Greet Mill has vanished as though it had never been: not one relic of it can be seen on the ground. Even after World War One few people knew that it had formerly existed: with the twentieth century disuse of the old name of Greet Mill Hill for the slope up which Shaftmoor Lane rises, the last reminder has gone. Street guides may still show a division of the Cole into two channels north of the Stratford Road, an anachronism from the time of Greet millrace which has been copied from map to map: but in fact nothing on the ground, not even the plaque on the modern road-bridge, indicates that here for six hundred years the Cole powered a watermill.
The first reference to it by name was in 1275, making Greet the third Cole mill after Coleshill and Stichford - but records are few and not to be relied on for actual foundation dates: in that year one Roger Fullard was drowned by the mill of Greet. It is notable how the Stratford Road bends sharply to cross the river at this point, thereby involving a steep climb on the south side, instead of continuing along a level and crossing by the Green Road ford from which the ascent out of the valley is less steep. This deviation is not unusual, and may have been due to the combination of firm footing (‘Greet’ means ‘Gravel’) and an artificial shallows created by a millweir. Attempts to cross the river during floods caused a number of deaths by drowning, both men and horses being swept away.
The attraction of the place as a millsite was a postulated change of slope, possibly the temporary shore-line of a glacial lake, which would enable a dam to be made, giving a good fast fall such as could not be obtained elsewhere on the Cole. Road and bridge works have so altered levels hereabouts that the break represented by a modern weir is much less than formerly: but the uniqueness of Greet Mill's site - on the river itself, even after rebuilding in the later eighteenth century, when other rebuilt mills were placed in terrace meadows and provided with falls only by the construction of long races - supports the theory.
The mill was the property of Greet Manor, whose moated hall lay beside the Warwick Road three quarters of a mile downstream, not of Greethurst. The first miller recorded is one Henry Heath in 1587. The mill was employed in sword-grinding at one time, probably during the Civil War. Richard Eaves, brother of the John who made Soho Pool on the Hockley Brook and sold it to Matthew Boulton II in 1762, appears to have rebuilt both Sarehole and Greet Mills, but went bankrupt in the same year as the latter was being advertised, with an estate of seventy-five acres, as ‘a new erected water corn mill, with regular and constant supply of water, adjacent to the Turnpike Road’ (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 1775). Probably the last miller before the reconstruction was John Truss, who ground corn. As stated elsewhere, there was probably a shortage of grinding capacity around Birmingham at this time, due to conversions of mills to industrial uses and lack of both space and water in the town for new corn-mills; and though Eaves over-reached himself, his venture was sound enough. Titterford was to be built at much greater cost a few years later with a large grinding capacity, and this would not have been undertaken if Greet were not proving to be a good investment.
Greet Mill was out of use by 1843, however, and in its last years it had been engaged in steel-rolling. The reason for its decline is not known, but a reasonable guess is that lack of water was at least one factor. The storage capacity of Titterford in particular, but of other upstream mills also, was such as to reduce Greet's supply. When all pools were low following drought, the upper mills would divert the stream into their races by means of plank weirs, and very little water would get down to Greet: all would reach it eventually, of course, for water is used but not consumed, and the same flow can power as many wheels as there is space for - when it is allowed free descent. But Greet must often have been waiting for water to come down after the others had used it.
The last miller may have been John Biscoe, who was living in the mill, but not working it in 1847. There were repairs to the millwheel in that year, presumably with the intention of restarting it: but in 1855 materials from the mill were being sold to D. Holloway for £42, and the buildings were probably demolished then.
The mill-works at that time were as follows: a wedge-shaped lake of three to four acres at most, largely on the flatter west side of the present river course, perhaps twelve feet deep along the submerged riverbed but very shallow at the edges, was retained by a brick and earth dam close to the road: at the east side of this, the river fell over a weir of perhaps eight or nine feet height, and on the west side was an overflow sluice. The mill buildings were placed centrally over a brick culvert, seven to eight feet high and six feet wide, which contained the wheel or wheels; these may have been either breast or undershot type. There is no information about the buildings themselves, but they were doubtless very similar to those built upstream during the same period - plain brick structures, well-proportioned and well-designed for their purpose.
About 1860 the river was diverted to flow down the former side-race: presumably the pool level had fallen below the top of the weir, and as it dropped still more the water wound in an S-bend above the dam (see sketch map). The culvert would then become silted up and forgotten. When the mill itself was demolished, before 1868, its rubble would be thrown down into the culvert and the old riverbed. Since 1724, when the Stratford Road was turnpiked, there had been a road bridge over the Cole at the mill, and a footbridge had been there for centuries. From the 1775 rebuilding at least, there was also a bridge over the side-race. By the end of the nineteenth century flood-deposits and nettles hid all traces of the mill, except for a couple of five-foot millstones in the river. The two brick bridges survived until 1914; then Birmingham Corporation, successors to Yardley Rural District Council from 1911, replaced them by a single two-arch bridge of stone-faced brick placed centrally between. The works involved the temporary return of the river to its former channel, and digging of the new course right through the former millsite disclosed the foundations and the buried culvert, every brick and stone of which went to fill the old trenches.
Greet Mill was in the news whenever anyone was drowned there, as in 1795, when the victim was a child who fell off a plank bridge into the race; when footpads operated nearby, as in 1779 when the master of Hall Green School was robbed close to the mill one evening; and in 1799 when Moses Wright, apprentice to William Bonell, miller, left his master's service without leave.
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