A mill has stood on this site for at least 1000 years – it is mentioned in William the Conqueror’s great survey, the Domesday Book of 1086, and probably dates back to the Saxon origins of the town. Behind the mill, on the other side of Walnuttree Lane, the ground level rises steeply to the site of the Saxon settlement. Stretching away below the mill is Freemans Great Common which was given to the town by Richard de Clare in 1260 and where cattle still graze in the summer months.
The recent refurbishment of the hotel is just the latest of a series of alterations and rebuilding that has gone on over the centuries. The oldest part of this building is the four storied weatherboarded structure. Much of this probably dates from the early 19th century but it incorporates earlier elements, indicated by the low beams in the rear bar which can catch out the unwary! Also look for the mummified cat in the entrance hall, another sign of age: cats were sometimes buried in this way in the 16th and 17th centuries to protect the building from evil spirits.
In early times the mill was the property of the lord of the manor and all his tenants had to bring their corn there to be ground into flour; the miller would keep a portion as his payment. When the manorial system broke down in the late Middle Ages the ownership passed into private hands – you can see a number of old framed documents displayed in the hotel dating from 1643 to 1763 which were the tenancy agreements between the mill owners and a succession of millers.
By the mid 19th century the mill had passed into the hands of the Clover family who owned numerous wind and water mills across Suffolk and East Essex. Isaac Clover (1826-1894) was a man of great energy and drive who fathered 12 children and set up each of his 6 boys in his own mill. His son, also Isaac, came to take over Sudbury mill in 1863 and purchased Springfield Lodge as his family home: it is the big house you can see up the hill above the mill pool.
Isaac inherited his father’s energy and began to modernise the mill. In 1889 he installed the Whitmore and Binyon iron water wheel that you can still see today. It once drove four sets of millstones. However, Isaac was aware of the unreliability of water power and so like many local millers installed a steam engine as well to drive the stones.
The four storey brick structure, which now contains the main entrance to the hotel, dates from the late 19th or possibly the very early 20th century. By this time inland mills were facing stiff competition from the vast new rolling mills which were being built in British ports to handle the flood of imported grain arriving from the USA and Canada. Isaac faced up to the challenge by building his own steam powered rolling mill in this new part of the building and also diversified by producing more animal feed. The mill remained in the hands of the Clover family until it close. It was still employing 16 men in 1950 but milling finally finished in 1964.
In the front of the hotel is the mill pool – if you lean over the parapet, you can see the exits from the two tunnels that carried the water under the mill and drove the machinery. If you turn right outside the hotel entrance and then right again a footpath takes you along the side of the mill race to the floodgates which controlled the flow of water down to the mill. Just beyond the gates, down the steps on the left, there was once a tiny cottage where the floodgate keeper lived.
Text provided by David Burnett, Sudbury Museum