A Gazetteer of Tidemills in England & Wales ; past and present
Obtaining energy from tidal movement is becoming increasingly popular (in theory) due to its 'green' credentials. The only commercially viable modern one is on the Barrage de la Rance in northern Brittany which has an exceptionally large intertidal range. In practice the capital and maintenance costs are so high as to make it uneconomic and these were among the reasons for the extinction of tidemills.(known as tidal mills in the New World)
Many tidemills are situated on creeks so that some of them were, in reality, semi-tidal i.e. they do not have a millpond. Definition of what a tide mill is, as opposed to a watermill, is futile. Apart from the failure to maintain them properly, the main problem for tide mills was damage from tidal surge so that most were situate in tidal estuaries. The final factor in their demise was WWI which removed cheap labour from the market in addition to the reluctance to work the unsocial hours as dictated by the times of the tides.
At first sight there seems a strong correlation between tidemills and saltworkings but there is no direct link although some old saltern feed ponds seem to have become millponds. Both benefit from the same geophysical conditions.
Few tidemills have been found (worldwide) outside southern England and even there the distribution is mainly localised to Hampshire (and adjacent West Sussex) and the Fal and Tamar estuaries in Devon and Cornwall. These are areas of small streams where good sites for watermills are uncommon. As Carew described the Cornish tidemills 'Amongst other commodities afforded by the sea, the inhabitants make use of divers creeks for grist-mills, by thwarting a bank from side to side, in which a flood-gate is placed with two leaves: these the flowing tide openeth, and after full sea the weight of the ebb closeth fast, which no other force can do, and so the imprisoned water payeth the ransom of driving an under-shot wheel for his enlargement'.
Mode of operation
◄ With an incoming tide the sluice is opened to allow the pond to fill.
The sluice is then closed and, after the tide has ebbed, it is operated like an ordinary watermill ►
(illustrations courtesy Birlot mill site)
Only sites with a NGR have been checked. This is an ongoing procedure.
Acknowledgements to the various members of the lists who responded to my enquiry and to the NMR.
Any list of this nature is never complete. Criticisms, corrections and additions to
Much of the information comes ultimately from the Simmons collection in the Science Museum
P- Pamplin grant Hants RO 5M50/1955
T- W Minchinton 'Tide mills of England and Wales' in K Major (ed) Transactions of the 4th Symposium [of] the International Molinological Society, Matlock, England, 1-8 September 1977 . Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Wind and Watermill Section. Wind and Watermill Section, for the International Molinological Society - 1978
M Ellis. Water & windmills in Hampshire & IOW. SUIAG . 1978
FE Halliday (ed.) Richard Carew of Antony; the Survey of Cornwall &c. 1953
R Wailes. Tidemills of England & Wales. Trans. Newcomen Soc. 19 1938-9.1-35 (reprinted later in Edgar Allen News and by SPAB)
Minchinton Walter Edward and Perkins John 1971. Tidemills of Devon and Cornwall. Exeter Industrial Archaeology Group, Series Exeter Papers in Industrial Archaeology 2
Smith Diana. 1989. The tide mill at Eling Publisher: Ensign
Pelham R. 'The old mills of Southampton'. Southampton Papers Number Three, 1963.
Acknowledgements to the National Monuments Records, West Sussex SMR and the various contributors