On the River Windrush half way between Witney and Crawley. New
Mill spans the river and the north-eastern half is in Hailey
parish, while the south-western half is in Crawley parish.
New Mill consists of a long range of stone-built buildings
spanning the river at right angles, with extensions either side
of the mill pond. A surveyors report from 1809 records that 'the
mill and buildings are of stone and slate, old and in many parts
much out of repair' .
New Mill, view from the south showing the range of buildings
spanning the River Windrush.
An important factor that shaped the development of New Mill was
a series of damaging fires taking place here in 1783, 1809, 1818
and 1883. The walls were built of stone but the floors, roof
supports and much of the machinery was made of wood, creating an
ever-present fire hazard while the mills relied on candles for
their lighting needs . The premises were rebuilt after each
disaster with parts of the earlier structures being incorporated
into new and larger mills. In 1830 the building was two and a
half stories high with a continuous dormer window in the roof, a
feature unknown in other local mills. This provided light for
the hand-powered spinning mules located on the top floor . By
the 1880s New Mill consisted of a large three-storey block at
right angles to the river containing carding and willeying
equipment together with two breast-shot water wheels. Two
extensions on either side of the headrace contained fulling
stocks and further carding and spinning machinery .
The fire of 1883 was described in the Witney Gazette of the time
as 'one of the most calamitous conflagrations that has ever
taken place in this district' and many spectators gathered to
see the fire and the resulting devastation. William Cantwell, a
local builder was employed to rebuild New Mill after the fire
, although the height of the building was reduced to two
stories. The two water wheels here were kept on in use after the
rebuilding as they continued to provide a free source of energy
compared to the use of steam power, which required fuel .
New Mill, the mill race looking downstream.
The surviving building is built from rubble stone with brick
arches to the window and door heads and contains some of the
earlier masonry . In addition to the main mill buildings
there was a foreman's house and eight workers' stone cottages on
the site .
Despite its name New Mill is actually one of the oldest mill
sites in Witney. A document of 1661 (part of a lease) refers to
a fulling mill 'commonly called New Mill in the Tything of
Hayley' although a mill was present on this site for a long time
before this; one is recorded as existing here in the Domesday
Book of 1086.
This site had a long association with the Early family who
either owned or occupied part, or all of it over several
centuries. During the early 1800s New Mill was leased by a
partnership of Edward Early, John Early and Paul Harris who
carried out spinning operations here .
For much of the 19th century it seems that New Mill was
effectively two mills: the north-east part was in Hailey parish
and on the south-west side, a fulling mill, in Crawley parish.
At one point the latter was leased to Messrs Leake and Long who
washed, shrunk and tentered other people's goods on a commission
basis, while in the northern half there was spinning machinery
operated by John Early. Both businesses each had a waterwheel
side by side, each using half the mill pond .
New Mill, the north-eastern end of the range spanning the River
Charles Early (1824 - 1912) acquired an interest in the
southwest part in 1866 while the other part passed to three of
Edward Early's children in 1874. One of these was Walter Early,
who with his brother Thomas, carried out a spinning concern in
part of the mill. Both of them unfortunately came to tragic
ends: Walter was found drowned in a water butt and 'Mad' Tom
took his own life with a shotgun. After the fire of 1883 Charles
Early was able to acquire most of the mill lands on either side
of the river including the river bed and became sole owner by
1894 after the death of Walter Early .
The mill was then run by Edward Early and Sons, a subsidiary of
Charles Early and Co., until it was formally absorbed into the
larger firm in 1921. It remained in use by Early's until the
1950s when the spinning operations here were transferred to a
new department in Witney Mill. It fell into disuse after this
and the site was sold off in the 1960s . New Mill is now
occupied by a variety of small businesses.
What was the site used for?
A fulling mill near to the site of New Mill is recorded from the
early 13th century . It seems likely that cloth fulling was
carried out here during the following centuries and then
gradually extended to take in additional stages of cloth
production. Certainly by 1818 New Mill was adapted (or rebuilt)
to cater for spinning operations .
Edmund Wright introduced powered spinning to New Mill around the
beginning of the 19th century. Unfortunately for him, he fell in
the millpond and was crushed by his own waterwheel, much to the
delight of the local hand spinners [15, 16]. His ghost was said
locally to have reappeared soon afterwards, and indeed New Mill
still has the reputation of being haunted.
Charles Early had the first Knowles and Houghton self-acting
power spinning mule installed at New Mill in 1853. This was an
improvement on earlier power-driven mules as they had required
adjusting by hand before they would wind the spun yarn onto
A plan published by the Witney Gazette on the day after the 1883
fire revealed that at the time of its destruction there were
around 24 different rooms or departments including mule rooms,
willey shops, carding rooms, spinning rooms, tucking shops,
water wheels and an engine house , so it is clear that by
this stage it was catering for most stages of blanket production
After the 1883 fire New Mill was re-equipped chiefly as a
carding and spinning plant but also had machines called
'doublers' (for producing mop yarn) and produced yarn for
wadmill tilts. Dyed or dirty wool was also blended at New Mill,
well away from the white wool blending that was carried out at
different sites . It remained in full use until the 1950s,
when spinning operations transferred to Witney Mill.