For some 900 years the River Weaver has provided a good supply of water to power a water mill in Nantwich. In 1874 the Guardian commented on the mill that there would be ‘power to spare.’ The mill is thought to have been established around 1228. It would have formed part of the local manor to whom a toll was paid particularly in kind a more reliable method of payment than cash. This enabled high rents to be charged.
Richard de Leftwich had 1/18th part of the profits of the water corn mill in the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century the Lovell and Audley shares were purchased respectively by William Church and Sir Ranulph Egerton. The mill passed into the sole ownership of the Egerton family in 1621. A description of the town at that time referred to the ‘fair and profitable mills for the service and use of the town’ as being Sir Richard Egerton’s inheritance. Around 1650 and the time of the Civil War the corn mill was acquired by the Cholmondeley’s who retained it until the 1840s. During the Civil War the mill was used as an hospital.
Mill Street leading to the mill on the River Weaver was first mentioned in documents dated 1466. In his herbal a Historie of Plants published in 1597 John Gerard makes reference to finding plants on Milne Eye, an island in the River Weaver thus alluding to the existence of the mill weir. Corn was exported from Nantwich in the Tudor era except in times of famine.
In the eighteenth century local people would buy corn from farmers at the market in High Street. They would then take it to the mill to be ground into flour.
Following the rapid expansion of the British cotton industry around 1788 the mill was converted into a cotton-spinning factory. It was run by Michael Bott who, during the following decade, enlarged it and installed steam machinery. The mill became known as Bott’s Mill.
The recruitment of a workforce was a general problem during the early industrial period. Factories were associated with the workhouse and there were concerns about the ‘indifferent moral quality’ of those who worked in factories. Michael Bott adopted the industrial apprentice system recruiting children from workhouses as far afield as Dublin.
The apprentices worked hard for their living. Sir Robert Peel’s British Factory Act 1802 sought to improve the conditions of those working in the mills but largely failed as it was only partially enforced. The Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor commissioned James Nield as an unofficial Inspector of Factories. He was denied access to Bott’s Mill and Michael Bott refused to answer any of his questions. Despite this it appears that there were improvements to the apprentices lot after the 1802 Act.
It has been said of the Bott’s Mill apprentices that they worked hard, were well fed, well clothed (having their own uniforms) and enjoyed good accommodation. They had access to recreational facilities and attended the Parish Church every Sunday. Nevertheless there were still cases of apprentices absenting themselves.
The mill was sold to Thomas Bower in 1825. He eventually went into partnership with two brothers named Lowe. During the 1840s a fourth storey was added to the mill and new machinery installed. A Mr Whitelegg purchased the mill around 1848. During 1859-1860 the mill was employing about 130 people.
The American Civil War curtailed the supply to cotton creating the Cotton Famine. As a consequence the mill closed in 1862. It was sold and re-opened as the Nantwich Cotton Spinning Company in 1864. In 1873 it was sold to William Hodgson. Shortly afterwards the women working at the mill went on strike for increased pay, the mill was declared uneconomic and finally closed for cotton manufacture in 1874.
William Hodgson sold the mill to John Whittingham of Batherton Mill who restored it to its original use as a corn mill. It was regarded as an excellent investment the Guardian commenting prophetically in 1874 that there would be: ‘room and power to spare or to let.’ Around 1890 a turbine was installed to replace the water wheel. The upper storey of the wings of the mill became a clothing factory whilst other parts became a foundry for the manufacture of agricultural implements including cheese presses.
In the 1950s it became Boughey’s Mill distributing BOCM products and subsequently a billiard hall. It was destroyed by fire in 1970 and subsequently demolished.
Andrew Lamberton & Graham Dodd, Nantwich Museum