South Mills

This location, although away from the main road, is a place of much history. In 1086 there was a mill on the river belonging to the Manor of Cerlentone (Chalton), held by Adelaide, wife of Hugh de Grandmesnil which appears in the Domesday book. But even before this date there had been a Roman Road leading to Sandy via Girtford and the surrounding land is rich in Roman and medieval finds.

The River Ivel formerly used for navigation, joins the Great Ouse at Tempsford just north of here. It has a fascinating history and affords delightful walks – The Kingfisher Way, The Thornton Walk and Route 51 Cycle Track (The University Way) ultimately connecting Oxford and Cambridge.


When Julius Caesar launched his expeditions to Britain in 55 & 54BC he met with resistance from the  Catuvellauni tribe of this wide area. Between Caesar and Claudius 54-43BC a settled pattern of rural development emerged. Archaeologists believe that this framework of land division has persisted to this day. Ridge and furrow in the area between Chalton and Blunham can be seen from the other side of the tunnel.

The Mill

At the time of Domesday in 1086, the Normans catalogued in their survey, a mill in the Manor of Cerlentone. South Mills was the mill of Chalton Manor.

In 1553 it was purchased by Earl de Grey of  Wrest Park, Silsoe for the sum of £60 as a “Fulling Mill with four going stokkes and two going wheels, with house newly built”.

It is referred to as a Water Corn Mill  in 1784 and was sold as part of a lot of the property of Robert Thornton Esq at Garraways Coffee House in Change Alley, London.

In 1812 it consisted of a wheelhouse, mill room and roasting kiln with a tall chimney. It was owned by Charles Powers and Co. seed crushers and  pure linseed and cottonseed cake manufacturers.

A large warehouse was added in 1864 to cater for the increase of business including locally sourced Coprolites for agricultural fertiliser in the Midlands. This coincided with the opening of the Bedford to Cambridge Railway, the building of Blunham Station and a spur from the line to and through the buildings of the mill.

Sadly in July 1873 a fire spread to all parts of the building and the mill was burnt to the ground.  Forty employees were thrown out of work.

In 1898 C. Beesons Ltd “Chemical Manure and Bone Works”  built a new factory on the site.

“Beesons organic compound containing Hoof, Horn, Meat, Bone and Blood 50%
“Our Salesman is in every bag”
Organic compound No 1 at £6.15.0 per ton.
Organic compound No 2 at £6.0.0 per ton”

Up to 1964 W. Cheverton & Co were Leather Dressers at South Mills but when the slaughtering of animals ceased the building they had used was demolished.

Hargreaves Group and ICI formally took over the site in 1966 and from a report in the Bedfordshire Times it was understood that the original South Mills was to be demolished.

The Company now occupying the site is Abbey Corrugated – Britain’s leading sheet feeder. Two of the original grinding stones can still be seen at the entrance to reception.


The former Bedford to Cambridge railway embankment crosses the Ivel and it’s lush islands at South Mills creating a valuable wildlife habitat. It is here that the swans breed and wildflowers grow in abundance.  A variety of flowers and birds can be seen from the cycle track that utilises the old railway embankment running west towards Willington and east towards Sandy.

The Nature Reserve, a site of great ornithological  importance is home to many breeding birds of Bedfordshire including Teal, Mallard, Mandarin and Ruddy Duck, Gadwall, Shoveller, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebe and the beautiful Kingfisher. Also nesting are Redshank, Wigeon, Chukar and Little Ringed Plovers and Oyster Catcher. In June 2009 Banded Demoiselles and Mink were sighted and migrating birds such as the Cuckoo and Black Cap from Africa were heard.

The sheltered area and quiet river banks are also home to numerous small river creatures. Sadly the river banks are becoming overgrown with Giant Hemlock and the invasive Himalayan Balsam, but the recently introduced otters are thriving.

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