Hidden histories

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One of the benefits of urban sketching is that it provides a reason to explore the hidden corners of London.  Urban Sketchers London visited Three Mills Island to draw in May 2018, and for many of us it was a place we had never previously visited.

The House Mill and Clock Mill are tidal water mills on the River Lea in East London. There have been watermills on this part of the River Lea since the eleventh century – the Doomsday Book of 1086 records eight mills. The River Lea flows into the Thames and is part of the same tidal system; tidal mills use the flow of water to power the grinding of wheat into flour, and other purposes. The name ‘Three Mills’ was in use by the twelfth century; the mills ground and sold bread flour to local bakers. Grain was brought to the mills by carts or by barge from farms in Suffolk, Essex and Hertfordshire. Standing by the mills, you can see the tramways in the ground used by the grain carts.

The House Mill we see today was built in 1776; the Miller’s House adjoining it was rebuilt in the 1990’s to the original 1763 design after damage from Second World War bombing. The Clock Mill was built in 1817, replacing a timber-built mill. The clocktower is retained from the 1750s; the clock and bell summonsed the local people to work at the mills. These two mills have waterwheels under the buildings which would have driven the millstones. The buildings with conical roofs were used to dry grain.

My drawing above of the Clock Mill is a monoprint, based on an earlier location drawing.

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