Mills belonging to St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall contains charters and deeds covering the years from about 1070 to 1372. After the dissolution of the monasteries the cartulary was held by the crown before passing in 1612 to the Cecil family when the property of the former priory was sold to Robert, Earl of Salisbury. Sometime between 1068 and 1070 Robert, Count of Mortain, granted St. Michael’s Mount with a half hide of land to the abbey of Mont St. Michel in northern France. This grant was backdated to before 1037 but after 1042 so to give the impression that King Edward the Confessor made the grant of the Mount to the French abbey in that time. But St. Michael’s Mount was slow to get established and early land grants to it seem not to have become effective. It was 1135 before the abbot of Mont St. Michel is first recorded building a priory on St. Michael’s Mount.
In 1337 King Edward III seized all the so-called alien priories in England to fund the start of the Hundred Years War, including St. Michael’s Mount and its Cornish property. The priory and its estate was then worth 200 marks. The effects of the war, coupled with the Black Death plague of 1348-1351, meant that by 1362 there were only two resident monks on the Mount. Over the years St. Michael’s Mount was variously restored to Mont St. Michel only to be again seized by the English crown. In 1300 the cost of maintaining a monk for a year was five marks at Whalley abbey in Lancashire and with only two monks on the Mount, the priory had a nice surplus income that could be used by a government in need of funds for war.
For a time St. Michael’s Mount was held by King’s College Cambridge under a grant by King Henry V before returning to the crown. In 1416 part of the estate of St. Michael’s Mount was given to the new Brigitine house of Syon abbey at Isleworth. In 1424 the entire property of St. Michael’s Mount, including the Mount, was granted to Syon house. In 1425 the Bishop of Exeter replaced the monks with three secular priests. In 1437 Syon house took possession of St. Michael’s Mount and estate but legal arguments ensued and the crown held the Mount until 1461 when the Mount was restored to Syon house. In 1539 the Mount was seized by the crown with the dissolution of the monasteries and leased to various tenants until sold to the Cecil family in 1611-12.
One of the oldest mills held by the priory of St. Michael’s Mount was called Mill Mehell or St. Michael’s Mill in a valley below Lesneage in the parish of St. Keverne in west Cornwall. The mill was part of the manor of Traboe, one of the main endowments of the priory. The Cornish word for a mill, melin, frequently forms part of place names and possibly does in this case. Sometime before 1259 the priory built a new hall or grange in Traboe manor. In 1258 John de Trembrase granted St. Michael’s priory the stream flowing through his land of Trembrase to near Mill Mehell with permission to build a sluice and a leat on the land to the mill. In return the priory gave John de Trembase two shillings. In addition the priory paid John de Trembrase six pence per year for the weir and the water flow along the new leat.
It seems the priory mill was built before 1258, possibly using a different water supply. In 1086 there were only six recorded mills in Cornwall. Mill Mehell was possibly built around 1200 when landlords saw manorial mills generated more income than having tenants using hand mills at home. By 1258 for some unknown reason the mill was in need of a new water source or extra water to keep the mill working in the dry summer months. As in most medieval manors the tenants were obliged to grind their corn at the manor mill but occasional landlords could waiver the obligation as in 1348 when the priory leased a messuage and land to Richard de Trenemyny and Richard Trewortharap.
It would seem that the dry summers of 13th Cornwall, which favoured vineyards, was a problem for the millers of Mill Mehell as by 1267 they needed a new water supply. In 1267 Thomas of Congwidan (Polgwidan) gave the priory his rights to his moor land and waters near the leprosary of Nansclegy. The priory could divert the waters of the moor land to Mill Mehell and were given a right of way for their horses and packs to access the mill. In return the priory recognised Thomas’ right to his vineyard opposite the mill and to part of the road going towards St. Keverne between the lazar house and the great stone. The moor land would retain the winter rains and release them in the summer to help the mill to keep in production.
In 1481 the reeve’s report for Syon house said that Rado Boteler paid 26s 10d in rent for Mill Mehell. The low income of the mill compared to other Cornish mills is likely to be because St. Keverne parish had a number of medieval mills each with their own customers or the difficulties of water supply restricted the operations of the mill and thus reduced its value. In 1611 the Earls of Salisbury acquired the mill along with the entire priory’s estate. In 1651 the next Earl sold the mill to the John Gregor family of Trewarthenick. In the 18th century the mill was still in operation and valued at £30 with Anthony Hosken as the tenant. When the Gregor estate was sold in 1909 the mill, still called Mellin Mehall mill, and late in the tenancy of Barnett Tripconey, deceased. Lot number 10 included the mill and a dwelling house. The mill continued to operate until the late 20th century but today most of the machinery is gone and the leat has nearly all disappeared. Today the mill building is a private dwelling house.
In about 1200 Odo son of Frewynus gave the priory his mill of Trevabyn in the parish of St. Hilary with its associated mill stream and meadows. This grant was approved by his lord, Adam Bloyou. Sometime between 1204 and 1229 Robert Curtehose (son of Nicholas, son of Frewynus) confirmed a grant of an acre of land in perpetual alms to the priory by Odo Frewynus along with Trevabyn mill and the multure of the arable land of Trevabyn at the mill. The usual rate of multure in Cornwall was a twelfth part of the grain that was ground at each mill. Sometime in 1230-50, Robert, son of Nicholas, son of Frewynus de Tromeru, quit-claimed Trevabyn mill and its associated mill stream to the priory.
In 1262 St. Michael’s Mount acquired Trelowarren mill in the parish of St. Mawgan-in-Meneage from Martin de Funteines, lord of Halliggye, with the right to make a weir, a leat and a millpond provided this was not hinder Martin from carrying sand to marl his lands beyond the leat. In return the priory paid Martin six pence per year. In 1295 Roger, lord of Halliggye, confirmed the grant of Trelowarren mill. The parish of St. Mawgan-in-Meneage, like St. Keverne, had good land and climate that could produce a good harvest of wheat and corn. Today Trelowarren mill is a dwelling house.
The three corn mills of the priory of St. Michael’s Mount provided a local service and source of income for the priory. The mills appear to have been at the lower end of the income spectrum with Traboe mill earning 26s 10d when compared to other mills in Cornwall. Mills owned by the Earls of Cornwall generated a fixed income between 33s 4d and 133s 4d. The priory did have a right to take a bushel measure on corn unloaded at the port of the Mount which was confirmed in 1353. It also collected tithe income on corn grown on its estates and sold at its markets. In 1539 the priory and its corn income were no more but at least one of the priory’s mills, Mill Mehell, continued to provide a local service well into the twentieth century; nearly 750 years of service.
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 Hull, P.L. (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 5, 1962), pp. vii, viii, xiii, xvii
 Hull, P.L. (ed.), The caption of seisin of the Duchy of Cornwall, 1337 (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 17, 1971), p. 140
 Fletcher, Canon J.R. (ed. Dom John Stéphan), Short history of Saint Michael’s Mount (St. Michael’s Mount, 1951), pp. 28, 31, 35
 London, V.C.M. (ed.), The cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey (Devon & Cornwall Record Society, New Series, Vol. 8, 1965), p. xvii, note 11
 Snell, L.S., The suppression of the religious foundations of Devon and Cornwall (Marazion, 1967), p. 134
 Fletcher (ed. Stéphan), Short history of Saint Michael’s Mount, pp. 39, 45, 48, 59
 Snell, The suppression of the religious foundations of Devon and Cornwall, pp. 120, 134
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, p. xxi
 Elliott-Binns, L.E., Medieval Cornwall (London, 1955), p. 145
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, nos. 32, 33
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, no. 40
 Elliott-Binns, Medieval Cornwall, p. 144
 Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward III, 1348-1350, p. 107, 12th June 1348
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, p. xxi, no. 39
 Unwin, A., ‘The Water Mills of St. Keverne’, in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (1977) = available online at the St. Keverne Local History Society website.
 Polsue, J. (ed.), A complete Parochial History of the County of Cornwall (4 vols. Truro, 1867-1872), vol. II, p. 347
 Unwin, A., ‘The Water Mills of St. Keverne’, in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (1977)
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, p. xxi. 61
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, nos. 59, 63
 Elliott-Binns, L.E., Medieval Cornwall (London, 1955), p. 145
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, no. 64
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, p. xxi, no. 35
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, no. 36
 Polsue (ed.), A complete Parochial History of the County of Cornwall, vol. III, p. 275
 Elliott-Binns, Medieval Cornwall, p. 145
 Hull (ed.), The cartulary of St. Michael’s Mount, p. xx, note 9
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