Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
Mills played an important part in the medieval life as they helped prepare wheat, oats and barley for use in food and drink production. Many medieval tenants were obliged to grind their corn at the manorial mill that they lived in. A charge of 13th part of the corn delivered was usually retained for the miller. Many people had their own hand mills at home to grind their own corn but even with the cost, people preferred to go to the manorial mill because the mill used high quality mill stones and gave better results.
Millstones usually need replacing every one to three years depending on how much business the mill was active. The three main sources of millstones for south-west England were from near Penselwood in Somerset, Welsh stones and stones from France. The millstones from France usually came into the ports of Southampton, Weymouth, Wareham and Topsham (on east side of the Exe River below Exeter). The cost of buying a millstone with the transport cost to bring it to the mill could be expensive and very variable depending on where the stone was brought and if it came from France, via what port it came into England. In 1257-8 the mills on Taunton manor purchased two French stones which cost £5 2s (five pounds and two shillings) including carriage. One stone that came through Wareham cost £2 11s 1d with transport to Taunton of 10s. Three Welsh stones with transport only cost £1 1s 6d but the French stones were of better quality. Millstones from Somerset cost 19s 1d with 8s for transport. Towards the end of the thirteenth century the carriage of French stones through Southampton cost 15s by water and land.
Southampton was one of the main ports on the English Channel at that time. Shippers liked to come into Southampton and tranship smaller cargos from there along the coast to the smaller ports like Exeter. Southampton’s status made it very competitive compared to other ports. Two French millstones that came through Weymouth cost £1 11s 3d to transport to Taunton in Somerset. At Topsham a millstone purchased for Taunton cost £1 18s 4d including transport. The Earl of Devon was lord of the port of Topsham and provided good storage facilities at the port along with an efficient land transport system beyond its bounds. In 1263-4 the Exeter city council successfully won their legal case to collect two thirds of the custom at Topsham along with continuing to collect custom at their own port of Exmouth.
The landlord of the mill paid for the major capital expenses of construction and maintenance while the miller or the leasee paid for the day to day running costs and small essential expenses. But some landlords were able to reduce their contribution by getting their tenants to do the transport costs of carrying millstones from the quarries or the ports to the mill as at Calstock manor in Cornwall.
The competitiveness of other ports meant that Exeter didn’t have a large trade in millstones. Between 1302 and 1320 five shipments of millstones were imported through Exeter but by the end of the century even this small trade had declined. In the ten years from 1381 to 1391 only two shipments of millstones came into Exeter.
On 4th September 1303 Walter le Fraunceys imported two pairs of millstones along with two bales of alum and 1½ dozen of cordwains. The cargo came in on board the La Wynnegod of Teignmouth with John Grigge as master. The vessel carried a varied cargo of woad, potash, canvas, cloth and alum for ten different merchants beside Walter le Fraunceys. Alum was a whitish transparent mineral salt used in the dying of cloth. The said Walter le Fraunceys was a resident of Exeter and at other times imported 18 tuns of wine (1298), I tun of wine (1299) and 2 tuns of wine (1302). The shipment of the millstones was outside his usual trade and so he may well have had a customer at hand to sell on the goods.
In 1310-11 Pagan le Bruere (Brewer) imported two small millstones into Exeter on board the La Holoc de St Louis under Captain John Rydel. These two millstones were Pagan’s own trade on the vessel. Also on the vessel Pagan carried 80 stone welds, 4 bales of alum, 36 hats, 15 lanterns and 100 knives with Stephen le Ellecombe. The third merchant on the vessel, Walter de Mochard carried 2 bales of alum, 50 knives and 12 hats. Pagan le Brewer was a resident of Exeter acquiring freedom of the borough in March 1299. In 1302-3 he rented a shop from Exeter city council for 12d (twelve pence). Pagan le Brewer imported a number of shipments over the years. These included woad, potash, stone weld, and cloth in 1305; 2 tuns of wine in 1305; another 1 tun of wine in 1305; 7 tuns of wine in 1318 and brass pans, mortars, iron, potash and onions among other items in 1317. The two millstones may have being imported for a ready customer but considering the other goods imported by Pagan le Brewer over the years he may have purchased the stones to sell onwards at some future date.
In 1311 Richard Osanne, merchant and ship master, imported 1 millstone with a cargo of 30 quarters of wheat, 20 quarters of barley and 12 hundred weight of mackerel on his own ship called the La Osanne of Cabourg on the coast of Normandy. Richard Osanne likely came direct from France to Exeter with his cargo to sell to anybody and everyone willing to buy it.
On 13th August 1313 the last recorded shipment of millstones arrived in Exeter. These were 3 millstones and 20 tuns of woad imported by John le Someter on board the La Wake of Hook (near Warsash in Hampshire) under Captain Roger Walkelyn. On 23rd August Robert de Doune paid 20s in custom charges for the cargo. The cargo possibly arrived in Southampton on a larger vessel and was transhipped to Exeter on the La Wake. Robert de Doune was a resident of Exeter and imported a number of shipments over the years. These included 2 tuns of wine (1299), 2 tuns of wine (1301), 2 tuns of wine (1302), 1 tun of wine (1305) and 10 tuns of woad in 1316. Woad was a yellow flowered plant from southern France that was used to made blue dye. The later shipments suggest that Robert de Doune was moving away from being a small time wine importer to trading in woad and millstones from France.
The fifth shipment of millstones into Exeter occurred sometime between 1313 and 1321 but it was not recorded in the local custom accounts for Exeter. The low number of millstones coming into Exeter and the speculative nature of some of the recorded imports suggests that millers in the south-west of England acquired their prized French millstones via some other port.
End of post
 Hunt, T.J. (ed.), The manors of Taunton and Bradford on Tone (Somerset Record Society, Vol. LXVI, 1962), p. xlv
 Hunt (ed.), The manors of Taunton and Bradford on Tone, p. xlix
 Kowaleski, M. (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321 (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 36, 1993), p. 16
 Hunt (ed.), The manors of Taunton and Bradford on Tone, p. xlix
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, pp. 3, 6
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, p. 16
 Hull, P.L. (ed.), The caption of seisin of the Duchy of Cornwall (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 17, 1971), p. 104
 Kowaleski, M., Local Markets and Regional Trade in Medieval Exeter (Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 230
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, p. 79
 Flavin, S., & Jones, E.T. (eds.), Bristol’s trade with Ireland and the Continent 1503-1601: The evidence of the exchequer customs accounts (Bristol Record Society, Vol. 61, 2009), p. 943
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, pp. 53, 60, 73
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, p. 120
 Hoskins, W.G. (ed.), Exeter Freemen, 1266-1967 (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, Extra Series, Vol. 1, 1973), p. 6
 Rowe, M.M., & Draisey, J.M. (eds.), The receiver’s accounts of the City of Exeter, 1304-1353 (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 32, 1989), p. 92
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, pp. 97, 101, 104, 157, 158
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, p. 121
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, p. 130
 Kowaleski (ed.), Local customs accounts of the Port of Exeter, 1266-1321, pp. 60, 66, 72, 89, 139, 226
 Flavin & Jones (eds.), Bristol’s trade with Ireland and the Continent 1503-1601, p. 963