3. The Three Water Mills
In 1279 it was recorded that the mere provided power for ‘Two mills standing on the water of the Pool’. Both of these mills were undershot mills, meaning that the mill wheel was driven by water flowing under the wheel, rather than over the top. They were valued at 13 shillings and 4 pence in 1327, and required continual repair, including replacement of the water wheels and grindstones.
Records dated 1485 clarify that there was ‘one mill within the castle’. The Chirk Survey of 1563 describes this mill in the ‘base courte’ (the outer court) as being in good repair and measuring 68 feet long by 19 feet wide. A survey in 1581 lists the second mill at the end of the Tiltyard. Note that this mill is typically shown instead high up on the opposite bank next to the Gallery Tower, where it would be both inaccessible and out of reach of the necessary water power.
The survey map created by James Fish in 1692 shows that water flowed from the mere around the Brays, filling a mill pond, and powering the ‘mill below the castle’. The remains of this third mill, which was itemised for repair in the accounts for 1389, are still evident at the modern entrance today.
Since Anglo-Saxon times, ‘soke rights’ obliged farmers to take their grain to a mill owned by the Manorial Lord, following which a proportion of the produce would be retained as payment. Grist Mills processed barley and oats for animal feeds, typically using a single piece of millstone grit from the Peak District in Derbyshire. Flour mills required the best quality milling stone, such as the fine textured French Burr, found in the Paris Basin. These millstones were formed from smaller segments, which were assembled in two concentric rings, jointed with cement, backed with plaster of Paris, and the perimeter bound by iron bands. Flour was used to produce fine white bread for the wealthy, and coarser brown bread for the servants. Thick slices of bread could be used as ‘trenchers’ (bowls), or as ‘sops’ to soak up and consume wine, soup, broth or sauce.