Until the Summer of 2011 boz had no idea of the existence of this tranquil historic oasis. Found by chance whilst pulling off the A12 to wait for Blackwall Tunnel traffic to subside, on a quiet Friday afternoon, before the Olympic Park site had been completed, and hardly a soul about, Three Mills Island almost encapsulates a bygone era.
Designated as a conservation area by the London Borough of Newham in 1971, Three Mills is a man-made island within the Lower Lea Valley. The conservation area is bounded in the West by the River Lea and the Bromley-by-Bow bridge; to the South by the Channelsea River; and to the North by Abbey Road and the ‘Greenway’ embankment.
Domesday Survey 1086 recorded eight tidal Mills on the River Lea, the sites of five of which are recorded in the Lea tributaries: Pudding Mill; City Mill; Waterworks Mill; Abbey Mill and Three Mills. At Three Mills the mills were built on a man-made island to make the most use of the ebb tide. By the late sixteenth century the area of Three Mills was comprised of two water mills producing corn and gunpowder.
In 1872 House Mill was purchased by gin distillers J&w Nicholson & Co. of Clerkenwell. This was of particular interest to boz as regulars readers will know there is much tarrying to Clerkenwell from this quarter and recent forays into Clerkenwell history are inextricably linked with the history of Gin but that is for another post.
Having obtained this little amount of information about the place, along with the fascinating connections of the gin industry within the familiar exhibiting environs of Clerkenwell, an invitation to participate in an exhibition at House Mill was accepted with great pleasure. Makers at the Mill Exhibition was created in partnership with the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust and nineteen designers each creating Mill inspired pieces for the exhibition. Such is the presence of this beautiful Grade I listed building the choice of subject matter from the Mill buildings; the largely intact working interior; and the wildlife of the environs was wide and varied.
In 1728 Three Mills was purchased by the Huguenot partnership of Peter Lefevre and Daniel Bisson, of whom the latter went on to construct House Mill 1776 later rebuilt in 1802 following a fire.This mill served the gin distillery next door on Three Mills Island in addition to flour making and was in operation until 1941.
Clock Mill on the opposite side of the site with its distinctive Clock Tower and bell was built 1817 and in use as a mill up to 1952 now Grade II Listed. Originally a windmill also stood on the site, being the third of the Three Mills and remained to around 1840.
Having been saved from demolition by the Passmore Edwards Museum Trust in the 1970s House Mill passed to the Tidal Mill Trust. Work on the building commenced 1989 and whilst the fabric is now fully restored, the project to reinstate all four water wheels and restore some of the mill machinery continues. Footage of the restoration project and an insight into the workings of the Mill can be seen here: http://www.housemill.org.uk/
The fascinating and atmospheric interior of House Mill and the beautiful grounds set within the conservation site proved a wonderful source of inspiration for the designers exhibiting in Makers at the Mill exhibition http://ebbandflowatthemill.wordpress.com/makers-at-the-mill/
The buildings to the east of House Mill and Clock Mill which originally housed Nicholsons Gin Distillery are now home to 3 Mills Studios the largest film studios and rehearsal rooms in London and benefitting from a perfectly placed setting http://www.3mills.com/
The cobbled causeway leading from Three Mill Lane to the film studios is a bustling lively thoroughfare especially during the day. Part of the waterside footpath which serves the film studio staff; cyclists; dog walkers; visitors to House Mill; customers for the friendly café in the Millers House adjoining House Mill; and the excellent tours which regularly take place, of which details can be found here: http://www.housemill.org.uk/tours.html
The proximity of the Olympic Park has inevitably brought with it much regeneration of the area adjacent to the conservation site in a part of London which drew little attention prior to all that will now be marked in history as ‘London 2012’. This lesser known East End, further out than the now fashionable streets of what were once slum quarters for for urban missionaries and social reformers, is comprehensively explained in Neil Fraser’s recently published book Over the Border, The Other East End http://londonist.com/2012/07/book-review-over-the-border-the-other-east-end.php
Makers at the Mill exhibition continues until 9 September 2012, ten per cent of all sales go towards the House Mill restoration project. With well deserved thanks to curators Paula Duggen, Rosemary Lucas and Mary Ann Chatterton, it has been a wonderful experience to exhibit work in such a unique and beautiful setting, made all the more enjoyable by the fabulous dedicated staff and volunteers at House Mill.