Colebrook Priory and Old Mills
Colebrook Priory Mill, Solihull Lodge
The first record of this mill is in the boundary presentment of 1495, where it is called Bach Mill (bach = small valley). In 1609 it was referred to in the report of that year on the boundaries of the manor of Yardley. It was then called Bates Mill, and on the Beighton map of 1725 it was called Bach Mill. The date of its first building and the (?) eighteenth century rebuilding are not known as (I am informed) the original deeds of the Priory property, including the mill, are lost. It is shown as a Needle mill on the 1843 Solihull Tithe Map. The Woollaston family, who moved from Beoley in the 1870s, bought the so-called Priory and the mill, using the latter to grind corn until 1919. (The tower mill nearby, which went out of use earlier in the twentieth century, was also used for grinding, being rented by the Woollastons).
At an earlier period the mill was owned or tenanted by the Bampton family, whose descendants live locally, and after whom the Millpool was named (see 1880 map). The watermill was replaced soon after the First World War by Woollaston’s Roller Mill close to Shirley Station: it was still at work after World War Two, though its grain comes from further afield and by its own motor lorries not by train.
The mill’s head-race began just to the north of Green Lane ford, and went due north, under High Street, and on to fill a small pond, which was embanked on the river side. The mill building was set at its outlet, a plain two-storey brick erection: the half-enclosed wheel-chamber evidently housed a twelve-foot diameter, six-foot chord breast wheel. It was removed for scrap long ago. A trickle of water still drips from the end of the tunnel, though the head-race has been blocked since the 1920s, and the pond is thick with bushes, mud, and refuse - part of it having been built on. Water formerly ran from the wheel in a tunnel to join the Yardley Wood Brook descending from the large millpool west of Priory Road: to ensure run-off in times of flood, this stream had been diverted so as to enter the Cole farther down. It still as in 1609 provides the boundary between Yardley (now Birmingham) and Solihull, the mill having been in the latter.
Around 1960 the building was empty of machinery, and was being used as a food store for adjacent piggeries. There was a four-foot millstone used as a doorstep to the mill and a two-foot one in the Cole three hundred yards away. At that time the millpool stream (Yardley Brook) had been diverted round the mill and round a small cottage which was probably the millhouse. The head-race can still be traced for most of its course, though only as a shallow depression bordered by willows: the brook which ran into it alongside High Street now runs directly into the Cole. The mill building was demolished in 1964, and the millstone formerly in the river has been removed to a Hall Green garden. The tail-race has been infilled, so that now the Yardley Wood Brook enters the Cole roughly where it did before the late Georgian mill and works were constructed. If Beighton is to be relied on, which probably he is not, the earlier mill was powered by the brook only. The city/Solihull boundary has been adjusted from the line of the tail-race to follow the brook as it now runs to the confluence.
Bampton’s Millpool, two acres in area, made by damming the Yardley Wood Brook (Priory Road goes along the dam-top, as happens at many millsites) is said by Mr. Woollaston never to have been used as a feeder for the mill, although it belongs to its estate. This may be true of the latter years, but it would have been strange if so large and convenient a source of water had never been tapped even in drought, since it could so easily have been diverted. I believe that in fact the pool may have been constructed to serve the rebuilt mill in the (?) late eighteenth century. It is not listed in the fifteenth to seventeenth century boundary presentments, nor does Beighton show it, but other pools through which the boundary ran are not listed either, and Beighton shows three Cole mills including Bach Mill on the wrong side of the river, so there can be no certainty.
‘Old Mill’, Shirley Brook
The Beighton map shows a pool on the Shirley Brook near the Cole confluence, with the legend ‘Old Mill’. The usual drawing of a mill is absent: there is no reference in the Yardley Boundary Report of 1609 to this mill as there is to Bates Mill nearby, although the boundary would have gone through the middle of the millpool, but this is not conclusive, since the Report nowhere refers to a pool on any boundary brook, and this does not necessarily mean that there were none – the pale always went midstream on watercourses, and this applied also to pools on them. (See my essay ‘The Boundaries of the Manor of Yardley’). If the mill were already derelict in Beighton’s time, it was presumably of some antiquity, and that it did not appear in the Report would seem to indicate that it, the mill building itself, was on the Solihull side of the brook. (It was unnecessary to mention it because it had no special relevance to the boundary, unlike Bates Mill).
The Solihull Perambulation of 1843 refers to ‘a place which was formerly an old pool’ on the brook, and this is marked on the Solihull Tithe Map as Pool Meadow, (as Pool Meadow and Lower Lench on the Yardley Map), and Mill Close indicates the millsite on the former map. Today, the poolsite is defined by a quadrilateral of modern roads, and its outline is traceable on the ground. No trace of the mill remains, but its site is identifiable.
Provisional list of Cole valley watermills
Peterbrook, Dobbs, Crab, Kilcop and Forshaw Mills
Colebrook Priory and Old Mills
Broomhall and Lady Mills
Possible mills in Greet and Tyseley, Medley's Mill