The Writings of David Smith
We are indebted to Jeanne Furnival for permission to reproduce this extract from her book
David W. Smith was born in Sleaford in 1858, son of Thomas Smith, the Miller at Hemp Mill on the corner of West Banks and Westgate. During David's youth, the mill had ceased to beat hemp but had now become a corn and barley grinding mill. In his writings, he states that he lived in Sleaford for sixteen years at the Hemp Mill. It seems he may have left Sleaford for a period of time - possibly to further his education - and his writings appear to have mainly been produced in the 1930's when he lived possibly in London. Some of David's writings appeared in Morton's Lincolnshire Almanac, published annually, whilst others were printed in the Sleaford Gazette, also produced by W.K.Morton and Son who had printing works in both Sleaford and Horncastle. Indeed today there is still a Morton's, Printers, in Horncastle. Jeanne Furnival has researched and produced a book about him (with assistance from Simon Pawley and Michael Turland), and has kindly given me permission to reproduce parts of it.
Starting with some historical background to the mill, it was located near Smiths Bridge at the junction of West Banks and Rauceby Banks.
An extract from Sleaford Mills in the Bristol Estates Deeds:
Hemp Mill 14th February 1738
Parties - The Earl of Bristol and Thomas Hill and John Foster lease for 21 years
Property: Water Mill or engine for beating hemp and flax. Wheels, cogs, gear and other utensils.
Location: Place called Castle Lane which is that piece of ground or bank leading from the said mill to the town of New Sleaford: also bleaching ground, or parcel of meadow or pasture land, several closes; plus newly erected cottage and another cottage used as a bleaching house.
Consideration: Yearly £55.0s.0d.
By 1783, we find that Thomas Hill and John Foster still appear as lessees of the property, according to Hare's survey of 1783 of Lord Bristol's land.
Extract from The Court of Sleaford - Wills Section
John Foster - Roper
Thomas Hill - Flaxdresser
John Foster - Flaxdresser
Leeson Smith - Flaxdresser
Thomas Smith - Flaxdresser
Extract from Sleaford Parish Registers
Sarah daughter of John Foster - Roper, Baptised 24th October 1750
Samuel, son of Benjamin Muggleston, flaxdresser, Baptised 24th July 1752
Mary, daughter of Benjamin Muggleston, hempdresser, Baptised 28th June 1754
Jane, daughter of William Smith - Hempdresser, Baptised 14th December 1762
Watson (sic) daughter of William and Sarah Harrison - Roper, Baptised 14th May 1769
David Smith tells us in an article published in the Sleaford Gazette dated 24th July 1936 that during his father's tenancy of the mill over three generations, it was a flour mill, though we know from the Bristol Estates Deeds that it had been a hemp mill previously. (Simon Pawley gives an excellent description of the making of rope from hemp at the mill in his book Sleaford and The Slea) The mill was demolished in Queen Victoria's reign and David Smith describes it in the article:
"The mill was a three storey building and was tiled, the cottage was of two storeys and thatched. When you went in at the heavy black door of the mill, you descended a few steps on the right and found yourself in the mill proper, that is, the place where the grinding and refining were done. A strong structure, a kind of platform on the right, carried the two pairs of millstones, one for the wheat, the other for barley. My father called the former, the French stones, the latter, the Grey stones. On this platform too, was the handle for starting and stopping the mill, the handle of course, communicating with the great water wheel in the wood lean-to at the corner of West Banks. You could always tell when the mill was working by hearing the splashing water falling on the bucket boards of the big wheel and so turning it round. A most pleasant sound, this water, on a hot day as you turned the corner from Westgate to the Banks. People said it was nearly as good as a shower bath. Some lingered for a minute by the padlocked door to enjoy a cooling.
Opposite the great strong platform, was the dressing-machine, which refined the ground meal, separating it into its constituent parts. Fine flour, bran or sharps. On this side also was the bunting machine to take out the bunts, or blacks, from the corn before being ground and dressed. Between the platform and these machines was an open space where sacks were placed to receive the meal as it came down the spout from the millstone, or the flour bran and sharps from the dressing machine.
Here in this open space, my father was generally to be seen superintending the various processes. I feel sure he liked his trade judging by the way he would stand by the sack letting the descending meal or flour slip through his fingers on the way to the sack below. This is how I often found him when I went to call him to dinner. I would then say "Shall I stop the mill, Father?" "Yes, my boy" he would say and I ran up the steps to the platform like a two-year-old, turned the handle and the giant water wheel was silent in a moment. I liked stopping the mill, it gave one a sense of power."