History of the Fulling Mill

The Fulling Mill, as described by Isabel Sanderson, in a pamphlet given away to tourists walking past the house by Mr Gush in the 1980s:

“This old Mill, situated on the parish boundary between Old Alresford and New Alresford, is a reminder of the period in the early 14th Century when there was a flourishing cloth trade in Alresford. Part of this prosperity was due to the construction of the Great Weir by Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester, about 100 years previously. This resulted in the formation of Alresford Pond and the head of water thus formed supplied power to various mills situated on the banks of the canal that carried the water from the pond. One such mill is the present Fulling Mill.

[Editor’s note: the canalisation of the water flowing from the pond, past the Town Mill and along through watercress beds and past the Weir House, plus then the slope to accelerate the flow into the Fulling Mill, effectively ceases just downstream of this Mill, although the first section of the river bed downstream had been used previously as part of the road from Old Alresford to the Dean, presumably mainly before the creation of the Great Weir. It was still used as a route up into Victorian times.]

The high chalk downland in the neighbourhood of Old and New Alresford was, and still is, very suitable for the rearing of sheep. After shearing, the wool was spun by the women of the household and then woven on looms, the resulting cloth being known as ‘homespun’. Lengths of homespun cloth were brought by the weavers to the Fulling Mill for ‘finishing’. The cloth was first scoured to get rid of the natural oil in the sheep’s wool and this was followed by ‘fulling’ or ‘felting’. The length of cloth was wetted with soap and water and then well trodden with the bare feet: this is the origin of the name ‘Walker’. Later, machines were invented for fulling cloth, the essential part being heavy wooden mallets, hinged to an upright post and worked by water power causing the mallets to rise and fall alternately. The damp cloth was contained in a hollow vessel or Fuller’s pot and pounded with the heavy mallets until the cloth had shrunk the required amount.

After fulling, the fibres of the wool interlocked causing some shrinkage of the material. The same effect is produced when hand-knitted garments are badly washed. After rinsing, the cloth was stretched on a rectangular wooden frame called a ‘tenter’, fitted with many sharp hooks to keep it in shape and dried outside, probably in the garden of the Mill. When the cloth was dry it was brushed with ‘teasels’ – the tough, spikey flower heads of the teasel plant that was grown locally. This brushing removed loose fibres and raised a ‘nap’ on the cloth. To produce a smooth finish the nap was reduced by shearing evenly all over the surface of the cloth.

There is an interesting entry in the Borough Records for New Alresford in 1735. William Newland, fuller, was prosecuted for ‘erecting a grinding house for grinding Edge Toolls (sic) on the Common Marsh, to be removed in ten Days on pawn [fine] of two shillings’. This grinding house was possibly erected on part of the land now used by Mr Gush for growing fruit and vegetables [ie across the path to the south side of the house].

The Fulling Mill must have been in operation before the middle of the 17th Century when the Churchwardens’ Accounts for Old Alresford begin. The Mill belonged to the Bishop of Winchester who was the lord of the manor. Detailed accounts of each manor owned by the Bishop were recorded each year by his Steward and these would include those for the Fulling Mill. These priceless documents, dating from the early 13th Century, are preserved in the Hampshire Records Office in Winchester. Written in Latin on skins of parchment and rolled into bundles, they can only be transcribed by scholars.

The first entry in the Churchwardens’ Accounts in which the Fulling Mill is mentioned was in 1678 when Thomas Fielder paid 4d rate for Colonel Norton’s fulling mill: he continued to pay this rate until 1702. He was followed by Richard Budd who operated the Mill from 1704 to 1724. William Newland paid the rates from 1724 to 1740, and from 1741 to 1746 a Richard Budd worked as a fuller at the Mill. He may well have been the son of the former Richard Budd and his wife Mary, whom he married in 1724 when he was a widower.

In 1805 John Freemantle was assessed for rates on his annual rent of £3 suggesting that the Fulling Mill was no longer in use, although the cottage adjoining it was being used as a dwelling. It would seem that the cloth industry in Alresford had faded out by the second half of the 18th Century.

For many years the Fulling Mill was part of the Weir House estate, but since 1950 it has been the home of Mr and Mrs G B Gush. Many improvements have been carried out yet the basic structure of the old mill has been retained. The beautiful garden and unspoilt natural surroundings, far from the noise of traffic, create an atmosphere of peace and serenity where birds especially, find sanctuary.”

Dr I Sanderson.

Isabel Sanderson's sketch of the Fulling Mill from upstream.

Isabel Sanderson’s sketch of the Fulling Mill from upstream.

In the sketch of the Fulling Mill, also by Isabel Sanderson, the room over the river flow is shown with external boards: Mr and Mrs Gush developed this to be the kitchen area, with I believe some glass floor panels to show the water flow underneath. At the front of the house the stream emerges (from under the path) from two separate circular section channels.

scan308 Fulling Mill 1969 card

In this image used for a 1969 Christmas Card from A E Wade (see the separate story) the view is from the other side of the Fulling Mill, which is the normally photographed side!

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