History of the mill
Willy Watt Mill is situated on the road between Great Addington and Ringstead and is separated from the parish of Ringstead by the River Nene. It is more than likely the mill mentioned in the Domesday Book, and no doubt dates from an even earlier time. During the course of time, the name has varied, for example the mill was known as Willicoat (1558), Williat (1624), Williot (1728) and Willowat (1691). The last spelling occurs in the accounts of the overseers of the poor of Woodford. The name is derived from Willow Ait or Willow Island. The word ‘ait’ means ‘small isle, especially in a river’ and refers to the mill holme.
Unfortunately, little is known about the early history of the mill, but for many years it belonged to Croyland Abbey and then passed to the crown when the monasteries were dissolved in around 1539. In 1544 Henry VIII granted the mill to Lord Parr, uncle of Catherine, Henry’s last wife. After the accession of Elizabeth I the mill reverted to the crown once more. In 1560, the mill was granted to William Garrard, but was surrendered two years later. It was then granted to Robert Lane and Anthony Throckmorton, who also owned the manor at Great Addington. They sold the mill and the manor to Henry Clerke of Stanwick in May 1562. Henry was the eldest son of William Clerke of Potterspury, who was Sergeant of Arms to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary. When Henry died in 1574 the mill passed to his son William and then to William’s brother Gabriel in 1604. Gabriel died in 1624 and left the mill to his nephew Robert. A condition concerning the mill can be found on Gabriel’s memorial tablet in Potterspury church:
‘I do give and bequeath unto the minister churchwardens and overseers of the poor of the parish of Potterspury aforesaid for the time being for ever one annuity or yearly rent charge of forty shillings of lawful English money to be issuing and going out of my Mills called Williat Mills in the parish of Woodford in the county of Northampton and to be paid yearly…and distributed…amongst ten of the poorest and neediest people of Potterspury…’
This annuity (£2 in today’s money) is still paid by the owners of the mill.
When wool production started flourishing in this country in the 1700’s, the mill was used to process cloth for a time.
From the middle of the 18th century, the mill was converted to a paper mill. During this time the mill was owned by the Shuttleworth family. In 1830, William Mitchell set up business, and he made paper here for about 4 years. Unfortunately, it would appear the Mitchell was unable to make a profit due to the large quantities of rags that needed to be imported and the excise duties that were payable on both the rags and manufactured paper. In addition to this, the supply of rags was often patchy. There were also the natural hazards of frost, flood and drought to contend with. Mitchell frequently owed rent and his machinery was inadequate. He moved to his operations to Cotton Mills in Ringstead and Henry Shuttleworth Bellamy, a relation of the owner, took the mill on and re-organised it to grind bones. The change to bone grinding took advantage of the increasing use of phosphates in agriculture. However, this did not last long and flour milling was resumed once more.
The plan now is to repair the wheel to its former glory and convert it to produce hydro-electricity. This will be the main source of power for the marina, tea rooms and the holiday lets.