Although not actually in Penn itself, lying as it does between Penn and Wombourne, Wodehouse Mill is a fascinating place and worthy of inclusion in this section.

The front of the mill.

Anyone taking a stroll along the bottom of Penn Common is likely to come across Penn Brook, a small stream that gently flows westwards across the common, from its source in the Colton Hills. The stream is the main tributary of the Wom Brook, after which the village of Wombourne takes its name.

The stream aimlessly meanders on its course and seems to have been untouched by human activity, but in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. It is part of an ancient, well-managed water supply.

The Wodehouse estate lies on the south-western corner of the common, and when there, the stream enters Wodehouse Mill Pool, a dammed reservoir that supplies an overshot waterwheel in Wodehouse Mill and ensures that a sufficient supply of water is always available.

The mill stands next to Wodehouse Farm, and although no longer in use, is in a wonderful state of preservation.

It has been through several transformations during its long life and is first recorded in 1570 as a fulling mill. Some time later it was possibly converted to a corn mill, because in 1672 a malthouse stood on part of the Wodehouse estate, that had been converted from a water corn mill.

Wodehouse Mill Pool.

The waterwheel.

By 1693 it was a corn mill again, until a tragic fire in 1814 badly damaged the building. The fire started between one and two o’clock on the morning of Wednesday 20th April, and appears to have been started deliberately. A reward of 100 guineas was offered to any person who could supply information that would lead to the conviction of the perpetrator.

 The mill was rebuilt in 1840 and used for grinding corn for cattle feed. It remained in use as such until 1976, since which time it has been idle. Power is obtained from an overshot waterwheel consisting of two cast iron wheels, between which are bolted sheet steel paddles. The whole structure is about 12 feet in diameter and is fed from an overhead water tank. Water is piped into the tank from Wodehouse Mill Pool, and after turning the wheel it flows into a lower mill pond.

The building has three storeys, and an upper service floor in the roof space.

Sacks of corn are hoisted to the top floor through trap doors, by a hoist chain, and when there the corn is tipped into one of two chutes that feed the two grindstones below.

The third storey, the sack floor, is an open space where sacks of corn can be stored before being transported to the top floor for use.

The top floor.

Part of the hoist windlass on the sack floor.

The second floor is where the grinding takes place, in the form of two grindstones that were made by Kay & Hilton, Fleet Street, Liverpool, in 1853.

When ground and re-bagged, the corn can either be returned to the sack floor for storage or lowered onto a cart via an external second floor door.

All of the machinery still survives and appears to be in good condition, apart from the paddles on the waterwheel, which have mostly rusted away.

Unfortunately the mill is not accessible to the public, as it is on part of the Wodehouse estate.

The two grindstones and gear mechanism on the first floor.
The right-hand grindstone with the feed chute above.

There were several other mills in the area. Ludes Mill, listed in 1483, probably stood on the Wom Brook near to the Wodehouse. Two others are recorded at Wombourne in 1086, and together were worth 4 shillings. They were later listed in 1483 and described as the mill of Wombourne and the mill of the lord of Dudley. A mill is recorded as being on the stretch of brook in the village of Wombourne in 1664 and another stood in Mill Lane in the early 19th century. This was a corn and blade mill, and later a blade mill only.

In 1815 a mill known as Ham Mill was situated to the west of Gravel Hill and disappeared some time after 1860, the miller was George Prior. Another mill called Trill Mill was to be found in Orton in 1294, it is probably Caldewall mill that is recorded in 1562 and 1581.

In 1623 Thomas Barnesley had a water mill in the manor of Wombourne and Orton, and was a tenant of Sir Hugh Wrottesley. Finally Heath Forge was advertised for letting in 1814 and described as a mill in 1820. It ceased to work in about 1930 and was demolished in the 1970s.

Although the area today is one of rural tranquillity, not that long ago it was a hive of industry, where the inhabitants efficiently used the natural resources that were to hand.  In those days Wom Brook was a working stream and parts of its banks must have been busy and noisy places with all of the activity going on.

Most of the details used here were taken from volume 20 of Victoria County History: A History of Staffordshire. I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Phillips of the Wodehouse for permission to write this article.

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