The Whitworths and Turvey Mill

Part 1 – The arrival of the Whitworths in Turvey (1814 – 1846)

Being the eighth child in a family of thirteen offers minimal hope of a significant inheritance, made even less so by one’s father being the second of eight children and his father the fifth of five children. Such was the situation John Whitworth found himself in 1785, aged fourteen. The choices before him seemed to be either find a trade, marry a rich heiress or hope for an inheritance from a wealthy bachelor uncle. He chose the first as  there were few rich heiresses in Earls Barton and many nephews seeking an inheritance.

John was apprenticed to Thomas Cook, a Baker of Rothwell,  Northamptonshire taking  his indenture on 17th June 17851.

Apprenticeship record for John Whitworth

This was the first step in the creation of a family business that would lead to the world famous Whitworth Brand, known for producing flour, dried fruits and snacks. The company’s  website states that the Whitworth Brothers Company was established at the Victoria Mills site in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire in 1886. This series of articles show that Turvey Mill played an important part in the company’s history.

The Whitworths of Earls Barton

The Whitworth family have long been associated with Earls Barton. A William Whitworth resided there from 1560 to 1613 with later generations described as landowners and Yeoman Farmers2 and who tended to have either very large families or the occasional bachelor who left an inheritance to his favourite nephew. Whilst the core of their assets resided in Earls Barton, in the 19th century Whitworths were to be found farming and milling in various locations of South Northamptonshire, Northern Buckinghamshire and Northern Bedfordshire.

John’s father James, who is a direct descendant of William3, was born in 1729 and in 1755 married4  Ann Stanyarn born in 1736 at Rothwell, Northamptonshire. In keeping with the family tradition they had 13 children. Two of the brothers are of interest to this article, John born in 1771 and Benjamin born in 1775, both of Earls Barton.

John Whitworth 1771 – From Drury Lane to Felmersham

Having completed his apprenticeship in 1792, John went to London to work as a baker. Whilst in Rothwell John probably met his future wife for he returned there in 1796 to marry Mary Palmer.


Records of the marriage of John Whitworth to Mary Palmer at Holy Trinity Parish Church, Rothwell, 15th June 1797

John took his new bride back to London and opened his own baker’s shop at 64 Drury Lane. John and Mary had two daughters and two sons, all baptised at St Martins-in the-Field, London, Ann (1798), Mary (1800), Robert (1804) and John (1805)5.

The business clearly flourished as shown by records of the insurance he took out with the Sun Insurance Office Ltd.6 That insurance was nearly needed on the night of 20th September 1808 when the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane burnt to the ground7. Remarkably, although the theatre was completely destroyed, the other properties in Drury lane were not touched by the fire.

By 1808 he had sold the bakery business to George James8 and moved to Felmersham where he had property and land rented from John Higgins of Turvey. On 9th September 1814 John, described as a Yeoman, took out a lease for 31 years on property owned by John Higgins of Turvey Abbey for an annual rent of £104. The property is described as9

 Dwelling house and water corn mill with the homestead and appurtenances on the river Ouze in Turvey, plus Closes and adjoining land in Bakers Close, Old Parsonage Close, Mill Holme plus rights to timber, rights of way and rushes from the River Ouze

Turvey Mill

It is not known when the first water mill was built in Turvey, the Domesday book records 26 mills on the River Ouse  including at least one in Turvey. Records show that in 1733, the Earl of Peterborough granted Thomas Davison, a baker from Turvey, a 61 year lease on the mill at an annual rent £ 2210. At that time, the Mill must have been in some state of disrepair as the Earl provided £ 200 for the erection of a new mill together with the stone and timber required for its construction. However, Davison would have to cover the cost of digging the stone and cutting the timber. The property described above was included in the Sale of Turvey’ when most of the village and surrounding farms were sold by the Earl of Peterborough in 1786. This part of the sale was bought by Charles Higgins and left in his Will to his nephew, John Higgins of Turvey Abbey.

The mill originally had an overhung water wheel which was external until in 1815 when John Whitworth had it enclosed in a small stone building. At the same time a third floor was added and the roof raised. Arches were built and a sluice gate added between them with the wheel on either side. The sluice was raised and lowered to control the flow of water.

The baker had become a miller with corn supplied from his own farm in Felmersham plus other local farms owned by Whitworths. In 1828 together with his son Robert, also described as a miller, they helped fund the building of the new Congregational Church on Turvey High Street with John a member of the Founding Committee.

Turvey Mill interior

Inside of Turvey Mill circa 1830. Water Colour by John Higgins © John Longuet Higgins


Old Turvey Mill

Turvey Water Mill with the wheel exposed. Water Colour by John Higgins © John Longuet Higgins


Turvey Water Mill with the wheel housed. Water Colour by John Higgins © John Longuet Higgins

Benjamin Whitworth (b. 1775) From Earls Barton to Kempston

John’s brother Benjamin11 also moved to Bedfordshire. In 1801 he  rented property in Marston Moretaine, belonging to Earl Spencer, where he was employed as a Land Tax Assessor.  In 1803 he married Anne Faldor (1779), born in Marsh Leys Kempston, at St Michael and All Angels, Millbrook.

Benjamin became a farmer and in 1803 he rented two farms from Grove Spurgeon Farrer of Brayfield House in Cold Brayfield. One of the farms was called ‘Gadfly’ and the second was land from a larger farm which, eventually came to be known as Robert Whitworth’s Farm. The farms were located at Bourne End, Wootton and one can assume that part of the crop from the farm was corn, to be supplied to brother John’s mill in Turvey.

In keeping with the Whitworth tradition, Benjamin and Anne had ten children all born at Bourne End between 1804 and 1823. In 1842, their daughter Charlotte (1821) , married her cousin, John Whitworth (1805), son of the above John Whitworth (1771) at All Saints Kempston.

Benjamin died in 1848 and his eldest son Robert took on 165 acres of the farm and moved with the widowed Anne and her daughter Sophia to Marsh Leys, Kempston. The younger son Charles (1817), moved to Cold Brayfield and, with the help of Mr Farrer,  started farming. On 27th September 1849 Charles married Annie Marie Battams (1828) from Newport Pagnell  at St Mary’s Carlton as shown in this section of the Whitworth family tree.

Whitworth Family Tree

Part 2 – Turvey Mill passes between the generations. (1846 – 1877)


1. UK Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices Indenture 1710 – 1811. Country Registers Aug 1784 – Aug 1786. National Archives IR 1/63 Pg 206.

2. In the seventeenth century the Whitworth family purchased one of its three Manors , Barnard, and so the head of the family became the Lord of the Manor.
3. The male ancestral line of Whitworths in Earls Barton leading to John Whitworth born 1771 in Earls Barton is as follows: William Whitworth (1560 – 1613) to Miles Whitworth (1590 –1662) to William Barton (1636 – ?) to Robert Whitworth (1677 – 1761) to John’s Farther James Whitworth (1729 – 1806)

4. John was born on 20th January 1771 and baptised at All Saints, Earls Barton on 19th February of that year. On 25th May 1755 at the same church James, described as a Yeoman, married Ann Stanyarn.

5. Ann Born 11th March 1798, baptised 23rd September 1798, Mary born 8th December 1800, baptised 4th January 1801, Robert born on 18th January 1804, baptised 19th February and John born on 3rd September 1805 baptised on 26th December.

6. Three insurance policies with the Sun Insurance Office Ltd. may be found in the London Metropolitan Archives as part of the Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group collection, all relating to 64 Drury Lane. The latter two policies also include property in Mortlake, Surrey. Ref: CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/410/668922 & Ref: CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/440/806850 & CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/445/821821

7. 21st September 1808 various newspapers, particularly the ‘Star’ which provided an extensive report.

8. The business was sold to George James as evidenced by an insurance policy in his name on 64 Drury Lane. London Metropolitan Archives CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/459/869503

9. Bedfordshire Archives Service Z178/41

10. Bedfordshire Archives Service HG3/1

11. Benjamin was baptised on 30th August 1775 at All Saints, Earls Barton. In 1801 he rented property in Marston Moretaine, belonging to Earl Spencer, where he was employed as a Land Tax Assessor. He met and married Anne Faldor, born in Marsh Leys Kempston, in 1779. They married on 21st February 1803 at St Michael and All Angels, Millbrook.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.