The Town Mill and the Benhams
The Town Mill was built about 1780 and worked until 1960. Joy Mason states that it was probably a new mill and not a rebuild for when it was demolished in 1967 no evidence of an older building was found. 3
The stream is dammed and a pond formed just before the Bourne passes through the centre of Chobham village. The mill standing here is a neat brick and tiled building of no particular distinction, it is owned by Messrs Benham and Co. Mr. E. Benham was good enough to provide me with some most interesting details.
The wheel has been replaced by a turbine, but the stone and associated gearing have not been removed, and as the date of the installation of the existing wheelwrights work is known everything was renewed when Mr. E. Benhams grandfather purchased the mill some sixty years ago there is a rare opportunity of studying what must have been the last phase in water milling gear before the rollers finally eclipsed and superseded the stones.
The height of water was 11 feet and the overshot wheel an all metal one 9 feet in diameter and 9 feet wide, similar in all respects to the one at Kings mill Nutfield, only not so wide. The central shaft and all the gear-wheels are of metal, with oak and apple cogs. Tentering was on the modern" plan of small metal levers, and the stone-nuts lifted out of gear on an iron table, handle operated. Incidentally in this mill the thickened part of the pivot on which the stone-nut fits and to which it is keyed, when in gear, is called the "pot". As in many other mills, the area on the lowest floor containing the pit-wheel, the lower pivot of the central shaft, the waller, spur wheel and stone-nuts (the main gearing of the mill) is boarded off, and entered by a small door. The small room so enclosed, and rendered so dark as to need a lanterns light whenever inspection is made, is called the cog-pit, corrupted in most locations, as it is here to cock-pit.The building originally taken over by Mr. Benhams grandfather was a small one containing two pairs of stones, one of Peak, the other of Burr. He extended it, adding a communicating section where previously the mill dwelling had stood, and in the extension a steam engine was set up to drive a further two pairs of stones.
The present miller remembers an antique bolting machine that had been in the earlier mill when it was taken over. It bore an inscription dated 1780 giving the name of the miller and also of a baker whose joint property no doubt it was. Later it was broken up, though surely this must have been a museum piece.
The turbine was installed 6 years ago (1930) where the under-shoot race had been. The installing engineers needed a wall 6 feet at the base tapering to 4 feet at the top, built dam-wise across the stream, but on commencing to excavate it was found that the existing dam was of exactly the thickness and wonderfully strong, built of immense slabs of stone. So the engineers bored the hole for their tube with pneumatic drills through an impounding wall that was laid down possibly in the fourteenth century. That at any rate is the date when a mill in Chobham called Hurst mill was conveyed to the Abbot of Chertsey by John de Hamme and this is presumably the mill that later formed part of the estate sometimes called a Manor in "tithe deeds" of Aden and passed eventually to Mr. Benham.
Whilst the work of installing the turbine was in progress an unexpected find was made among the stones forming part of what was evidently the under-shoot race used before the mill was converted to an over-shot. Among the roughly hewn slabs was a delicately sculptured capital of a column, provenance unknown, but of early date and presumably from an ecclesiastical building, Mr. Benham now has the relic as a garden ornament.
Mr. Benhams son remembers the column but has no knowledge of what happened to it when his parents left Chobham 2.
The Town Mill met with a sad and ignominious end, vandalised until it was unsafe and then completely demolished. The Benhams, who were the last family to work the mill, owned a great deal of property in the area. The first to arrive in the village was William, who came as a young man from Basingstoke where he had been apprenticed to Lillywhites at Nathans mill. In the registers of 1845 he is described as a baker and mealman. One of his sons, Frederick, lived at Frogpool House, whence he started a grocery business in a shop which he built next to his house. In 1906 he built the large building opposite, which housed a grocers shop, corn store and garden supply shop. Frederick married a Mitchell and had three sons and two daughters, the sons running the now extensive businesses 3.
1 D Stidder, The Watermills of Surrey, 1990. p 116-117
2 J. Hiller, Old Surrey Water Mills, 1951, p 155-6
3 J Mason, Ceabba's Ham
4 British Archaeology, August 2002, p6