ROCK MILL, LEAMINGTON SPA
One of the most striking industrial buildings in Leamington Spa is Rock Mill, located on the river Avon, set back from the main Warwick-Leamington road. Recent years have seen the conversion of the mill to housing, the building of additional housing behind the mill, and the creation of a new estate on the former Pottertons site – Portobello Riverside – with its access road crossing the Avon in front of the mill. Despite these changes, the sympathetic conversion of the mill leaves a frontage little altered from the mill on closure.
As far as I know, there is no definitive history of the mill, built by Quaker Benjamin Smart in 1792, although Tim Booth has recorded the outline history, and detailed the mill buildings and equipment in his Warwickshire Watermills pp 39-40. In addition, his article in Wind and Water Mills Volume 22 on Emscote Mill has several references to Rock Mill because of the shared ownership by the Kench family of the two mills. Detailed drawings of the mill, particularly the two wheels, were made by Wilf Foreman in 1986 and these can be accessed via the Mills Archive (catalogue.millsarchive.org). There are two wheels – the eastern and western wheels – with start dates scratched on the brickwork, 1845 for the eastern wheel; 1848 and 1853 for the western wheel. Some of the ironwork carries the name ‘Lampitt & Son, Todenham’. The Lampitt story is quite a complicated one and has been explored by Tim Booth in Volume 38 of the journal ‘Wind and Water Mills’ under the heading ‘The Lampitts: Carpenters of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire’.
Rock Mill is unusual because of a short-lived role in the spinning of cotton in the early years of its operation. It also features in Joan Lane’s work on apprentices in Warwickshire – see ‘Apprenticeship in Warwickshire cotton mills, 1790-1830’, Textile History, 10 (1979). The apprentices were housed in buildings alongside Rock Mill Lane, at right angles to the mill.
By the 1830s, the mill had been completely converted to corn grinding, and a steam engine was subsequently added, with the engine chimney still standing on the western end of the site. After a succession of millers, Kench & Sons took over in the 1880s, and the family ran the mill until closure in 1961. In later years it specialised in the production of animal foodstuffs, using modern machinery.
As an isolation task, I have been searching through old slides, and as well as (too many!) photographs of the frontage of Rock Mill, there were a few shots of the wheels, some views of the rear of the building, and several of the Avon in flood. These supplement those already in the WIAS Gallery supplied from the wonderful collection of Derek Billings (photos 60-65). During my teaching career, I also tried to interest Sixthformers on my ‘ Architecture’ course on Thursday afternoon’s ‘Activities’ programme but judging by their posture in the photograph, the spark had not been lit. I have a vague memory of Anthony Coulls being in one of the groups. In terms of interest demonstrated, he was, of course, the exception to prove the rule!
The Society has visited the mill in the past, and some attempt was made at surveying. The late John Selby was part of that visit and he was always mildly upset with me for showing him holding a rather slack tape measure! I also include a very poor reproduction of two photographs from the Locke & England sale particulars. Perhaps other members have photographs, particularly of the inside of the Mill, that they would be willing to share? It would be good to have as full a record as possible of this important site.
Rock Mill Leamington Spa NGR SP301661
© M. Green 26th April 2020