This black and white photo from 1964 shows the mill taken from what is now Forge Road, Mill End, shortly before its demolition. Originally built as a mill for bread flour, it was later used as an oat mill for cattle feed.
According to Harry Sunley in A Kenilworth Chronology (Odibourne Press, 1989) the mill was demolished in April 1964:
“April 1964: The Oatcake Mill is demolished, to be replaced by Forge Road. The mill was fed from Finham Brook via a channel that ran alongside School Lane and The Close. It was last run just after World War II. Between 1899 and 1929, it was owned by J. G. Eagles for the production of cattle cake.”
In fact, Robin Leach points out that the mill was operated by not owned by J G Eagles, who had a similar but larger concern in Leamington. He was renting the mill from at least 1891. Robin also points out that strictly speaking the mill building extended further into the modern day roadway than is shown here, so a little artistic license has been shown to get a good ‘now’ picture!
The mill was powered by water wheel, fed from a pool called Woodmill Pool, located over the modern day allotments between Manor Road and Lower Laydes Hills. The pool was created by damming Finham brook at the spot where the mill stood (off screen, to the right of the photos above).
According to Rob Steward in Kenilworth History 1997 – 1998: “At the Dissolution in 1538 and shown on the 1628 Harding map are two pools from Townpool Bridge to the ‘Woodmill’ at Mill End separated at Park Street. The upper one presumably called ‘Townpool’ and the other ‘Wood-mill Pool’. The Townpool seems, then, to have flooded out the brook. A leat has been dug at some time or other to the north of the original brook down to Park Road, it can still be seen as it is now the course of Finham Brook. Though the original brook is shown on the 1885 OS map, by the 1955 map it had gone, but can be traced by following the fence line at the end of the back gardens to the houses in School Lane. Houses have now been built over it at the lower end.”
Robin Leach offers a slightly different explanation, in that the brook course would follow the low lying ground at the bottom of the valley and the excavated mill race was higher up alongside School Lane and the gardens. However, the original course was altered at some time, hence the zig-zag in the middle of the school lane section.
A curious piece of graffiti is visible in the ‘then’ photo from 1964, reading simply “Wells Fargo”. Either the US bank of the same name had some stake in the mill, or more likely this relates in some way to the Tales of Wells Fargo western which was being broadcast on the BBC in 1964!
For readers under the age of 60 or so, this ‘then’ image will present a completely unfamiliar scene. It shows the mill buildings which once stood on the edge of the Common at Mill End, to which it gave its name.
According to Rob Steward in Kenilworth History 1997 – 1998:
“Townpool and Woodmill Pool powered the wood-mill at Mill End built to the west of the ford there. This mill seems to have existed during the time of the Abbey. Later on it was replaced by a cattle-feed mill which was working during the first half of the twentieth century. John Drew says his father could remember the Oil and Cake Mill working under water power. There was a sluice at Park Road which let in water to the pool to fill it. This was enough to run the mill for two and a half hours. After that the sluice was opened again to refill the pool”.
The following map extract from 1906 shows the natural course of Finham Brook and the man made Mill Brook respectively, both coloured blue. The Mill Brook once ran alongside School Lane and the along the course of the road now known as The Close, to power the mill at Mill End, shown in green:
Harry Sunley, in his book A Kenilworth Chronology (Odibourne Press, 1989) records the date of the mill’s demolition as April 1964, clearing way for the creation of the housing on what is now Forge Road.
Rob Steward informs us in the Inns and Roads of Kenilworth (Odibourne Press, 2000) that the new road was named in reference to the forge which occupied the building currently occupied by Just Tyres, although it has apparently been much altered over the years. It can be seen marked as “Smy” for Smithy on the 1906 map above.