Fisherman at Oxnead mill

Fisherman at Oxnead mill

OXNEAD mill stands on the upper reaches of the river Bure. Until the floods of 1912 wherries used to pass up the Bure to Aylsham, and the mills at Horstead (Coltishall lock), Buxton/Lamas, Oxnead and Burgh had to be bypassed by locks. There was a final lock at Aylsham giving access to the staithe. This canalised section of the river was opened in 1779. In its heyday over 20 wherries a week used the waterway. Charles Browne, the miller at Oxnead in the late nineteenth century kept two wherries, the Enterprise and the Volunteer, to carry grain to the mill and flour from it. There is no doubt that the existence of the waterway did much to advance the economic fortunes of Aylsham and the mills en route. But by the time of the disastrous floods in 1912 Aylsham had not one but two railway stations, and the locks were not worth the £4000 it would have cost to repair them. One wherry, the Zulu, was imprisoned by the damaged lock at Buxton, and had to be hauled out of the water to be freed. The lock was to the right of the mill in the picture which heads this blog. On August 26 in 2012 there was an event on Coltishall Common to commemorate 100 years since the closure of the Aylsham Navigation.

Aylsham Navigation527This legal document is an “Assignment of £85 of the Aylsham Navigation Old Loan”, dated 14 November 1889. There are three pages of foolscap written in longhand, which refers to “the thirteenth year of the Reign of  our late Majesty King George the Third” when an Act of Parliament was passed intitled ‘An Act for making and extending the navigation of the River Bure (commonly called the North River) from Coltishall to Aylsham Bridge…’ There is also an older document in another hand dated 1857, referring to an earlier transfer of ownership of this loan.

Oxnead mill was a paper mill in the 18th century; indeed it was one of the first in the county, having been set up some time before 1716. The very first paper mill in Norfolk was at West Newton (normally called Castle Rising) and that had been converted from a fulling mill in 1695. Following the end of paper milling at Oxnead the mill was used for almost 30 years from 1822, as a fulling mill in the woollen industry. It became a  grain mill  in 1850 when the existing structure was built. It became a paper mill again in the middle years of the 20th century, finally closing for commercial milling in the 1950s. It then became a store for cinema organs which the owner collected.

In the early years of the 19th century, when it was still a paper mill (the first time round) the  business was undergoing great upheaval; the old and time-honoured way of making paper, sheet by sheet and by hand was revolutionised by the introduction of the paper making machine. Oxnead mill never went over to the machine made paper, but another nearby paper mill at Taverham was one of the first to experiment with the new process. This proved very upsetting for the head papermaker at Taverham, John Anstead, who had spent his life in learning the traditions of hand made paper. The Fourdrinier paper making machine which produced an endless sheet of paper on a wire belt was installed in Taverham mill 1809.

John Anstead had been in charge of paper making there; he was by then a middle-aged man with his life’s experience in making paper the old fashioned way, and it was all too much of a change. By 1810 he had left the village of Taverham and was living several miles away at Hevingham. It may be significant that his new home was very near to the village of Oxnead, where the mill on the river Bure continued to make paper in the traditional way (i.e. by hand). He could not live in Oxnead itself for there are virtually no houses there.  After about 1822 the paper mill at Oxnead mill closed, and he seems to have moved to the paper mill at Lyng. This is also near Taverham on the river Wensum. His widow Diana was living with her son-in-law who was manager back at Taverham in 1841. There is little in the way of hard fact, and much supposition, but if he was indeed trying to pursue the art of making paper by hand he had difficult task. The old mills were either closing, like Oxnead, or converting to machine mills. By 1830 Lyng itself had a Fourdrinier machine of its own. John Anstead died aged 75 in 1833, by which time he was far too old to come to terms with the new technology.  He was buried in Taverham, where he and his father before had run the mill until the advent of machinery.



Oxnead is a hamlet, or as it is described, “a deserted village”. The Hall was once the home of the Paston family.  Today only the servants’ wing remains intact. The picture of the Oxnead Treasure at the Castle Museum, Norwich, is a depiction of the pride of the family’s collection. A number of the paintings which used to hang in Oxnead Hall were moved to Spixworth Park  before that house also was demolished, including a portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

The work of the sculptor Nicholas Stone remains in St Michael’s church. He had been employed by Sir William Paston and was royally entertained by him. Besides doing the work at Oxnead Nicholas Stone was appointed master mason to king James I in 1619, a position he continued to hold under his son Charles I. Nicholas Stone did not live to see the beheading of the king, but he lived through most of the civil war. As a prominent Royalist he was imprisoned by the Parliamentarians. Nowadays not much happens at Oxnead but it has had a colourful past.





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