off and considerably damaged. Being in charge Mr.Herbert Rolph endeavoured to stop the mill when the storm broke but was unable to do so. He was about to leave the mill when the door was violently shut by the wind and he considers this saved his life as otherwise he would have been outside when the sails fell".] An oil engine was then installed and the cap removed. For the last years of its life it ground only livestock feed. The last miller was George Fincham. I do not know when it finally ceased work. It was demolished after World War II. The remaining two mills were both built in 1880, and were possibly small smock mills. They both stood near to each other - south-east of the Eriswell Road/Broom Road junction. The track to the mill site still exists as does the cottage which would have been the miller's house. I have been unable to find out anything about these mills other than that one, (the nearest to Broom Road,) is marked on the O.S. map of 1882. I wonder if there were in fact two or only one.
The only watermill known to have existed in the area was just outside the parish, in Eriswell, on the Caudle Stream, at Eriswell Hall west of the Lakenheath/Eriswell road. The only remains is the silted up millpond.
Lakenheath no doubt in the past had a number of small windpumps, similar to the one now standing in Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, but there is no record of them. The sites of several larger windpumps are known however. Turf Fen Drainage Windmill, (also called 'Ollick's Mill',) stood, in the C19, near the junction of Lakenheath New and Old Lodes and Newman's Drove. It is marked on the O.S. maps of 1892 and 1903 as an operational windpump but by 1928 it had been replaced by an oil engine driven pump in a galvanised iron shed, (and was called on the map a 'Pumping Station'.) Apparently it never worked properly. Great Fen Mill, a large smock windpump was erected in 1881 to lift water into the New Lode. it was built by Hunt of Soham and worked until World War I. It had four common sails, a boat shaped cap and a tailpole and operated a scoopwheel. It was typical of many throughout the Fens. It stood just south-east of the present pumping station on the Little Ouse River at Botany Bay. Nearby was the old 'Green Dragon' public house. The windpump was demolished c.1949 but a few remains of the base can still be found in the undergrowth by the side of the track. An earlier windpump, Crosswaters Mill, stood a little to the west - by the Old Lode. However there were drainage mills here before these.
Engine Driven Pumps
A steam pumping station was erected at Botany bay in 1844. A 40 H.P. beam engine with a scoop wheel was installed. (A larger one is still preserved at Stretham.) An oil engine was installed in the 1930s I believe but the steam engine was not removed until 1943 when a second diesel engine and centrifugal pump was installed by the War Agricultural Executive Committee who also built a new bungalow for the engineer. An engineer was still in occupation in the 1970s. I do not know when he was withdrawn but presumably when the automatic electric pumps were installed. The bungalow remains together with the diesel engine house. Automatic electric pumps, in another building, have now taken over from the diesel engine which is retained as a standby. The steam engine was installed in a brick built building with a tall chimney. The scoop wheel was in a lean-to at the side. A brick engineer's house was built nearby. Both these buildings were demolished when the new engine house and engineer's bungalow were built on the same site. Coal for the steam boilers was brought to the site by horse-drawn fen lighter and later power barge from Kings Lynn. The old oil engine house, (with the engine,) - of corrugated iron and timber, stood until 1966 when it was demolished and the oil engine and pump removed. [Does anyone know its present whereabouts?] All that now remains is the foundations.
References: Beckett, J. The Urgent Hour. 1974. Dolman, R.C.J. Windmills in Suffolk - A Contemporary Survey. 1978 Flint, B. Suffolk Windmills. 1979 Hinde, K.S.G. Steam in the Fens. 1974 [Pamphlet] Snelson, P. Along the Cam & Great Ouse. 1995. [Photo of old pumping station]
Places to Visit
The Old Engine, Stretham, Cambs. [Steam beam engine and scoop wheel] The Fen Drainage Museum, Prickwillow, Cambs. [Oil engines, pumps, etc.]
R.A.Sliverlock. Feb. 1995 (Rev.1997)
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