In Woodbridge, Suffolk for the weekend with old chums from university days we were given an appreciation of the deep history of the area and the continuing connections with trade and water. This is where the famous Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial site was found and is also the site one of the first tide mills in the country dating back 800 years. The Anglo-Saxons were there from about AD 410 to 800 and there is plenty of archaeological evidence of settlement going back to Neolithic times.
The treasures found in the only burial mound not to have been already robbed are now to be found in the British Museum but replicas are kept in the National Trust centre on the site.
Whilst we can only speculate about that was found at the site including what are known as the sand bodies one thing that is very clear from the materials found is that complex trade was being conducted with cultures far from East Anglia and that the local people were capable of an astonishingly high level of artistic craftsmanship. They were seagoing people as attested by the remains of a substantial long boat that had been placed atop the burial mound. When excavated all that remained was a “ghost” impression of the hull that was actually destroyed after a plaster cast impression was taken of it.
These finds did much to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of this period and of Anglo-Saxon culture in the British Isles.
A reconstruction of the warrior’s helmet is on display in the education centre.
“The earliest record of a tide mill on this site by the River Deben is in 1170. It was owned by the Augustinian Priors for around 350 years until Henry VIII confiscated it, and for the next 28 years it was in royal ownership. Elizabeth I sold it to Thomas Seckford whose family owned it for over 100 years, followed by several private owners. In 1793 the present mill was built on the site of earlier ones. By the 1950s it had become the last working tide mill in the country, but in 1957 finally closed. It was saved in 1968, restored and opened to the public in 1973.”
What makes a Tide Mill so unusual is that it is driven by water stored in a mill pond that is filled by the incoming tide. A valve set below water level allows water to be pushed into the pond by the rising tide but which then closes as the tide recedes leaving water in the pond. The sluice gates are then opened to channel the water under the water wheel which is driven by the water passing below the wheel rather than over the top of it as is more usual in a river powered wheel. Unlike a river which flows continuously to power a water wheel of fill a mill pond, the tidal pond can only drive the wheel until the water in the pond drains down and must then wait for the next tide to be replenished.