Holywell Mill

Holywell MillAbove: Holywell Mill in 2011

Below: The earlier building at Holywell Mill, drawn by W. A. Delamotte
and engraved by Orlando Jewitt, early 1830s

Holywell Mill

Photograph of the former Holywell mill house in 1880 by Henry Taunt

The present Mill House was built in 1888 by Clapton Ford in seventeenth-century style, and is a Grade II Listed Building: IoE Number: 245804.

A mill has stood on this site since at least 1200. Anthony Wood records that in about 1300 Boner or Banner Hall in Horsemonger (now Broad) Street “came to Phillip de Wormenhale, a burgess of Oxon”. In 1301–2 he acquired a moiety of Holywell Mill, and in 1302 leased the other moiety from Merton College.

In 1331 he private share of the mill ended up in the hands of William of Bicester and according to Wood, he sold it back to Merton College:

As for the other mediety; it having bin successively possest by privat persons was at length with two acres of ground called “Mill acres” conveyed to certaine clerks of [Merton] College by William Burchestre, a burgesse of Oxon, and Alienor his wife 5 Edward III.

Edward Nicholls (who was also a keen bell-ringer) was already miller here in 1808. on 3 January 1857 he put a notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal saying: “For sale: Holywell Mill, Oxford. For particulars apply to Mr Nicholls, at the Mill”. On 7 February 1857 this was superseded by a more formal notice of an auction to be held on 3 March which included not only the working Holywell Mill, but also King’s Mill (which was now a dwelling) and a fishery:

Holywell Mill for sale

The mill must have been bought by Nathaniel Harrison, who on 10 September 1859 advertised a pony for sale at his mill. Harrison is listed as a miller in the 1861 census, but later also went into partnership as a coal merchant with his son, Nathaniel Harrison the younger, who lived at Holywell Cottage: this partnership was dissolved on 28 May 1869. Soon after this, on 12 June 1869, it was announced that the miller had gone bankrupt.

On 7 August 1869 this “capital water corn mill” was advertised to be let by tender on lease for ten years from Michaelmas 1869. Harrison appears to have remained at the mill for a while, and then the following advertisement appeared on 25 April 1874:

To Millers, Corn Dealers, and others.
TO LET, with possession on the 1st of May,— Holywell Mill, a Water Corn Mill, driving three pairs of stones, with constant supply of water, granaries and corn bins capable of storing 800 quarters of corn, four-stall stable, cart shed, and piggeries; convenient Dwelling House containing three sitting rooms, five bed rooms and offices, wash-house, brew-house, and laundry; kitchen garden and orchard, altogether occupying a site of about 1¾ acres. — Apply to the Bursar at Magdalen College, or Messrs. Pike and Son, Estate Agents, 21, New Inn Hall-street, Oxford

Harrison died in December 1874. By 22 May 1875, the mill house was occupied as a private dwelling, first by Edwin Cross, a flock manufacturer, who filed for bankruptcy on that date, and he was still there in August 1887.

The house was rebuilt by the architect Clapton Rolfe in about 1900, but some original material survives.

In the twentieth century it was occupied by A. J. P. Taylor and his lodger Dylan Thomas. In 1994 Magdalen College took the site of the mill into its new development to the northe.

Holywell Mill in the censuses


Holywell Mill
Edward Nicholls (55), a miller, lived here with Mary (50), Mary Ann (20, Elizabeth (16), Hanwell (15), James (14), and Thomas (9). Also living in the house was William Woolman (20), who was a junior miller; two lodgers; and a 14-year-old servant girl.


Edward Nicholls (67), miller & mealman, was now a widower, and lived here with his daughter Mary (33) and his sons Hanwell (26) and Thomas (19), who were assistant millers. Another man described as a miller & carter and a house servant also lived there.


Holywell Mill
Nathaniel Harrison (57), a corn miller, lived here with his wife Susannah (53) and his children Nathaniel (25), who was a clerk & rent collector; Edward (22), who was a compositor; Harry (21), who was a miller; and Louisa (13), who was still at school. A carter, Henry Harrison (23) was also living with them, and they had one female servant.


Holywell Mill
Edwin Cross
(43), a woollen manufacturer, lived her with his wife Ann (45).


Holywell Mill Ford
Clapton Rolfe (56), an architect and author, lived here with his wife Annie (53) and his sister-in-law Miss Dora du Pré. They had one servant (a cook).

Occupants of Holywell Mill House listed in directories etc.
(The house was known as “Holywell Ford” from 1899)

Survey of Oxford

“To Holywell mill; road”: 12yds
(Building itself not obviously listed)


Edward Nicholls
Corn miller, Holywell Mill


Nathaniel Harrison
Corn miller, Holywell Mill


Edwin Cross
Woollen manufacturer


Clapton Rolfe
Architect, & Diocesan Surveyor of Oxford


Clement Charles Julian Webb
Wilde Lecturer in Natural & Comparative Religion


Revd Charles Beverly Davies
Chaplain of Christ Church


A. J. P. Taylor
Fellow & Tutor in Modern History, Magdalen College


John Walter Stoye
Tutor in Modern History, Magdalen College

Holywell Mill today

Part of Magdalen College

See Christopher Bell et al., “Archaeological investigations on the site of a medieval and post-medieval watermill at Holywell Ford, Magdalen College, Oxford”, Oxoniensia LXI (1996), 275–295.

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© Stephanie Jenkins

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