One of our volunteers, Richard, has been kindly looking through some leases for mills and the land surrounding them, and has just finished with a series of leases from Rugeley.
The series (D603/E/3/1 to D603/E/3/319) consisted of leases for land in Cannock and Rugeley from the records of the Paget family, and from the series I had identified twenty six leases that were either for a mill or made reference to a mill. In 1557 the Pagets granted a lease of twenty one years to Henry King of a fulling mill (textile mill) in Rugeley, along with “streams and watercourses.” The next mention of the mill in the leases is ninety years later, in 1647 when a messuage near the slitting mill (mill producing iron rods) was let. There were no slitting mills in England before the 17th century, and the leases do not mention a fulling mill again, so I have assumed that the two are the same mill that had merely changed its function. The last lease for the mill itself is from 1806, but another lease from 1817 mentions “the late slitting mill,” so in the intervening years it must have closed down.
A map exists from c.1850 of the forge, but none of the mills shown are located in the area named Slitting Mill in modern-day Rugeley. However there are scattered other documents that may prove useful and an archaeological watching brief for the slitting mill from 2005, so I am hopeful of filling in some more detail about the mill over time.
Many of the leases have standard clauses about maintaining the property, including watercourses, although the phrasing changes (possibly depending on the lawyer’s preference),. Examples include “repaire and keep repaired,” or “to keep [the property] in good and tenantable condition.” Occasionally rights and responsibilities are mentioned, such as in 1745 when it was required that:
“If for the better working of the mill it is thought necessary to bring by Soughs or Troughs a certain spring of water which now runs upon that part of Cannock Wood or Cannock Heath which lies above the forge the Earl allows the sum of £16 to be paid out in purchase part of the oak timber to make the Sough or Troughs through which the water is to be carried to the forge”
– Lease of Slitting Mill, messuage, various lands etc, p. Rugeley
More often, the Pagets seem to have been interested in maintaining their fishing and hunting rights than the specifics of running the mill and its water supply, with four leases stipulating that the Earl retains the right to fish, and the tenant is not to kill or remove any fish from the pools (and trout is still fished in Rugeley to this day).
If you are interested in the mills project, please check out the call for volunteers: