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Memories of Mr Leslie Sanders, 'Wildacre', Hayway, Rushden
(Taken from an interview with Janet Cutmore, at 'Wildacre'
on Friday, 30th October, 1998)
Stanwick and Stanwick Mill

“My wife’s grandfather, Mr E.B. Randall, took Stanwick Mill as part of a debt owing to him by the owners of Stanwick Mill at the time.  He died in 1909, and a Trust Fund was started.  He had two daughters, one who married Mr George Mason, a Solicitor, (father-in-law) and the other daughter married Mr Forrest, who was a Curate at Higham Ferrers.  When he got married, Mr Randall bought him the Living at Elton – you bought Livings in those days.

“The Rectory in Elton was a huge place, backing on to a field which ran into the river, and they had a boat house and a boat attached to it, and they had a horse which had shoes on.  It used to cut the grass – they did it with a horse and machine, or whatever it was.  I don’t know how long they were there, but not too long, when Mr Forrest got pernicious anaemia, and the dentist being unqualified, or not knowing, said they would take his teeth out.  Instead of taking one or two out gently, he took the lot out and the amount of pus and poison that came from his teeth killed him.

“His wife came and lived on the top of Higham Hill, in a house called ‘Prospect House’, which has now been pulled down.  It was on the top of the hill on the right hand side going up the hill from Rushden.  There was a wooden fence for the first part of it, then a gate – I can see it all now.  I don’t think she had it all, I think she had a ground floor or something of the sort.

“Anyway, she is supposed to have died from a broken heart.  She wasn’t very old when she died, but she’d had these two children, Constance Forrest and Richard Forrest, and they came to live with Mrs Mason (mother-in-law) next door for a time, and found that wasn’t very practical.  The Forrests came from Moreton Hall in Gainsborough.  There was an uncle there who was very interested in the two children, and the fact that they had got a bit of money behind them (their mother’s share of the Trust Fund) and so they said they would have the children.  They went there, and then he pressed for some money to enlarge the house to make room for them, but all he wanted to do was to enlarge it for his own benefit.  My father-in-law (George Mason) objected, and so there was a bit of bad feeling over that, as he wasn’t allowed to have his way.  The young people said that they wanted to have a house of their own and leave Gainsborough.  They took a house just outside Folkestone – a small house – and as years went by, some other relations on their side in Norfolk died, and they moved to Norfolk to Pulham St Mary.  Neither of them ever got married, and Miss Forrest was about 93 when she died just over a year ago, at Pulham St Mary.  Richard was never well all his life, and all he ever did was look after a few hens or something or other.  He was born with asthma, and they couldn’t do anything about that then.

“My father-in-law (George Mason) said to me that he wanted me to take over looking after the Trust Fund, because the account was for my wife’s mother, Mrs Mason, and the two Forrests.  I took it over in 1933, and I have been looking after it until just a few months ago.  We haven’t wound up the Estate completely, but it is being wound up now.

“I regret I ever sold Stanwick Mill, but you have to take your mind back to the years when people were putting their money into stores and all sorts of things, and I fancied that we ought to get out of the Stanwick Mill.  The Hollands rented the mill from the Trust, and were living in it at the time.  There were two Hollands brothers, one of whom had an adopted son and an adopted daughter, and I don’t think the other one had any children, but they both died and I’ve lost touch with the adopted son who got married and left the area.  I think he went somewhere towards Leicester, but I don’t know for certain.

“In my early days they used to have Baptisms in the river, when people used to go down and see it, but at one time before I was connected with it, I heard the story about a girl who was Baptised, got pneumonia and died, and they stopped doing it after that – but that was only told to me.

“The mill became a little bit of a responsibility, and at one period, which is why I was perhaps driven to selling it, the Water Board sent me what was called a Computation Certificate stating that I was to drain the bottom of the river out to the bridge, but had I been old enough to understand, I could have said to them that it can’t have silted up because the mill was an undershot mill, so that the bottom of the river would always be kept clear.  An overshot mill is where the water comes over the top of the mill, and that is when it silts up.  When it is an undershot mill – that is to say that the water goes underneath, it clears the bottom of the river all the time – but I didn’t know that at the time.  I remember hearing that some of the Committee, or whoever they were, didn’t approve of how it was done, and they thought I was fiddled.  I felt I was fiddled out of it, in a way, on behalf of the Estate, and that made me think that maybe we ought to get out of it.

“Another thing that pushed me partly into getting out of the mill was the tannery at night time.  They used to take up the sluices that they had in there, and they used to let all the effluent down the mill, down the river, which they shouldn’t have done.  I complained about that once, and we had a bit of a do.  They said that they wouldn’t do it again, but they used to do it in a naughty manner.

“In those days, the tannery was run by an American, and he lived in Stanwick.  I was quite friendly with them, in a way, and I knew his wife and daughter, but I can’t remember theirnames.  This tannery was the one which became the Mill Chrome Tannery.  They used to use a lot of water.  It spoilt the eels because they used to get the effluent which made them non-saleable, as they weren’t getting the pure water.  They made some good leather, but in those days there was much leather competition, and he found it difficult to make a profit.

“It cost me quite a bit to get rid of the mill, and the Hollands, because I had been such a good Landlord, agreed to stand in half the expenses.  I think the expenses were £1200, which was a lot of money then, and I think I found £600 out of funds relating to the Estate.

“I sold the mill to John Wills who was in sand and gravel at the time at what is now the Ski Club.  (Ferrersands) I put it up for auction and the auctioneer said to me “Are you going to put a reserve on?”  I said, “Oh I don’t know – no, sell it”.  I had got to a stage when I felt it was on top of me – I was wrong – that was one of the big mistakes.

“The mill was sold in 1959 for the sum of £2,204 18s 6d, with the sum of £357 16s 8d being received for the “Share of Nene Catchment Board”, but there is no mention of the houses.  The Nene Catchment Board is the area which catches the water for the mill.  There were 32 acres all told with the mill, as far as I can remember.  In latter years, the money I got from Stanwick Mill I put into things like William Timpsons, Debenhams, Bowater Corporation, Allied Breweries, Anglia Building Society and House of Frazer.

“There were other things in the Estate, other than the Stanwick Mill.  It says here (referring to Trust Account Book) “Cash to Miss Forrest £25 and £30” – that was in 1931, so that was £55 she had then.  R. Forrest had £55, and my mother-in-law, Mrs Mason had £110, which was her half.  It was divided into three, you see.

“I also had in this Estate 24  houses in Higham – some of them have been pulled down completely – in Westfield Street – I think there were a dozen there, and there were y6 at the back which I think were condemned after the War.  There were also 2 houses in Northampton Road.

“When the Hollands worked the mill, they had some stones, one of which was called a ‘French Burr’.  They were all in sections and were joined together, and I said to my father-in-law that I should like one of the millstones, so we got some horse-drawn vehicles, got one of the millstones and brought it to the house next door.  When I sold the house, I didn’t say, “Look, I want to take the stone out”, and that sort of thing, because it was only a comparatively small thing in my eyes in those days, and since then, I wished I’d kept it.  They covered it over, and although I know more or less where the stone is, it’s gone, because I sold it when I sold the house.  I’m always sorry I didn’t keep that, but I didn’t, and that was it.  I let the house for a good many years and then I sold it to Mr Orme, whose son now owns it.

“I used to go down to the mill and watch the otters in the millpool, and we had a pair of swans which used to nest there.  Although I’m 97, early in the morning, I can see things so plainly, right back.

“Funnily enough, thinking back, I suppose in those days we had cameras and that sort of thing, but I don’t ever remember anyone ever taking a photograph of Stanwick Mill.  It wasn’t a very pleasing business.  Mr Holland – I think at one time they had 8 or 9 children – somebody did – because they built a very big bedroom which was like a dormitory.  These children were all bedded down in this dormitory.  I always understood that there were 9 children, but I don’t know where they all went to.  I would like to know what happened to the family, particularly the last one who built the house in Stanwick, just as you were going in on the right hand side.  Do you remember the house which was pulled down which was at the large gates going to the mill?  Mr Holland wanted me at one period to enlarge it, build another one, or something or other, but at that time I hadn’t got that sort of money, so he built himself the house round the corner.

“The flour they ground up at the mill was rather rough.  It was more like cattle feed, but I don’t know what happened to it.  I never got involved, as I was only the Landlord.

“The waterwheel was inside the building.  The grain was kept at the top and it was lowered onto a vehicle by a type of pulley.

“There was another stream on the other side, and there was a right of way to go across the fields, where you could at the end turn left, and come out into the road to Irthlingborough.  I wonder if there is anything of the old mill or bridge left?

“They had a big eel trap.  At certain times of the year, eels move about a lot, and they would come down with the stream and go into this trap.  They used to get quite a quantity and sell them for eating.  That interested me, and I used to go down to the mill about 1925, when I first got married, to see the eels.  I was interested in anything to do with farming, and the only connection I had with farming was looking after this bit.

“Funnily enough, in this day of flooding and all that sort of thing, I never remember them being in trouble over flooding, but if you ran the mill, you were responsible for managing the wheel and letting the water down at certain times or keeping the water up.  If you kept the water up, you were holding it back which meant that there wasn’t so much flooding down there and the flooding was farther back.  They started talking about the lock gates earlier when I was still connected with it, but it was only after it was sold that they installed lock gates.

“In my early days, I was always very interested in butterflies, and I got friendly with Mr Adams who used to live in Stanwick at the top of the hill, and we used to go out together a lot and he told me about their business and the huge orders they got for Army boots and that sort of thing, and how they operated their finances, and he used to tell me all of these stories.  Being quite young, I managed to absorb it, and asked myself if I could get out of it what they were making and make the top end – the specialist stuff – so I started making all the specialist stuff for the Army, Navy and Air Force.  When they wanted development work doing, I was the one to do it, and that’s what led me into all the Services.  They benefit by that to this day, because all over the world we now send shoes, and they are all connected with the Services, armies and that sort of thing – all speciality stuff, and I’m telling you that because of my connection with Mr Adams from Stanwick.  He was interested in the country, and we used to go about together, largely on bicycles, and I collected butterflies.  I collected the caterpillars and bred most of them from the caterpillars.”

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