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Heygates Mill, the large flour mill that stands in Tringford Road adjacent to the Wendover Arm, was once the site of Gamnel Wharf [10] windmill.  Although this chapter is concerned principally with the history of the windmill, it also includes a brief account of the present flour mill, which supplies flour to customers over a wide area of southern England and is a significant employer in the town.


Fig. 7.1: Tring Flour Mills on the Wendover Arm.

One early product of the Industrial Revolution was our canal network, which improved quite dramatically the means of transporting goods, particularly those in bulk such as coal, grain and manure (for in that horse-powered age, large quantities were shipped from the cities to fertilise the land).  Many local businessmen and farmers soon became aware of the potential benefit that this new form of transport could have on their profits, and factories, mills and wharfs of different types soon sprang up along the banks of the new waterways.

The Grand Junction Canal (since 1929, the Grand Union Canal) reached north-west Hertfordshire at the end of the 18th century.  Fortunately for Tring, which would otherwise have been bypassed, the need to provide the Canal with a reliable water supply as it crossed the ridge of the Chilterns led to the a plan to construct a feeder ditch, which led westwards along the contour between Bulbourne and Wendover, passing the northern outskirts of Tring on its journey.  However, pressure from local farmers and land owners led the Grand Junction Canal Company (GJCC) to apply to Parliament for an Act to make the ditch navigable. 
In due course the following statutory notice appeared in the newspapers published along the route of the GJCC, giving notice of the Company’s intention to apply to Parliament for an Act which, among other things, would authorise them:

“. . . . to make navigable, the cut or feeder now making, and intended to be made, by the company of Proprietors of the Grand Junction Canal, from the town of WENDOVER, in the said county of Buckinghamshire, to the summit-level of the Grand Junction Canal, at Bulbourne, in the parish of Tring, which is to pass in, to, or through the several parishes of Wendover, Halton, Weston-Turville, Aston-Clinton, Buckland, and Drayton-Beauchamp, in the said county of Buckingham; and the parish of Tring; till it joins the said summit-level at Bulbourne aforesaid. Dated this 5th day of September, 1793.”

E. O. Gray, Aston Chaplin, Clerks to the Company

Exactly when the Wendover Arm was completed is unknown, but it was probably shortly after 1794, for in his progress report of May of that year Chief Engineer William Jessop states that “About seven-eights of the Wendover Canal is cut”, and in a GJCC circular of November, 1797, reference is made to “The Wendover collateral line, now finished for the sake of the water.”  Thus, the Arm was widened and made navigable, and wharfs were built at, among other places, Gamnel (Tring), Buckland and  Wendover [11] to cater for the trade that commenced when the main line of the canal reached Bulbourne Junction in 1799.

The earliest reference to milling in the Gamnel locality is in the same year.  The site now occupied by Tring Flour Mill (Heygates Ltd.) was in the vicinity of a water mill – possibly in New Road, near the Baptist Chapel – that had been bought by the GJCC and then dismantled, its water supply having been diverted into the canal summit.  The loss of the mill pond affected the local Baptist community, whose traditional baptism ceremonies were thus curtailed:

“The Water Mill at New Mill is now sold to the Canal Company, and the pond cannot therefore be used in future for baptism. A baptistery is being made in front of the pulpit in the Chapel [where it remains].

The Mill had previously been in the ownership of friends of the Chapel, and after a baptismal service the women used to change their clothes there, and the men walked up to the Chapel to change. The open-air baptisms were a good thing 
[to be] done away with, although they were greatly preferred by the Minister and some members of the Chapel. The services were always scenes of much hostility and abuse from certain people in Tring, the participants in the service oftentimes being pelted with filthy missiles.”

From the Tring Vestry Minutes for 1799.

The GJCC Minutes for the 14th October 1800 record that a wharf at Tring – presumably that at Gamnel, now generally known as
Tring Wharf – was sold by auction for three years from 29th September.  It was taken by James Tate, a coal merchant and barge owner, for £15 per annum.  Then, on 5th July 1810, the first reference to Gamnel appears in the GJCC Minutes, which record that the freehold of what appears to be the same site was sold . . . .

“. . . . by Deed Poll under Common Seal in Consideration of Four hundred pounds paid to them by the said William Grover grant and release to the said William Grover his Heirs and Assigns All that wharf Land and Buildings thereon containing one acre and three roods more or less situate next Gamnel [canal] Bridge in the Parish of Tring . . . . ”


William Grover must have seen a business opportunity in developing the site.  It comprised a triangular piece of land on which he (or possibly his brother James) later erected a windmill and set up in business at the wharf sending and receiving consignments of goods by canal.  Exactly when the windmill was built is unknown.  Andrew Bryant’s 1820-21 map of Hertfordshire includes a windmill symbol at Gamnel Wharf, while Pigot’s Directory for 1823 lists the brothers William and James Grover as ‘millers’ at Gamnel, but the earliest record of the wharf and premises is in 1829, when they were held by William Grover, while James Grover held the windmill and a house on the same site at a rateable value of £13. 5s. 0d.

At some time after 1829, the partnership between the Grover brothers ceased.  Why, is unclear, but following their father’s death in 1820 it is known that there arose a prolonged dispute between the brothers concerning the terms of his will.  In her history of Aldbury, Jean Davis refers to a vestry dispute of 1828, and states that . . . .

The fact was that, at some time before he died in 1820, John Grover had given up his baker’s shop in Aldbury and moved to Tring Wharf.  Having acquired some land in North Field, he proceeded to build a house there adjacent to the road, which he left to his son James with the crop and implements and household goods.  According to John Clement, watchmaker and Baptist preacher of Tring, James’s brother William disputed the will, which finally went to arbitration.  James is reported to have said that he was wronged of ‘hundreds of pounds’.”

For whatever reason, James set out to build and work nearby Goldfield windmill (Chapter VIII) in competition with his brother.  The 1839 edition of Pigot’s Directory lists James at Goldfield, while Gamnel Wharf was run by William Grover & Son in partnership.  Moving on to 1841, the Census records William Grover, then age 60, at Gamnel with his son Thomas, and the Hillsdons, father and son, who were later to set up business as millwrights in Chapel Street, Tring (Chapter V).  All four are described as millers.

The next public reference to the Grover family appears in January 1843, when a brief notice in the London Gazette announced the dissolution of the partnership between William Grover and Son, wharfingers, of Tring Wharf and Paddington.  No reason is given, but the inherited rumour is that William Grover became insolvent, which might explain why, in the following month, he disposed of the business to his sons-in-law.  The following notice appeared in the Bucks Advertiser:

“William Grover, in the town of Tring in the County of Hertfordshire, having on the 28th day of January last disposed of the business of wharfinger, coal and coke merchant and mealman, and dealer in hay, straw, ashes, and other things, lately carried on by him in partnership with Thomas Grover, at Tring Wharf, and at Paddington in the County of Middlesex, under the firm of ‘WILLIAM GROVER & SON’ to his sons-in-law, William Mead and Richard Bailey.

Messrs. Mead and Bailey beg to announce that they will continue to carry on the same business, upon the said premises, in partnership under the name of ‘MEAD & BAILEY’.  All debts due to and owing from the said William Grover, will be received and paid by Mead & Bailey.”

It is interesting that the Grovers describe themselves not as millers, but as “wharfingers”, which suggests that their principal business activities were the shipment of produce by canal and the resale of imported bulk commodities, such as coal and coke.  In an age before the development of road transport, and with the nearest railway [12] goods yard almost two miles from Tring town centre, the Wendover Arm was not only an important source of water for the Grand Junction Canal, but of commercial importance to the town and its surrounding area.  Indeed, it is known that the Arm was used to convey grain not only to the windmill at Gamnel, but to that at Wendover (Chapter X), it too being located strategically close to the town’s canal wharf.


After 1843, the Grovers disappear from the story of Gamnel Wharf, while Mead and Bailey continued to offer a diverse range of services, advertising themselves as millers, coal merchants, wharfingers and water carriers; and a few years later, the partners added to their interests by dealing in horse manure, which they shipped out of London.  It is likely that Bailey managed the wharf at this time, for in the 1851 Census he describes himself as “Miller and Wharfinger”, while Mead appears as “Farmer and Miller” (the Mead family continue to farm in the area).
At this time the workforce numbered around 30 men and the Census returns list all the families living near to each other in the immediate vicinity of the mill. In those days William Mead lived on site, in a handsome house next to the yard, but only owned half the area taken up by the mill of today.  But it is open to question whether this was a close-knit and caring community, for a contemporary account relating to one of the mill’s employees rather belies this view.

William Massey, who worked as a labourer at the mill, lived with his family on the wharf where he rented a hovel from the miller for a shilling a week.  In his biography of Gerald Massey, William’s eldest son, David Shaw wrote:

“For this money they [the Massey family] were given a damp flint stone hut with a roof so low that it was impossible for an average adult to stand upright.  Having paid the rent, nine shillings remained from Williams weekly wage to provide a minimum subsistence.”

Gerald Massey was to become a Chartist agitator, later acquiring renown in literary circles as a poet and author.  Some years after William’s death, Gerald Massey had this to say about his late father’s employment at Gamnel Wharf . . . .

“I know a poor old man who, for 40 years, worked for one firm and its three generations of proprietors.  He began at a wage of 16s. per week, and worked his way, as he grew older and older, and many necessaries of life grew dearer and dearer, down to six shillings a week, and still he kept working, and would not give up.  At six shillings a week he broke a limb, and left work at last, being pensioned off by the firm with a four-penny piece!  I know whereof I speak, for that man was my father.”

Regardless of whether the Meads treated their employees in such a Dickensian manner, their business prospered.  It centred on the windmill, which old photographs show to be a brick-built 6-storey tower mill with four double-shuttered patent sails, a fantail, with a gallery on the second floor.  The cap was in the ‘Kentish style’, with an extension at the rear to support the fantail and its stage.  It was considered to be a relatively large mill having power sufficient to drive at least three pairs of millstones.  While no record exists of the mill’s machinery, it was probably comparable to that in the later tower mill at Quainton (Chapter XI) and, judging from photographs of Gamnel Mill, was of similar external size and appearance.

The partnership between Mead & Bailey ended in 1856 on Bailey’s death, and for the next 88 years the Mead family became inextricably linked to milling and to other business activities at Gamnel Wharf.

In the year following Richard Bailey’s death, his widow, Sarah, bound their son Thomas in apprenticeship for five years as miller to Edward Mead.  On the 15th April 1857, a Tring solicitor drew up the Indenture in wording typical of the time . . . .

“. . . . the said apprentice his Master shall faithfully serve, his secrets keep, his lawful commands everywhere gladly do . . . . he shall not waste the goods of his Master, nor lend them unlawfully to any.  He shall not commit fornication nor contract matrimony within the said term; shall not play Cards or Dice Tables or any other unlawful games; . . . . he shall not haunt Taverns or Playhouses nor absent himself from his Master’s service day or night unlawfully . . . .”

How a normal red-blooded young man coped with five years of such conditions is hard to imagine today.  Thomas Bailey’s mother also had to agree to wash and mend her son’s clothes and to supply any medicines that he might require.  Although weighted greatly in favour of the master, terms on the Indenture were not wholly one-sided, as for his part the master agreed to . . . .

“. . . . Useth by the best means that he can to teach and instruct, or cause to be taught; finding unto the apprentice sufficient Meat, Drink, Lodging and all other necessaries during the said term . . . .”


By the 1840s it appears that a steam engine had been installed at Gamnel to supplement wind power – which by then was fairly common practice – for Mead family papers refer to one of the occupants of the mill cottages as Thomas Rowe, a stoker at the mill (the 1861 Census also lists 19-year old Samuel Bull as an “engine stoker”).  Nothing is known about the steam engine, but evidence suggests it was separate from the windmill . . . .

“Prior to my return home Gamnel [a.k.a. Tring] Flour Mill was run by my brothers Edward and Thomas, but the former took the mill at Hunton Bridge, near Watford, and said I might have his share of Gamnel for £1500.  This I accepted, giving notes of hand [i.e. promissory notes], which I paid off when I had earned the money.  I worked hard, sometimes up to 10 oclock, and if windmill and steam-mill were both working I would stay until 1.00 oclock in the morning.  In these cases I slept at my brother Williams house . . . .”

John Mead, autobiographical sketch, c.1930s.

. . . . unlike the practice adopted at Quainton windmill, where a small steam engine was installed on the meal floor, its steam being piped from an external boiler house and the engine coupled to the windmill’s spur wheel (and hence millstones, etc) via an iron shaft and cog.  This type of arrangement is shown in plate 21.

By this time the business at Gamnel Wharf was run by William Mead’s third son, Edward, who also rented the windmill at Wendover (Chapter X).  Edward Mead had become a busy man, having acquired milling interests at Watford, Hunton Bridge and at Chelsea, where he is believed to have installed the UK’s first roller mill.


From about 1850, local man John Bushell was employed by the Meads to build and repair their fleet of barges.  These were used to bring grain to the mill, mainly from London’s docks, with return cargoes of flour and other commodities (probably including hay and straw).  At that time canal boats were often built in small boatyards run by a few men and this applied to the Gamnel Wharf boatyard, where the craftsmen worked in the open air in the most extreme weather.

Fig. 7.2: Bushell Brothers’ boatyard photographed in January, 1914.
A large boat-building shed was later constructed to protect the men from the elements.

Modernisation at the mill in 1875 resulted in John Bushell’s son Joseph leasing the boatyard and developing it into a separate business, while continuing to meet the Meads’ requirements for building and maintaining their canal craft.


Fig. 7.3: the new steam mill.

A particular milestone was reached in 1875, when Thomas Mead took the bold step of erecting an imposing brick-built grain mill adjacent to the windmill, its 5-storeys allowing sufficient headroom for a large beam engine capable of driving five pairs of millstones.  The installation of this new machinery did not go without incident, as a local newspaper reports . . . .

“Accident — There was a shifting of the old boiler out of the old engine house at Mr Thomas Mead’s flour mill into the new one on Tuesday; and in order to do this, the boiler had to be raised four feet.  A small space had been left at the end for the jack, and the block underneath slipped when the boiler was raised about two feet, and caused the boiler to run ahead, striking against Lot Denchfield, fracturing his right thigh and left fore arm.  Denchfield was at once taken to the County Infirmary at Aylesbury.”

As the century progressed, advances in technology swept away old systems, and milling was not exempt.  In 1894 a further step was taken when Thomas Mead installed the recently-developed roller system (Chapter 3, Appendix), for a time running it in conjunction with the windmill.  Then in 1905, the old Bolton & Watt-type beam engine was replaced by a Woodhouse & Mitchell tandem compound condensing engine, rated at 120 hp, which drove the mill until it converted to electric power in 1946.

Fig. 7.4: Gamnel Wharf tower mill about to be pulled down, 4th May 1911.

The early 20th century saw the rapid demise of windmills throughout the land.  After some ninety years of faithful service, on the 4th May 1911 the tower mill at Gamnel Wharf was pulled down.  A local newspaper gave the following account . . . .

“Removal of a Landmark — On May 4th a familiar landmark was demolished.  For many years the old windmill where Mr. Mead and his ancestors have long carried on their business, has stood at Gamnel.  The leisurely business methods of bygone days have had to give place to more up-to-date arrangements and so the ground on which the old mill stood was wanted for an extension of the steam-powered mills.  Under the personal direction of Mr W. N. Mead the structure was first undermined, wooden struts taking the place of the brickwork and when it was ready a steel cable and winch hauled it over.”

Fig. 7.5: the deed is done.

As the years passed, other changes came to Mead’s flour mill.  In 1916, horse transport was supplemented with a Foden steam lorry, this being joined by a Napier lorry in 1918, the bodywork of which — and of all further lorries up to WWII — was constructed by Bushell Brothers.  The coal business, which advertisements suggest had been important since the earliest days of Gamnel Wharf, ceased at the outbreak of World War II.  Much imported wheat was now being used, which was shipped by barge from Brentford to Bulbourne near Tring, where it was transferred to a horse-drawn narrowboat for its passage up the Wendover Arm.  Barge traffic continued on the Arm until after the WWII, when road haulage took over.


Fig. 7.6: Bushell Brothers were versatile, supplementing their boat-building with carpentry
(they carried out repairs on Pitstone Mill), decorating and building vehicle bodywork.

Joseph Bushell’s two sons, Joseph junior and Charles, had taken over the boatyard in 1912, renaming the business Bushell Brothers.  But as canal traffic and the market for new barges and repairs declined, more varied work had to be sought.  Besides their work on narrowboats, the firm is known to have built and repaired pleasure boats, maintenance flats, wide boats, tugs and even a fire float, while their letterhead advertised boats for hire, carpentry and decorating services.

Fig. 7.7: and example of Bushells Brothers’ bodywork building skills.

Shortly before its closure in 1952, Bushells were constructing and painting coachwork for commercial vehicles.  But in local minds the boatyard will always be remembered for its fine wooden narrowboats, a few of which have been preserved by enthusiasts.

Fig. 7.8: calendar cover for 1941.



Fig. 7.9: William Mead judging wheat.

Thomas Mead’s son, William, died in April, 1941.  There being no sons to take over the business, it passed into the control of his executors and trustees.  The Mead name finally disappeared from the Gamnel scene in 1944, when the business was taken over by Heygates of Bugbrooke Mills, Northampton, who for some time had assisted with the running of Gamnel Mill.

Following the end of WWII, the mill’s storage silos and warehouses were enlarged and, with the removal of the old south boundary wall (latterly part of the carpenter’s shop) to create space for expansion, the last tangible memory of Gamnel Wharf windmill disappeared.

Today, flour milling continues at Gamnel Wharf but in a manner greatly transformed from its wind and steam milling days.  The mechanical shafts, cogs, belts and sets of grindstones have long been replaced by banks of cabinets that house sophisticated filters and grinding rollers serviced by a network of pneumatic feeder pipes.  The finished product is no longer packed in the two-and-a-half hundredweight (280 lbs.) sacks that carters like William Massey had to deliver into baker’s lofts, sometimes carrying each sack up slippery external wooden steps or ladders.  Today, Gamnel’s modern automated packing plant fills 32 kilos (70 lbs.) sacks, which are then neatly palleted, swathed in polythene sheet, and loaded onto lorries by forklift truck.  Some flour also leaves the mill in bulk transporters.

As in the days of the windmill, only two men are needed to operate the plant.  But whereas in former times the two millers could process half a ton of grain per hour, today’s electrically-driven equipment operating under computer control, can mill 12 tons per hour; or put another way, 100,000 tons of wheat is milled in a year resulting in 76,000 tons of flour, the bulk of the waste going into animal feed.  The mill employs a workforce of 80, and 16 trucks deliver its products to outlets throughout the south of England.

Fig. 7.10: a Sentinel steamer.