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This small parish, of 2,184 acres with a population of 385 in 1931, lies south of Midhurst, the village being 1½ miles east of Cocking Station. Its western boundary is formed by a stream running north-east from Cocking mill-pond, and the southern by the ridgeway on the crest of Heyshott Down, where are a remarkable series of covered ways and other earthworks. From here, where a height of 760 ft. is reached, the ground drops sharply in less than a mile to about 180 ft. in the village. The northern part of the parish, with Heyshott Common and The Roughs, is mostly woodland and scrub, and there is a large block of woodland, Hoe Copse, west of the village
source- 'Heyshott', A History of the County of Sussex, Volume 4, The Rape of Chichester , pp. 60-3.
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For 400 years the price of Bex Mill, was tied to the unstable market for corn.
By Rose Gibbs - Dec 2001
Wheel of fortune: there has been a mill on the site since the Domesday Book
It is easy to forget that the battle for free trade in agriculture has already once been fought and won. When the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, out went a system under which foreign imports of wheat were prohibitively taxed whenever the price of domestic wheat fell below 80 shillings per quarter. No longer did the poor have to pay artificially high prices for their bread in order to enrich the farming interest.
The intellectual force behind the anti-Corn Law campaign was Richard Cobden, a Manchester-based calico-printer who, following the repeal, found himself the subject of worldwide celebrity. He was granted audiences with the Pope and the Austro-Hungarian emperor, and even lectured the Tsar's finance minister on the workings of the free market.
However, although Cobden was feted as the hero of capitalists everywhere, he was despised by the farming class into which he had himself been born. His grandfather had been a yeoman farmer and the owner of a water mill, Bex Mill, near Midhurst in Sussex. Cobden's treachery to his class was noted by farmers who, at an Anti-Corn Law League rally in Rye in 1843, waved placards warning the audience not to be deceived by the fact that Cobden was descended from a Sussex farming family.
The younger Cobden was born a few hundred yards down the road from Bex Mill, at a farmhouse in the hamlet of Dunford, in 1804. Two years earlier, his grandfather had sold the heavily mortgaged mill to James Monk and Jabez Shotter, shopkeepers of Midhurst. They paid him £539 10s, and also paid off his £800 mortgage, making a total purchase price of £1,339 10s.
Richard Cobden would no doubt have become a farmer too, had his father not squandered his inheritance. Brought down by poor business decisions, in 1814 William Cobden was forced to sell the rest of the farm and the family moved to West Meon, where they ran a shop. When he left school, Richard Cobden became a travelling salesman before starting his calico-printing business. Monk and Shotter, by contrast, made a quick profit on Bex Mill, selling it for £1,680 within a year.
That the price of wheat was highly unstable is reflected in the selling price of Bex Mill. A mill had been on the site since the Domesday Book, and in 1676 the property was sold to Thomas Marner, a Midhurst weaver, for £55. Four years later it was recorded as being in a ruinous state and sold to John Shotter the Elder, a mercer, for just £30.
All kinds of investors tried their hand at making money from grinding corn. In 1688 it was bought by Thomas Todman, a carpenter. In 1734 it sold to John Penicod, a yeoman, for £87. Later in the century, thanks to growing protectionism, the value of mills soared. By 1812 the newly reconstructed Bex Mill was selling for £2,175. But in 1841 falling wheat prices had reduced its price to £1,375.
The new owner was Henry Mills who, in 1850, found himself with a famous neighbour: Cobden, having made his fortune, took the opportunity to buy back, for £3,500, the farmhouse at Dunford that his father had been forced to sell.
When Cobden died, in 1864, his coffin was conveyed down to Dunford, accompanied by a 20-carriage train carrying mourners. In spite of the local farmers' doubts, free trade was not doing Bex Mill any harm: in 1876, when the then owner, Henry Mills, died, it was valued at £1,650. Mills' son, also called Henry, took on the mill and invested in its machinery, although not to the satisfaction of one local who memorably said the mill was "modernised in an old-fashioned way".
The price of corn was not the only hazard faced by the "buy-to-grind" investor. The thick dust given off by the grinding process was a great fire risk. Bex Mill's insurance policy of 1906 expressly forbade the shelling of oats, a particularly hazardous process, and laid down a condition that the owner's personal effects had to be kept in a separate building 30 yards from the mill itself.
In that year the water wheel was supplemented by a steam engine, but by this time the economics of grinding corn were changing rapidly. Freed of the need to be located close to wind or water, milling was being concentrated in much larger steam mills in the towns. Bex Mill ground its last flour during the First World War. In 1919 it was sold for £1,000 and continued in use for specialised operations until the 1950s.
After milling ceased it was converted into a four-bedroom home with a large picture window overlooking the millpond, and set in five-and-a-half acres. Sadly, the water wheel no longer exists.
By Rose Gibbs, Dec 2001
Heyshott - - Richard Cobden
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