Two views of COSTESSEY



Costessey mill was burnt to the ground in a spectacular fire on 7th July 1924. It was only after the ruined mill was demolished that a public road bridge was opened at this point on the Wensum. Young Barney Welch was 9 when the mill burnt down and remembered the day very well. The weir remains, governing the flow of water along this reach of the river with a pool below. It is good place for seeing chub, and fishing for them too if you are an angler.

There was a water mill in Costessey in  Domesday. The last mill (pictured) was built by Henry Culley in 1858. It was always used as a grist mill (i.e. a corn mill), although while Simon Wilkin was involved in the Taverham paper making business (1812-16) its predecessor appears to have been used for the storage of paper or rags as well. Simon Wilkin had inherited the mill at a young age in 1799. After he lost the mill through being made bankrupt in 1816 he set up as a printer in Norwich. This was a successful business which continued in Norwich under the name of Fletcher (Wilkin’s apprentice’s name) until it merged with Clays of Bungay in about 1980.


This, together with the first postcard, is a view from Frank Welch’s family album. I can date it to the first quarter of the 20th century, but I cannot identify the two children on the lawn, although I assume they are the sons of Charles Finch (see below).

I am fortunate to have the Welch collection in my possession. Instead of most family albums which contain numerous babies and people whom I could never identify, this one has instead local places of interest, many of which still exist. They are also named, the negative would have been written on (in reverse) in black ink. Many are cards written to relations, so have postmarks which help to date them. Frank Welch was also an accomplished and artistic photographer with an eye for a good picture. Costessey House was built in about 1860 in the garden of the original mill house. It was the residence of Henry Culley, the owner of the mill and was originally known as Mill House. It remained his widow’s home until her death in 1887. Henry Culley’s father John had bought the mill after 1816 when Simon Wilkin, the previous mill owner, went bankrupt.

John Culley’s father is mentioned in Parson Woodforde’s diary as partaking in his grand harvest suppers. Despite this joining in an Anglican celebration the Culleys were leading Baptists. There is still a Baptist church in Costessey, largely thanks to the generosity of the Culley family. The previous family to own the mill (William Wilkin and his son Simon) had also been Baptists.



The next owner of the house was Albert Culley, Henry Culley’s grandson. He was shot by his brother while out on a shooting party; many locals thought it was no accident. The property was then let for a few years before the Culley estate was sold in 1902. Its next owner was Charles Finch, a director of the Norwich brewers Steward and Patteson. It was early during his ownership that its name was changed to Costessey House. His widow died there aged 92 in 1964, when it was sold to Kevin Shortis who still lives there. To have been owned by just three families in over 150 years is quite an achievement.

Kevin Shortis was the owner when I delivered the mail to Costessey in the 1980s, although only when the regular postman was on holiday. It was as far as I went down The Street. One further house was “Broken Bridges” or Bridge Cottage. This was where a Toll Bridge used to cross the river Wensum in the days when there was no public crossing at the mill. According to Fred Barnes it was broken by a traction engine carrying paper from the mill at Taverham in the last years of the 19th century. The bridge was demolished in the 1950s by which time it was definitely damaged. Anyway, the house was so far away from Costessey House that the post was delivered by the post van from Drayton. Not that Mr Moreton who lived there got much post.


Basil Kybird has this  information to add: BROKEN BRIDGES  The cottage existed in 1817, the track as a private road and part of the Costessey Mill estate. It appears on a map of 1865 and shows a Toll Bar and the track from Drayton Low Road to the Mill as private. In the late 1800’s the cottage was rethatched. Some years later it was tiled. In 1907 the estate was sold and since has had several owners.


The cottage during 1914 – 18 war was occupied by Robert Samuel Clarke and his wife Susan. Their son James William of the 13th Bn Essex Regt was killed on 28th April, 1917 and his name appears on the War Memorial at Arras. In April, 1927 it was reported to Drayton Parish Council that the old toll bridge had collapsed. During W.W.II the cottage was occupied by George and Rosie Basham. George became a P.O.W. in Germany. In 1950 it became derelict. About this time there were discussions between Drayton and Costessey Parish Councils. Drayton wished for a right of way through the track to Costessey but Costessey declared it was a private road for land owners their side of the river only.

The cottage was then occupied by Mrs.Catherine Brett, a taxi driver and alleged alcoholic who died in 1961. The last occupier was Mr. Moreton, retired speedway rider. The bridge became dangerous and was demolished, leaving just an iron girder. The floods of 1994 caused the cottage to become unfit for habitation. The Police Constable who rescued a cat from the burning mill was a P.C Porter.


[The cottage appears to have been restored and is plainly visible from Drayton Low Road during the winter months. There is additional information in Ernest Gage, COSTESSEY, A Look into the Past.] [Joe Mason] 



One response

  1. Joe, your blogs are getting nearer to home! Was the story of the cat rescue true ? Basil


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