The Mead Family
The reminiscences of Bob Grace . . .
The Marsworth Mill was a fairly large water mill.  Water mills got gradually larger as one proceeded downstream - the mill at the head was always the smallest.  Marsworth was a fair-sized mill fed by the Bulbourne and entirely cut off by the reservoirs so the canal company bought a steam mill; the very first steam mill in the neighbourhood, worked by a beam engine and let out to a family named Clark who were the millers.  This ran until the 1890s when it was bought by Messrs Meads of the Tring Wharf mills.  It then closed down and the work was concentrated at the Tring Wharf.

The Tring Wharf Mill was built by a Mr Grover who originated from Aldbury.  He first had a windmill, then a wharf, and later a lime-kiln, all directly connected with the canal.  Then the Mead family, who were warfingers, arrived.  Then they decided to go into the milling business and went into partnership with the Grovers and built the first steam mill at Tring Wharf and also began as canal carriers (they owned barges), and eventually became barge builders in quite a large way.

The Mead family’s first trade was in hay and straw which they took to the London area; they brought back the ‘London dung’ which was terrible stuff containing all manner of city waste.  It made a vast difference, however, to the farms bordering on the canal as it was unloaded straight onto their fields (this was before there was much artificial manure).  The resulting increased yield of corn in turn went back to the Mead’s mill to be ground for flour and the flour and side-products went to various districts, again by canal.

The Meads at one time had their headquarters at Tring Wharf, New Mill (now Messrs Heygates).  In addition, they owned mills at Wendover, at the head of the canal feeder there, and down the canal to Hemel Hempstead where they had Piccotts End Mill and Bury Mill.  Then they spread further to Hunton Bridge where they had a mill which burnt down many years ago and on to the Watford Mill which used to stand at the end of the High Street, just before Bushey Arches, right on the High Street.  Again, mills got larger downstream, and the Watford Mill was quite a large one. Wendover Mill was a windmill - the largest one known in this area - with at least six pairs of stones, whereas three was the usual number.  The Meads also had a depot at Paddington where the canal basin is, and there they traded in hay, straw, oats and flour and on return journeys in timber etc., up the canal back to Tring or beyond. The brothers spread out, and each one established these various depots where they had their houses and their families.  They had interests at Iver, where there is a branch of the canal which used to go off through to Uxbridge, and there they had a large brickworks. In Tring you could walk round and decide which houses were built with Meads’ bricks from Iver.

One of the famous, or infamous, things about the Meads, depending on your point of view, is that they were one of the first millers to work in conjunction with bakers and to tie bakers to the mill so that they could not buy flour except through the mill.  Eventually they got to what is now known as Clarke bread, and they took Chelsea Mill in London, and that was the first mill where the roller process of flour milling was established (they brought it in from France).  Roller flour gradually ousted all stone-ground flour which is now just fashionable for health food.

The Meads became very wealthy and influential.  Some of them went into farming (some are still doing this).  The boat building business gradually grew as well and was eventually handed by the Meads to Messrs Bushell.

[Biographic notes, c.1977] Bob Grace lived in Tring for most of his life.  He was born at Parsonage Farm, which formerly stood on the site of Bishop Wood School.  As a boy he attended the old National School at Tring.

He worked in Tring all his life and eventually joined the family’s corn and milling business which had been in existence for 250 years before it ceased in about 1977.