The Cecil's Monopoly of Milling in Stamford 1561-1640

Dr D.L. Thomas

In this article (first published in the Stamford Historian in 1982) Dr. D. L. Thomas examines the Cecil monopoly on milling in Stamford during the late 16th and early 17th centuries; and looks at the disputes between the townspeople, the Cecil family and other millers in the area.

The Cecil Monopoly of Milling in Stamford
1561 – 1640
Sleepy King’s Mill was, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a source of bitter disputes between the townspeople, the Cecil family and other millers in the neighbourhood.
In 1561, Queen Elizabeth granted her principal secretary, Sir William Cecil, the manor of Stamford, the tolls and profits of the markets in Stamford, together with certain water mills in Stamford called North Mills situated next to the castle.1 This grant marked an important stage in Cecil’s domination of the town, which had a profound effect on the development of Stamford. 2
The mills acquired by Cecil, referred to as North Mills in the grant, were also known as ‘the queen’s mills’, presumably because they had been granted to the unfortunate Jane Seymour as part of her jointure.  By 1627, the property was also being referred to as King’s Mill.3
Ownership of the mill gave the Cecils a theoretical monopoly of milling in the town. All inhabitants of the town and borough and all tenants of the manor of Stamford were obliged by custom ‘the tyme whereof the memory of man ys not to the contrary’, to grind all their corn and malt at King’s mill.4
There was another mill in the town called Hudd’s Mill which was owned by the corporation. This can perhaps be characterized as a ‘marginal mill’. It had been built to provide additional grinding capacity in the town at times when King’s Mill was over-burdened. Tenants and inhabitants of Stamford had to obtain the permission of the owner of King’s Mill to take their corn to Hudd’s Mill.5
This monopoly seems to have been resented by the inhabitants of Stamford and the Cecils had to obtain the support of the Court of Exchequer to enforce it.  As far as can be judged – and relevant evidence is somewhat scanty, the people of Stamford were not opposed to the Cecil monopoly because the Cecils were harsh and greedy monopolists.  Rather, they were inconvenienced by the monopoly because King’s Mill was too small to deal with all the corn and malt of the inhabitants of Stamford.  Rather than wait long periods for their corn and malt to be ground, they used other mills.
In 1601, Sir Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley, brought an action in the Exchequer to defend his monopoly. He claimed that Thomas Robinson, the miller of Ryhall, and Gregory Harlington, the miller of Casterton, kept pack-horses ‘and doe contynuallie fetch, carie and recary the corne and gristes of the Inhabitants of the said towne and borough of Stamford.... to the great losse and hinderaunce of your said orator, his ten(a)ntes and ffermors’.
William Salter had built a horse mill in Stamford where he ground his own corn and that of other inhabitants.  Various residents of the town had set up querns or hand mills, while others simply refused ‘to grynde their corne and grists att the said water mylnes contrary to auncient usage and custome of the towne’. 6
The occupations of the recalcitrant Stamfordians are revealing. Among those to have set up querns were three innkeepers, George Parysh, Lionel Fetherstone and Jeffrey Harrupp alias Baker.  These men presumably wanted querns to grind malt for brewing.  William Winckes, a baker, was one who had refused to use Cecil’s mill. The other people against whom Cecil brought action were Nicholas Lambe, a draper, Robert Meadows and Robert Ramsden, mercers, Robert Storer, a carpenter, John Smithson, a cordwainer and two ‘gentlemen’, Reynold Waters and John Caldecote of Ketton.
The inhabitants of Stamford made no defence to Cecil’s action, admitting their faults and submitting to the judgement of the court.  The fact that the Stamfordians did not make any counter-claim against Cecil is probably an indication that Cecil was not too greedy a monopolist.  The Exchequer, although willing to enforce local monopolies, normally took care to ensure that they were administered reasonably.  In 1589, the Exchequer had ordered that the tenants and inhabitants of Grantham should grind their corn at the queen’s mill in Grantham, but had ordered the court-leet of Grantham to fine millers if they oppressed any of the tenants.7
The Exchequer decreed that the defendants and all other inhabitants of Stamford should grind all their corn and grain at Cecil’s mill and ‘shall continewe their suits to the said mylnes called the Queenes mills in such sorte as they have of auncient tyme used and accustomed to doe’.8
Immediate opposition to this decree seems to have come from Thomas Robinson, miller of Ryhall.  In his answer to Cecil’s action, he claimed that if he could not obtain grain from Stamford, his mill ‘will not bee half the weeke sett on worke and thereby fall to great ruine and decaye’. He admitted that he was only the sub-tenant of Ryhall mill; the ultimate owner of the mill was none other than Thomas Cecil.  Robinson said that ‘in testymonye of the great reverence and duetie that in all humbleness he acknowledgeth to beare’ to Cecil, he would not, in future, grind any grain from Stamford ‘though to hys great hinderance and losses beinge a very poore mann’.9  Nine months later, the Exchequer heard that Robinson was still carrying corn from Stamford, William Winckes was still not bringing grain to King’s Mill and the other defendants were still using their querns.  The court ordered the arrest of the defendants.10 The threat of further action seems to have achieved the desired effect; there is no evidence of any further proceedings in this case.
A monopoly, however, was still a monopoly and by the reign of Charles I, it was once more under attack.  In 1639, William, Earl of Exeter, brought an action in the Exchequer against 234 inhabitants of Stamford. He claimed that they had combined amongst themselves with the purpose of destroying his monopoly. Various of them had sent their corn to be ground at Hudd’s Mill without Exeter’s permission, others had sent their corn outside the town to be ground, while some had set up querns and horsemills within the town. Worse, the banks and sluices at Hudds Mill had been extended, with the result that ‘by often and sudden stoppinge and lettinge  downe of the said fludgates and sluces, the said complainant’s said mills lyinge on the same streame above the said hudds mill had been oftentimes held in by back waters and soe choaked therewith that they were not able to goe’.
The Stamfordians for the most part fared better than they had done in 1601.  They agreed that they were obliged to grind their corn at Exeter’s mill; the court ordered that all querns and horsemills within the town be demolished, while the court also considered taking action to end the problems caused by the developments at Hudd’s Mill.  There was, however, one major concession; Exeter was ordered to grind the Stamfordians’ corn within due and reasonable time.11
A few Stamfordians fared rather better, probably as a result of good legal advice. The Exchequer could compel tenants of Stamford manor and inhabitants of the town to grind their corn at King’s Mill.  There were however, a number of tenants of other manors within Stamford; the Exchequer could not compel these people to grind their corn at King’s Mill, because as manorial tenants, they were obliged to grind their corn at the mill belonging to the lord of their manor. Thus it was that certain tenants who held land of the crown’s manor of East Greenwich and the Dutchy of Lancaster’s honour of Bolingbroke were given liberty to grind their corn where they saw fit.12  This liberty was also granted to tenants of ‘Cuthbert’s Fee’; this was a manor which had belonged to St. Leonard’s Priory; curiously enough, it belonged to the Cecil family.13 Eight tenants of ‘town houses’ belonging to the corporation were also given liberty to grind their corn where they saw fit.
The Exchequer’s decree was rigorously enforced. In 1642, Elizabeth, Countess of Exeter, complained that Nicolas Lambe, a brewer, had  been grinding malt at his own horse mill. The Exchequer committed Lambe to the Fleet prison until his mill was demolished.14
Exeter also sought to deal with millers from outside the town. In 1637, he brought an action against William Robinson, tenant of Tinwell mill and Sir Francis Bodenham, tenant of Ryhall mill.  Exeter claimed that these men had charged half the normal rate for grinding corn and had carried corn from Stamford to grind at their mills.15
Bodenham quickly admitted his fault and submitted to Exeter. This was hardly surprising; Bodenham leased Ryhall mill from Exeter and needed Exeter’s support to maintain his monopoly of milling in Ryhall.  In 1640, Exeter and Bodenham brought an action against the millers of Tolethorpe, Newstead, Tinwell and Tallington for grinding corn from Ryhall.
William Robinson’s case was somewhat different. Tinwell mill belonged to Exeter and had been leased to Robinson in 1631. Robinson had rebuilt the mill, doubling its size from two pairs of stones to four pairs. Exeter claimed that Robinson was grinding corn from Stamford. Worse, by expanding his mill dam, Robinson was  depriving King’s Mill of water so ‘that oft tymes the said Earles milles in Stamford cannot grinde for fowre and twentie howers together and usuallie in sumer are hindred from working eighte howers together in everye daie.’ At other times, Robinson would suddenly open his sluice gates ‘whereby the waters gushing downe the streame in great quantities with muche violence doe overflowe and breake the Bankes of the saide Earles mill dames’.17
Robinson’s defence is very revealing. He denied that he had unlawfully expanded his mill dam and claimed that the expansion of Tinwell mill had been done with the permission of Exeter. He argued that his expansion of Tinwell mill was done for the good of the inhabitants of Stamford. He argued that because of lack of water and because it only had a small dam, King’s Mill could not (especially in summer) grind all the corn of the inhabitants of Stamford.18
Robinson’s argument illuminates the long dispute between the Cecils and the residents of Stamford. It may well be that local opposition to the Cecil’s monopoly was stimulated because King’s Mill was not large enough to cope with all the grain of the people of Stamford. The Exchequer decree in the case of Exeter against the inhabitants of Stamford had insisted that the millers of King’s Mill grind the corn of the inhabitants of Stamford within due and reasonable time. The decree in the case of Exeter against Robinson, issued a year later on 11th May 1640, went even further. The Exchequer decreed that the inhabitants and residents of Stamford must bring their corn and grain to be ground at King’s Mill ‘provided that it cannot bee ground there within eight and ffortie howers that then they may take it awaye to bee ground elswhere’.19 This proviso seems to have satisfied all parties and, as far as is known at present, the dispute was ended.

  1. Calendar of Patent Rolls 1560-1563, 165-166.
  2. On the long-term impact of the Cecils’ control of the town, see J.M. Lee, Modern Stamford in Alan Rogers, ed., The Making of Stamford (Leicester 1965). 91-104
  3. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of Historical Monuments: The Town of Stamford (London 1977), 65.
  4. Public Record Office, Exchequer, King’s Remembrancer, Bills, Answers, etc. (E112/25/287) All references to documents are to records preserved in the Public Record Office.
  5. Exchequer, King’s Remembrancer, Entry Books of Decrees and Orders, Series III (E125/26f.158r).
  6. E112/25/287.
  7. Exchequer, King’s Remembrancer, Entry Books of Decrees and Orders. Series I (E123/14 f.309r)
  8. E123/28 fos.151-152
  9. E112/25/287.
  10. E123/28 f.337
  11. E125/26 fos.157-162; the proceedings in the case do not seem to survive
  12. On tenture as of the manor of East Greenwich, see Joel Hurstfield, The Greenwich Tenures of the Reign of Edward VI, Law Quarterly Review, LXV (1949), 72-81; such tenants were normally people who held land which had been sold by the crown.
  13. Thomas Tanner, Notitia Monastica, ed. by James Naismith (Cambridge, 1737) sub Lincoln LXXII
  14. E125/29 fos. 153r, 182v-183v
  15. E112/200/192
  16. E112/202/279
  17. E112/200/192
  18. Ibid. And E112/202/283
  19. E125/26 f.438v