Ashlett Mill and Creek
Historical Note


Ashlett Mill is a well known local landmark of considerable interest. It now serves as an attractive meeting and club house of the Waterside Sports and Social Club and the Ashlett Sailing Club, complete with bar, skittle alley, shooting range and billiards tables. However, it has a long history. It has seen centuries of service in its original purpose of milling corn, and when that came to an end with corn being milled more conveniently and economically with electrically or engine driven machinery, it served as a hostel for labourers engaged in the building of the first Fawley refinery in 1920-21.

The present mill house bears the date 1816, and the initials 'T.B.' on a stone set into the wall of the Calshot side of the building. It is certain, however, that a mill existed at Ashlett much earlier than this. Tide mills have been known to exist in southern England from early Medieval times, and it seems likely that there has been a mill in the locality from the beginning of the 13th century. Some evidence comes from Esso Petroleum Company records of the refinery land purchased from the Cadland Estate.

In the year 1241 Cadand Manor was owned by Eva de Clinton, the widow of a Norman knight. For some unknown reason she decided to give it, lock stock and barrel to the Abbot of Titchfield. In the records there is a copy of an extract from the Dugdale Monasticon of 1317-1318 confirming this gift. Eva, daughter of Roger de Escures, gave to the abbot and canons of St Mary of Titchfield "of all the manor of Cadeland with mills and all its appurtenances". In another confirmation of the same gift, there is this similar wording - ".. in the aforesaid lands, possessions, mills, salt pans, court and all appurtenances..". This is thought to refer to a mill at Ashlett, and if so it was probably a tide mill working on the same principle as that of the existing mill in its working days. Certainly the technical requirements of tide mills were known in those days.

R. Wailes, a Civil Engineer, and the expert on tide-mills recorded in the 1930s that the tide mill at Woodbridge in Suffolk was first mentioned in the year 1170, and pointed out a reference in the Domesday Book to what appears to have been a tide mill at Dover. "At the entrance to the port of Dover is a mill which carries disaster to vessels by the great disturbance of the sea, and so causes the greatest damage to the King and his men...". Whether or not such an early mill existed, there is no question that a mill was working at Ashlett in the 17th century. The mill is referred to regularly between the years 1660 and 1680 in the Fawley Parish Records (now at Winchester); the property is mentioned there in connection with ratings exacted upon it. The County Archive office, has a reference from the Winchester Bishopric Pipe Roll of Fawley for 1605 which almost certainly referred to Ashlett. It records that "Nicholas Lambert pays a rent of five shillings for one corn mill." Later rent rolls for the Bishopric manor of Fawley include a quit rent of five shillings for Ashlett Mill. There is a further reference in Esso's archives in a record of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' "Fines of Lands" for 1694 "..and of 3/4 of Henry Yongs for one toft or parcel of land where formerly stood a mill with a course in the tithing of Fawley called Ashfleete Lake.." Whether this means that the 17th century mill had been pulled down, or whether the entry refers to a previous mill, perhaps adjacent to a then existing mill is not clear. Physical evidence of earlier mills is shadowy.
The initials "T.B." on the south wall of the mill are those of Thomas Barney, of Beaulieu, who has been described as a merchant, a salt maker and a miller. He owned the mill as well as the nearby saltworks at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He sold the saltworks and saltings - and almost certainly the mill to Andrew and Robert Drummond in 1830. The mill continued in operation until well into the present century - probably it closed down about 1910. An historian of tide mills, R. Wailes, rightly suggested that there were two water wheels each driving two pairs of stones. The gearing has long been dismantled and although fifty years ago a number of people could remember seeing the millstones in the 1920s, later only two of the stones were known to exist. One in a garden in Ashlett Road and one in a garden at Norley Wood.

After the mill shut down, it served variously as dwellings (it was made into flats), as a boathouse, and as a store. There were people living there when Agwi bought the building in 1920 as part and parcel of the land for the first Fawley Refinery. Tenants remained there until late October of that year when the mill was quickly stripped and cleared of as many obstructions as possible and some 80 camp hospital type beds were installed on the first floor. Underneath, on the ground floor, communal ablutions and cooking facilities were put in. By mid-November of 1920, 40 men were sleeping there for 3/6 (17.1/2p) per week. It was not five star hotel standard, but it was cheap! For those who valued privacy, they could get a hut within the refinery site for five shillings (25p) per week. The occupants did their own bed making, washing and cooking, although some sort of hot meal could be obtained on the refinery site. The numbers of men using the mill dormitory continued to increase through November until some 75-80 people were accommodated there. They remained until the first construction task was completed, and the refinery started up. The accommodation was closed down at the end of June 1921 when it then became a store again, but before twelve months had passed a new phase of refinery construction had started, comparable in size to the original undertaking. By April 1922 the mill was once again providing shelter and accommodation for a construction force. This continued until the end of the following April in 1923. In the meantime the second floor had been turned into 20 yards indoor rifle range. There had been an interest by refinery staff in rifle shooting as a form of recreation since 1921 and an outdoor range had been put down on the adjacent salt flats. The mill house offered the ideal solution for an indoor range which was opened on January 4th, 1922, on the ground floor, it was later transferred to the second floor where there was more room, and where it has remained in use to the present time. In 1932 the old mill was converted into a social club - the Ashlett Club of the Esso Recreation Club that became the Waterside Sports and Social Club in 2002.

"The Jolly Sailor"

The Jolly Sailor pub was no doubt a haven for many of the construction workers. But it seems to be a moot point whether the extra business was welcomed entirely by the landlord. His name was Martin, an uncommunicative but fastidious man who had a habit of rather obviously following with dustpan and brush anyone entering his parlour with dirt on his boots. The offender's tracks were duly swept while he was eyed with disfavour if not enmity, by the landlord. Another habit not endearing to his new clientele was that he kept a close eye on the safety of his beer mugs and glassware. Any glass put down less than six inches from the edge of the table was promptly moved to a safer position nearer the centre. Needless to say, Mr Martin carne in for some baiting, sometimes from men from the Royal Air Force base at Calshot who were also customers at the "Jolly Sailor". Perhaps it was as well for Mr Martin that he did not live to see the big developments of the nineteen fifties onwards.

The Quay and the Refinery

Whilst the quay at Ashlett no doubt owed its origin and existence to the mill, it is inevitable that it should have been used for other purposes. It was certainly used often bringing in heavy supplies for the Cadland Estate and the House as well as for shipping occasional goods out. When the mill was purchased by Agwi from Captain Maldwin Drummond in 1920, he retained the ownership of the "small buildings" on the south-west end of the mill proper. These buildings, not a part of the original mill construction, were pulled down when they became unsafe in 1966. They had been used as a store convenient to the quay, and no doubt Captain Drummond envisaged their continued use for the Cadland Estate. Now, however, they quay was to be put to its most intensive use in its history. The quay belonged, as it still does, to the Fawley parish Council, and permission was obtained from that body for its use in bringing in the bulk of the new refinery construction material. By early September 1920, there was already coming across it a "steady delivery of stores and materials" as we learn from the weekly report of Colonel Andrews - the refinery chief engineer. One unusual consignment in September, 1920, was the timbers of a jetty which Colonel Andrews had purchased complete at Hamble. He sent men over there to dismantle it and, as the usable timber was pulled out, it was lashed into bundles and towed over Southampton Water to Ashlett. An extract from the September daily records indicates the kind of equipment comming in:
1 50KW Temporary Lighting Set
1 2ft gauge Steam Loco
1 Vertical Boiler (8ft x 3ft 6")
3 Worthington Pumps
1 Mortar Mill (7ft)
1 Concrete Mixer
22 Side tipping Decauville Wagons
So far the material was fairly light, but the handling was laborious for there was no crane and no rail track, and the supplies all had to be manhandled and carried by cart and solid tyred lorry into the refinery site. However in October 1920, a five ton steam crane was erected on the quay and a Decauville (light railway) track was laid from the refinery site proper up to this crane. The crane had some mobility by running on a standard gauge railway track from the quay wall back towards the 'Jolly Sailor' where the goods could be better loaded on to the road or Decauville track vehicles. With the crane and light railway the imports were greatly speeded up. But it was too late for the huge and heavy steel plating for the first 55,000 barrel tank (which had come from the US and been trans-shipped from the Southampton Docks via a Totton depot) which was already stored in the refinery about a month before the crane was available. The first refinery manager, Mr H.D. Demoulins, told an amusing story of the first shipment of the tank plating (as in most industry, the meeting of deadline dates is of paramount importance but perhaps more especially with oil refineries where any delays may finally result in exorbitant shipping costs. Tankers and their cargoes are charted months before-hand and may be held up if there are any hold-ups in shore operations. It was essential as it is now that there were no delays. When the fIrst tank plates arrived they were trans-shipped into one of Everard's barges to sail up and discharge at Ashlett Quay. The cockney skipper anchored off Fawley, but refused to bring his barge up the creek as he considered it too tortuous, narrow and silted up. He was tempted with extra pay and a bonus, but nothing would shake his decision. In desperation Captain Woolway, the refinery Civil Engineer, took him to Ashlett Quay, and pointed out the 'Jolly Sailor', saying, "when your barge is moored alongside, there's a barrel of beer waiting for you and your mates in there with our compliments." It worked! Next morning at dawn there was the barge moored alongside the quay - they had brought it up in the night on the spring tide, and one might say that barge was floated in on beer. The traffic at Ashlett Quay was by no means all one way. In October 1920, a pile casting site was set up on the marsh at the bottom of Copthorn Lane. By March 1921 a hundred 50ft long reinforced piles had been cast and were ready for driving into the sea bed for the first jetty and berth. All these piles were moved down to Ashlett where they were slung aboard barges and taken via the creek to their driving sites. This bit of Fawley Refinery history we will end by going back to November 11, 1920 when the Ash1ett Quay traffic was just getting into its swing. Colonel Andrew's log for that day records that three barges were being unloaded, two with tank plate and one with 80 tons of cement, and "..in accordance with the King's wish, two minutes silence were observed at 11.00 am throughout the whole work to-day..".


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