Medieval watermill revealed in Buckinghamshire

Evidence of a possible prehistoric ring ditch was also identified at the site

The remains of a watermill that operated from the late medieval to early modern period have been unearthed in Buckinghamshire by archaeologists working for HS2.

Excavations were carried out near the town of Buckingham at the site of a former watermill with medieval origins. Image: Cotswold Archaeology

Reviewing historical records on behalf of HS2, the Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society (BAS) found that a watermill had been recorded at the site near the town of Buckingham in the 1086 Domesday Book, as part of an earlier Anglo-Saxon estate. This estate developed after the year 949 to support the establishment of the burh at Buckingham.

The site is first depicted as the location of a watermill on early 17th-century historic maps and, according to records, it fell into disuse in the early 19th century.

Orthomosaic (high-resolution aerial image) of a timber beam believed to represent part of a mill structure. Image: Cotswold Archaeology

Excavations by Cotswold Archaeology, carried out in partnership with COPA, revealed artefactual evidence suggesting that activity relating to the watermill started in the 13th century and continued through to the early modern period.

The earliest structural remains found on site comprised three partially exposed timber beams set in a clay packing deposit, which may have formed the corner of a timber building. A pottery sherd recovered from the clay packing suggests this structure could date to around the 16th to 17th century.

Traces of mill structures built in the late post-medieval period, during the final phase of operation – such as the bypass channel, mill race walls, and outflow pond – were still extant on site when the archaeological work began. It is thought that, due to its location directly north of the mill race and outflow pond, the timber structure may represent the western end of a watermill, through which the mill’s drive mechanism would connect to the waterwheel.

Aerial view of the mill race walls. Image: Cotswold Archaeology

Remnants of an associated building, which was demolished in the 1940s when the area was levelled, were also uncovered. The remains of two rooms comprising stone walls were identified, along with an 18th-century brick floor in the southern room.

As no evidence of the Anglo-Saxon watermill recorded in the Domesday Book was found, it is thought to have been sited elsewhere.

18th-century brick floor surface in one of the rooms of the associated building. Image: Cotswold Archaeology

The excavations also unearthed evidence of prehistoric activity in the form of a possible ring ditch. A Mesolithic mace head was recovered from the infill of a post-medieval quarry pit truncating the feature.

Mesolithic mace head discovered in the infill of a post-medieval quarry pit. Image: Cotswold Archaeology