Corey's Mill and an Accusation of Murder

Based around the Will of John Tattersall, Miller who dies in 1608.
Gill Pestell

Introduction

Until 2001 it was possible to take a stroll up a narrow mossy lane behind the Corey's Mill public house.  The lane climbed steeply up from the busy Hitchin Road with one or two cottages on either side - a tiny rural hamlet where one tried to ignore the bulky mass of Lister Hospital looming above it.  Almost at the top on the right was Corey's Cottage with a little wooden windmill decorating the entrance porch.  This had been the miller's house and is still one of the oldest houses in Stevenage.  In the meadow opposite was the site of the mill mound (the precise position is TL 22758 26610).

In his will written on 23rd February 1608, Miller John Tattersall's home, Carey’s Cottage, was recorded as being in the parish of Graveley.

Cyril Moore wrote,

The earliest reference to a windmill in Graveley is in a feet of fines dated 1593: this does not specify the position of the site, but it was only 20 years later that this site was first mentioned in connection with the Corye family as millers, and Anne Corye had been the wife of the previous miller, John Tattershall.  There is, therefore, little doubt that there has been a windmill on this site from at least 1593.’ (1)

Describing the mill, Arthur C Smith stated that Corey's Mill was:

a post mill C17th origin or earlier. Of early design with 4 common sails, ladder, tailpole and timber roundhouse with thatched roof (as depicted in painting by Samuel Lucas 1864). Burned down 1878.’ (2) 

Sketch of Corey's Mill c.1864

Sketch of Corey’s Mill based on a watercolour by Samuel Lucas c.1864

Post mills and milling

Post mills revolved around a huge, usually oak, main post.  Stanley Freese describes the selection and preparation of the wood:

‘Careful selection of the tree from which such an important item as the main-post was to be fashioned was essential; … “choose a good English tree growing in a hedgerow on strong heavy stony soil” ...  Years ago when oak trees were barked some months before felling (the bark being highly valued for tanning), it was generally acknowledged that a tree barked in springtime and felled in October provided the toughest all-round material and was least susceptible to attack from the worm.  By this process the sap was released in the spring, the remainder of it being taken up by the growing foliage in the summer, so that by October the sapwood was nearly as firm as the heart … dried slowly and naturally, with least risk of splitting ... Oak should be felled at about 100 years old ...  By observance of these standards (born of long experience in a more leisurely and efficient age), windmills were devised and erected which would stand for centuries, monuments of carefully applied knowledge and expert craftsmanship.’ (3)

Concerning mill sails and millstones, R J de Little wrote:

‘Common sails are very light and very powerful, but have the disadvantage of having to be stopped in order to furl the cloth.  This cloth can be spread in several positions varying from furled to full sail.  The trouble was that if the mill was turning too fast and the miller wanted to furl the cloth a little, the mill had to be stopped with the brake.  This could prove impossible if a sudden strong wind sprang up, the great danger being that the mill might run out of grain, and the stones run dry.  This could result in a shower of sparks which could well set the mill on fire.  The other risk was that the speed of the sails might become so great that the mill might be shaken to pieces by the vibration.  Placed in this position, the miller would try to ride out the storm, choking the stones with too much grain to slow them, or try to turn the sails edge on to the wind, the danger with the latter method being that a sudden change of wind could cause a tailwind and blow the windshaft out of the mill.  Another method of stopping the mill was to throw an abrasive, such as brick dust, onto the rim of the brake wheel.’ (4)

The dangers facing millers were also mentioned by R J Brown,

‘It was necessary for the sails of a mill to remain at all times square into the “eye of the wind”, for it was designed and balanced to resist pressure from the front and not the rear.  Much damage occurred to a mill that was “tail winded” by a sudden change in the direction of the wind - the cloths could be blown out of the sails and even the mill itself could be blown over … turning the mill into the wind was known as luffing or “winding the mill” - often with a “tail pole” which was worked manually.’ (5)

In the same book Brown writes of millstones

‘Mill stones were arranged in pairs, only the upper runner stone revolved - the lower bed stone was stationary. They varied in size from three feet six inches to five feet in diameter but about four feet was accepted as most satisfactory, weighed over a ton and was geared to run at a speed of about 125 revolutions per minute.’ (6)

John Tattersall’s will

John Tattersall's home is recorded as Graveley in his will dated 23rd February 1608.  Corey's Mill was then in the parish of Graveley where the boundary looped south to join Wymondley Parish just north of Fishers Green.

Stevenage map c. 1750

Stevenage Map c.1750 (7)

There were many mills at that time and one cannot be one hundred per cent certain that he was miller at the mill later called Corey's Mill.  Donald Smith wrote:

‘In Histories of the County by Chauncy in 1700 and by Salmon in 1728 there are maps by Moll and Clark respectively, both marking the windmills...’ (8)

Smith includes a table which shows, in 1700, one windmill in Graveley and none in Stevenage, and in 1728, one each in Graveley and Stevenage (9), and Cyril Moore states

‘for most of the time between the 13th and the 19th centuries, the inhabitants of Stevenage would have had at least one windmill where they could get their corn ground but it would not have been a windmill on the same site.  From c.1273 to c.1762 it was on a site near St Nicholas' church; from c.1593 to c.1878 there was one at Corey's Mill (although close to Stevenage, it was in Graveley parish) and from 1849 to 1895 [another mill, GP] at the south end of the parish’. (10)

Excerpts from my transcription of John Tattersall's will follow. The original is in Huntingdon Records Office (11). Numbers in square brackets refer to notes below and letters in curly brackets are expansions of abbreviations used in the writing of the will, e.g. hertf{ord}.

In the name of God Amen the 23th [1] daie of Februarie 1608 I John Tattersall of Graveley in the countie of hertf{ord} miller sick in bodie but of p{er}fect remembraunce praised be god doe make and ordaine this my Last Will and testament in mannere and forme followinge First I Comend my self whollie unto God my Creator  I will that my bodye be buried in the churchyeard of Graveley I give unto John Tattersall my sonne the bedsted whearein I lye w{i}th the furniture theareunto ... belonginge … my Cytterne [2] my bowe and my arrowes  Also I give unto the said John Tattersall my sonne all the utensilles ympleme{n}tes and moveable thinges belonginge to my windmyll at Graveley viz: the 2 stones the sayleclothes the yron worke the Coope [3] the hutch the bedsted the waightes and Skales and all other ympleme{n}tes theareunto belonginge by what name soever called or knowen   Also I give unto hym the said John all my fower pi{e}ces of tymber w{hi}ch are at Mr George Woodhames howse Esquier and w{hi}ch be reddie squared [4] to make a paire of myll sales And yf yt shall happen my sonne John Tattersall to dep{ar}t this lyffe before his mother or befor he come to the age of 21 years then I will that all and sing{u}ler the Legacies before menc{I}oned to be given unto hym shall remayne to Thomas Tattersall my brother and to his heires …  I give to Thomas Tattersall my brother and to his assignes the lease of my Windmyll at Offley [5] w{i}th thapp{er}tennc{e}s [6] together w{i}th all the term of yeares hearein yet to come and to be expired and one milstone that I bought of one Mr Gyles citizen of London  … All the rest of my moveable goodes and chattelles whatsoever unbequeathed I give unto Anne my Wyffe whome I make sole executor of this my Last Will and testament … I appoint and humblie intreat my Father Rob{er}t Tattersall to be my sup{er}visor and ov{er}seer of this my Last Will and testament … by which deed Anne my wyffe is enfeoffed in all my landes and tenem{en}ts and heredittame{n}tes [7] for terme of her naturall lyffe as thearein more playnlie at Large doth and maye appeare In wytness heareof I have heareunto put my hand and seale theise beinge wytnesses George Wilshire  Rob{er}t Gynne Rob{er}t Tattersall

John Tattersall
Probate April 1609

Judging by the bequests in his will, including property other than his mill, furniture and personal items and the fact that he had servants, John Tattersall was a fairly wealthy man, his wealth comparable to that of many yeoman farmers of that time.  John's burial is recorded in the Graveley Parish records (County Records Office, Hertford) on March 2nd 1608, thus: ‘John Tattersall was buried in the Churchyarde of Grav’.

John Tattersall’s widow

John was not an old man when he died.  He left property to his son who was not yet twenty-one, and his father was still living.  John’s widow Anne re-married and her new husband was Henry Corye.  Anne was called up to the Quarter Sessions at Hertford accused of the murder of her former husband.  Margaret Ashby writes:

'In 1613 Anne Corye, wife of miller Henry Corye, was brought to trial at Hertford Assizes, accused of poisoning her former husband John Tattersall.  Unfortunately there is no record of the verdict and it remains a mystery whether Anne was a murderer.  The site of the old mill, which is today overshadowed by the Lister Hospital and the much enlarged Mill Beefeater restaurant and motel, retains the name Corey's Mill. It is also the place where the footpath which was once part of the ancient Roman road from Verulamium via Wheathampstead emerges from the Hitchin Road. ... The mill was well sited at the busy crossroads, and no doubt Henry Corye the miller was a very prosperous man. However, it would be wrong at such a distance in time and with no evidence to attempt to judge whether or not his wife Anne was guilty of murder.’ (12)

The following record was made at Hertford Assizes (13):

578  Discharged Recognizances

Thomas Gornye of Hitchin, doctor, Leonard Tattersall of London, tallow chandler, and Robert Tattersall of Ardeley, clerk, to give evidence against Anne Corye, wife of Henry Corye of Graveley, miller, who is suspected of poisoning John Tattersall, her former husband, and Henry Corye, miller, and Thomas White, constable, of Graveley, for her appearance.  Taken 30 June 1613 by Sir Roland Lytton, Nicholas Trott and John Shotbolt, JPs.

This record means that Thomas Gornye, Leonard Tattersall and Robert Tattersall had pledged money as a surety that they would appear in court and give evidence (if they did not, then they would lose their money).  Henry Corye and Thomas White were similarly pledged to ensure that Anne Corye appeared in court.

It seems that Anne Corye may not have been tried or charged with the murder of her husband since no-one has yet found any further record concerning the case.  Perhaps there was insufficient evidence to charge her. 

The present day

In 1878, like many other mills, Corey’s Mill succumbed to fire.  It was not re-built.  The site became a meadow until in 2002 developers moved in and houses were built around the mound.  The new road is called Tates Way.  The developer did not respond to my enquiry as to the origin of this name.  Can it have been erroneously named after one John Tate?  Margaret Ashby says:

'Windmills were a familiar sight in the district but of course, lacking running water, Stevenage had no watermills.  There is no truth in the old myth, which is still sometimes repeated, that John Tate had a paper mill here in the middle ages.  His mill was at Hertford.'  (14)

The mill mound is now part of the plot upon which number 1, Tates Way stands.  The mound is protected from further development by a covenant (15) between the owner and developer.  This covenant includes the words:  ‘… the impact of development proposals on the historic environment … an ancient mound ("the Ancient Mound") on which an ancient post mill once stood and which was known as Corey's Mill   … have agreed to enter this Agreement for the purpose of preserving the Ancient Mound’.

It is sad that the site has been over-run by the never-ending quest for house building land and that there is, as yet, no indication at the site to show where, once upon a time, a post-mill stood where was enacted a small piece of drama in the history of Stevenage.

References and Notes

References

(1) Cyril Moore, Hertfordshire Windmills and Windmillers (Windsup Publishing, 1999) p.133

(2) Arthur C Smith, Windmills in Hertfordshire, (Stevenage Museum Publications, 1972) p.40

(3) Stanley Freese, Windmills and Millwrighting (Cambridge University Press, 1957) p.31

(4) R J de Little, The Windmill of Yesterday and Today (John Baker (Publishers) Ltd. , 1972) p.30

(5) R J Brown, Windmills of England (Robert Hale, 1976) p.28

(6) ibid p.33

(7) Stevenage map,1750, ADD.9063 f66 reproduced by kind permission of the British Library

(8) Donald Smith, English Windmills Vol. II (The Architectural Press, 1932) p.104

(9) ibid p.108

(10) Cyril Moore p.131

(11) John Tattersall will 1608 (Huntingdon Records Office)

(12) Margaret Ashby, Stevenage Past (Phillimore, 1995) p.60

(13) Hertfordshire Indictments James I. Hertford Assizes July 16th 1613. Before Robert Houghton, J., and Serjeant Henry Montague. [Assize 35/55/3] (the original is in the Public Records Office at Kew).

(14) Margaret Ashby, Stevenage , History and Guide (Tempus Publishing, 2nd ed., 2002) p.46

(15) Hertfordshire County Council Section 106 agreement (ref: JRE/DU663)

Notes

[1] 23th: three and twentieth.

[2] cytterne: cittern, cithern = a musical instrument played with a plectrum.

[3] coop: cask / barrel / basket / dung cart.

[4] squared: made square in cross-section.

[5] Offley: village about 8 miles west of Graveley on a high hill between Hitchin and Luton.

[6] appurtenences: the “rights and responsibilities of the landholding” which would be attached to the lease.

[7] hereditaments: any property that can be inherited.

Bibliography

Margaret Ashby, Stevenage Past (Phillimore, 1995).

Margaret Ashby, Stevenage , History and Guide (Tempus Publishing, 2nd ed., 2002)

R J Brown, Windmills of England (Robert Hale, 1976)

Stanley Freese, Windmills and Millwrighting (Cambridge University Press, 1957)

R J de Little, The Windmill of Yesterday and Today (John Baker (Publishers) Ltd. , 1972)

Cyril Moore, Hertfordshire Windmills and Windmillers (Windsup Publishing, 1999)

Arthur C Smith, Windmills in Hertfordshire, (Stevenage Museum Publications, 1972)

Donald Smith, English Windmills Vol. II (The Architectural Press, 1932)

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1973)

Hertfordshire Indictments James I (HMSO, 1975)

 

Related pages

History of Stevenage

Contact details

Stevenage Museum
St Georges Way
Stevenage
SG1 1XX

01438 218881
museum@stevenage.gov.uk

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