Sampford BrettVillage History

Village history

Constitution - adopted October 2011

Aims

The group is established for the purpose of providing the village with a focal point for information and knowledge of past and present village history.

Objectives

The objectives of the Sampford Brett Local Village History group are fourfold:-

  • To research and record village history for the benefit of anyone with an interest in past and present village life;
  • To maintain local records of village history for future research;
  • To publicise and make available local village history through electronic means;
  • To promote the ethos and spirit of Sampford Brett by encouraging all sections of the community to take an interest in local history.

Sampford Brett Local History Group.

Providence Mill - A short History

A former grist mill, Providence is situated alongside the fast flowing Doniford Stream and adjacent to the village of Woolston. Rumour has it that the building occupies a site of former dwellings, chosen as a location in the past for the access to the river with its strong current and stretches of deep water, yet remaining easily fordable in places.

Although the present building was completed in 1820, the process of build will have taken a few years prior to this and coincided with the enclosure movement, which was part of the wider agricultural revolution. During the period of 1790-1850 the small farmer declined, larger farms were established and approved tenants were given long leases. In short, the estates became large scale and capitalistic and gave birth to the modern system of farming. This part of Somerset was no exception, as the landed gentry consolidated and extended their holdings because land was seen as the foundation of social and political influence.

In the case of Providence, it was part of the large and influential St. Audries estate. It is to the estates credit that the building was completed as a mill, for the end of the Napoleonic wars saw the first great slump of capitalistic agriculture and in particular the considerable drop in corn prices following the bumper harvest of 1813.

Providence was originally designed as two dwellings. The eastern part was occupied by the foreman miller and his family and the smaller western dwelling was for a labourer and family. In addition, the western wall which now borders the parking area, formed part of the pig sty (demolished in the 1960s), so providing evidence of smallholding activity as well as the grinding of corn.

The building is interesting in appearance. Approaching from the lane, the view is of an archetypal Western Somerset cottage, being built in two stories and with a southerly aspect reflecting the sun in the red stone of the walls. As the building was constructed into the side of a hill, the northern face of the house has three stories - the lower originally housing the working machinery of the mill. This latter aspect being entirely functional and therefore resembling a typical commercial mill. Although none of the original machinery exists, the sill in the river can still be seen creating sufficient fall to power the undershot mill throughout the year.

A footbridge existed until the 1960s, connecting Providence to the northern field opposite, so creating easy access to Woolston and a more direct pedestrian route to the main road.

On the eastern side of the building situated near the apex of the roof, there is a stone plaque showing the completion date of the build as 1820. Similarly, a plaque exists on the western wall denoting the additions were made in the 1960s.

It was during this latter period that the two dwellings were converted into one house, with an additional staircase, lobby and garage added. Although the new buildings were sympathetically designed to blend with existing architecture, the internal modifications suffered somewhat from a 1960s design excess.
The present owners have changed much of the internal design to more adequately reflect the C19 origins.

Providence remained as part of the St. Audries estate until the 24th April 1925, when two cottages and a garden at Providence in the Parish of Sampford Brett were conveyed from the Right Hon. Alexander Peregrine Baron St. Audries to Mr. William George Penny of Watchet.

On The 11th September 1939 the Penny family sold the property to Mr. Benjamin and Mrs Minnie Burge who retained ownership until 29th May 1965.

The property was then acquired by Dr. Alistair and Mrs Margaret Robb-Smith.

Some thirty years later, on 10th November 1995, the property was purchased by the present owners, Dr. Michael and Mrs Barbara Thrower.

It is significant that the last three owners, including the present owners, have acquired further holdings of land so that the building is now surrounded by its own land to the south of the Doniford Stream, so ensuring the character and tranquillity of the location.

In the eastern lower field called 'Old Moor', exists a fresh water spring which currently feeds the Doniford Stream, via an holding tank, but originally supplied the village with water, certainly until the 1930s.

Editors note.
The mill was known to have been a pumping station after it ceased as a mill, pumping water up to the reservoir opposite Kiln Ridge.

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