Burton upon Trent is very famous for its brewing industry, but before the breweries, Burton was very famous for its various mills. The first recorded mills were fulling mills which were situated on the Wetlands by the river Trent, They were known as the "Upper Mills" by the monks of Burton and dates back to Anglo Saxon times or even earlier. The "Lower Mills" also known as "The Winsill Mills" or "The Mills Below The Bridge" were also built at the same time as the "Upper Mills". When the Burton Abbey was flourishing, the Winsill mills were given to the Burton Abbey as gift from Wulfric Spot, who founded the Abbey.
The Monks of Burton used one of these mills for grinding flour and the other two mills as fulling mills. The Winsill Mills were mentioned in the Doomsday Book and were valued at that time at £6.00. The Upper Mills or "Weir Mills" were given to the Abbey by the 15th Abbott Richard Lisle between 1223 and 1229 A.D. These were fulling mills and stood on the site which is now occupied by Bill Sherratts farm. The Wetlands of Burton were ideal for Sheep grazing and the Monks got quite a reputation for the high quality of their wool. All the mills at this time were used to their full capacity. The monks even exported their wool as far as mainland Europe.
In 1698 Lord Paget obtained an Act of Parliament for making the navigation of the River Trent possible for barges and boats between Burton Fleet Stones and Wilden Ferry. This paved the way for industrial growth of Burton upon Trent as it now had a thru water link for large boats all the way to the sea at the port of Hull on the east coast. Along side the forge mill at Winsill ran a lock that allowed boats to get past the weir at the Winsill mills. In 1730 Lord Paget leased the Winsill Mills to the Hayne family. They ran the mills and paid Lord Paget a rent of £120.00 per annum. The Hayne family continued to lease the Winsill Mills for many years. In 1780 the Hayne Family sub-let the Fulling Mill to Robert Peel. After the Hayne Family the Corn Mill lease was taken over by Henry Evans and then Joseph Wilson "The Miller" who ran the corn mill up to the end of the 1860's. On the outside wall of the Corn Mill is a date stone, below it were two fire marks, one has now been removed believed stolen.
The Royal Exchange Fire Mark relates to an insurance dated 1792 under which Joseph Wilson insured his utensils and trade for £500.00. Joseph Wilson ran the mill until T.G. Greensmiths took over and ran the mill up to 1993, when the mill closed down. It now stands derelict. From 1760's up to 1993 the Winsill flour mill was the only mill in Burton grinding corn. The reason the Burton Mill survived the mid 1800's large scale industrial expansion was because it was different to other small mills which went bankrupt. The reason being it had a cheap and efficient source of power, being the water from the River Trent. In 1719 the fulling mill at Winsill that stood on the far side of the weir was turned into a forge. The conversion was carried by Thomas Seal a Burton iron-monger and the work was completed by 1721.
It consisted of a forge for hammering and plating iron. Thomas and Samuel Seal retained full control of the mill until 1733 when they were declared bankrupt. It was then purchased by Samson Lloyd a important iron master from Birmingham. He was a influential member of a family of Quakers and also the founder of Lloyds Bank in Birmingham. He kept on in his employment Thomas and Samuel Seal who continued to live in and run the forge for him. Samson Lloyd used the forge for forging and boring gun barrels. He also made thimbles and iron plates. Most of the plates were used by local hardware manufacturers for spades and other tools. In 1763 the mills, weir and navigation leases passed under the control of the Trent Navigation Company. By 1766 the Lloyds family were making plates, rods, bars, hoops and continued to supply local businesses. They also produced plates of iron at the Burton forge for James Watt for the construction of his steam engines that were built in his Birmingham based factory. By 1812 the steam engines were overtaking the water powered mills that had once produced the parts that ironically built the steam engines. Thus direct water power became obsolete in favor of steam.
The Peels Mills
In 1779 Robert Peels cotton mill at Altham near Blackburn was destroyed by rioters. This was during a period of unrest and the rights of individual workers which caused many mills to be ransacked and destroyed in the Yorkshire and Lancashire main cotton producing area's. In 1780 Robert Peel came to Burton, he leased two houses in Horninglow Street, before buying and re fronting Peel House in Lichfield Street. He was 56 at the time. He rebuilt his cotton industry in Burton. The Peel Mills were the mainstay of Burton industry for nearly 60 years. Peel & Co (Robert Peel & William Yates) built cottages near their mills for workers and superior houses for their over lockers and superintendents. The Burton Mills employed between 500 and 800 workers. Robert Peel was well liked and respected by his workers and attached to two of his mills were schools for the children under the age of 10.
Children over 10 were employed as child apprentices. The schools were probably attached to the Bond End Mills being near to the cottages in the town. Employment of young children at the time was being frowned upon, but Robert Peel cared for and looked after the workers and their families and wasn't such a big issue in Burton at the time. The work was hard and working hours were very long, sometimes in squalid conditions, but work in other industries outside the mill was even harder. Peel & Co opened the first mill at Winsill in the old fulling mill. By 1781 the old mill had been demolished and Peel & Co had built their new purpose built mill on the site. This mill still stands today, sadly this is the only one of five mills he built in Burton still standing today. The mill is over 200 years old, it stands four story's high (The first floor at some point was removed to give the ground floor more height). It had 8 bays, and measured 120 feet long by 30 feet wide. It drew water from the same weir as the corn mill that stands next to it.
Installed on the Winsill Mill wall can been seen a Sun Insurance Fire Mark. A policy document of 1781 belonging to the Sun Insurance company, states in that year a Robert Peel of Burton and a William Yates of Manchester were among six manufacturers that insured their brick and slated warehouse for £600 and its contents for £1200. The cotton mills of Burton were cotton spinning mills and contained carding engines for converting raw cotton into a soft rope or sliver. Spinning Jennies were used in the North of England, but in Burton they used water frames for spinning the yarn and power looms for the weaving. Their second mill was at Bond End in Blackpool Close, 300 yards south of the Fleet stones, construction started in 1782 and was completed the following year. To assist in the construction he purchased several large consignments of timber from J.W. Wilson of Burton costing £66.00. The third mill was constructed between 1784 and 1787. This was built on the site of the old Upper Mill.
This is no longer standing it was the milking shed on Bill Sherratts farm. The house that Bill lived in was the Mills superintendents or mills managers house that was also built by Peel. In 1795 the fourth mill was built at the bridge at Bond End next to the other existing mill, this mill was called the "New Building". In 1814 Peel Yates & Co converted part of the old forge mill at Winsill into their fifth and final mill in Burton. Robert Peel retired in 1792 and went to live in Manchester. He left his mills in the care of several of his sons. 1795 marked the year when Robert Peel died at the age of 72, he left an estate valued at around £40,000.00. His seventh son John managed the Burton Mills for 20 years. His third son Robert ran a profitable cotton manufacturing concern in Tamworth, was also a partner in several important commercial banks, he lived in Drayton Manor (ed. not the Zoo), and was a Member of Parliament from 1790 onwards for several years. By the early 19th century Peel Yates & Co had become one of the largest industrial concerns in the Country, employing across the country over 15,000 workers. There was a scarcity of British currency prior to 1816, so to pay such a large workforce, companies like Peel Yates & Co issued token coinage. Peel Harding & Co of Faizley issued silver tokens valued 2s-6d and 1s-6d, while Peel Yates & Co at Burton used two types of penny tokens issued in 1814. It showed a picture of the Bond End Mill on the obverse side together with inscription "payable by James Pardoe Burton 1814". Mr Pardoe was probably a partner or mill manager.
All the Peel Mills were water powered. To supply water to the first Bond End mill, Peel had an extensive leat or channel cut from above the upper mill weir that ran northwards back to the Bond End Mill. It is now filled in and be traced in the fields at the back of Blackpool Street. This leat did not supply sufficient water so in 1792 a 33' by 30' engine house built onto his Bond End Mill. Bolton & Watt of Birmingham installed a 26hp Sun & Planet steam engine. This was the first steam engine to be used in a Staffordshire mill and became known as the "Steam Engine Mill". When he built the second mill in 1795 it used the water supply from Peels cut which had supplied the other mill before the steam engine was installed. The Peel Family made a great contribution to the development of Burton. We hope this short history will show that Burton has not only depended on the Brewing Industry for the development and prosperity of the town.