Hints and the Bourne Brook

The Village of Hints lies in the south eastern corner of Staffordshire (England), some five miles from the ancient cathedral city of Lichfield and three miles west of Tamworth.

The underlying geology of Permian Breccia and Sandstones south of the Bourne Brook, with Bunter Sandstone to the north, is visible in the elevated hump of Golds Clump, the swelling form of Round Hill, Rookery Wood and Job’s Hill. The underlying geology is exposed in the cutting of Dark Lane to the east of Hints Church. The easily weathered red sandstone is conspicuous in local buildings and walls. The gently uplifted south facing slope would have encouraged settlement on a well drained soil.

The prominent mound of Gold’s Clump, immediately south of the A5 trunk road, has been considered a prehistoric burial mound or, alternatively a large Roman Tumulus. Indeed, although it is a scheduled monument protected by law, its origin is still in doubt. An application to erect a communication mast on it, and suggestions to undertake a trial excavation in order to establish its true nature have been rejected.

The present A5 trunk road runs along the line of the Watling Street, the Roman highway from Richborough in the south-east to Wroxeter in Shropshire. The village’s name probably derives from this, hynt being the Welsh word for ‘a road’. This derivation points to the possible late survival of Welsh speech in the Lichfield area. Bourne Brook, which at Hints, runs almost parallel to the Watling Street, lies in the valley to the south of the Hints. In the past it has been known as Blakewater and Black Brooke.

Watling Street runs point to point in straight lengths, with a noticeable kink in its course, where it takes advantage of a low gap between Gold’s Clump and the rising ground to the north. To the Romans this would have been "unattractive and inhospitable country" and the only indication of their activity in the vicinity of Hints is a pig of lead, mined in Flintshire and dug up on Hints common. However, to the north of the road, aerial photography has shown several cropmarks of probable Romano-British date. One of these cropmarks, some 400m north of Watling street, lies within the general area of study and appears as a rectangular enclosure with rounded angles.

The centuries following the departure of the Romans are obscure. In the ninth century the political line of demarcation, between the Viking newcomers and the Anglo-Saxons, followed Watling Street, and it is evident from place names that Scandinavian settlement scarcely existed to the south of the road. During this period, Lichfield became an important and extensive Church estate and Tamworth, from 913 AD, a heavily defended Saxon Town, or burh. Both were to retain their importance after the Norman Conquest.

In the Doomsday Book of 1086 Staffordshire was a ‘county primitive, poor and divided among a few tenants in chief’. It was thinly settled, many present day villages were not named, and there were large areas of forest and upland. With only eleven tenants in chief, and less than one hundred undertenants and followers, there may have been no more than three hundred newcomers.

Wigginton and Drayton Bassett, immediately east of Hints, were royal manors, while Hints, Weeford, Buroustone and Litel Bech in Offlow Hundred, lay within the vast episcopal estate of Lichfield, in the possession of the Bishop of Chester, which contained extensive tracts of woodland but comparitively little arable land.

Oswald held Hints where, the folios of the Doomsday Book record, there was land for seven ploughs. In a county where streams and rivers were abundant, the paucity of water mills was a further indication of the poverty of the economy.

Thirteenth and fourteenth century documentation details the successive de Meynhill lords of Hints (also Meynhill, Meynhil, Meignel, Maynell) who seem never to have been of more than local importance.After the failure of the male line, Hints passed to Thomasine, whose daughter Margaret married Ralph Bassett of Blore, thus bringing Hints to a Staffordshire family who had, with the Clintons, become among the more important landholders in the county in the mid twelfth century.

Prior to the sixteenth century there is no documentary evidence surviving to indicate the management and exploitation of the Bourne Brook. It is probably that, at the time of the first documentary allusion in the sixteenth century, the cornmill had been in existence for some time; but only archaeological investigations could hope to elucidate its origins. However, Figure 3, a contemporary illustration, gives an indication of the likely appearance of Hints cornmill during its early years.

The site of Hints forge (see Information Requested) has caused confusion but the study has shown that the sites of the cornmill and forge (which lies downstream and to the east of the mill) are at separate locations. Indeed, the site of the hammer mill at Forge can now be identified, together with the pond that provided sufficient head of water to power the wheel. The pond bed is now under woodland, but embankments survive, albeit somewhat reduced, to the north and east sides of the distinctively triangular lot, field no.70, on the 1847 tithe award. The full length of the leat is now untraceable on the ground but is visible in part between the weir above Botley House Bridge and running eastwards towards the Oven Meadow, where its continuation may be preserved in the present field boundaries shown on successive maps. The forge buildings themselves would appear to have been demolished between 1775 and 1847, although they may have been those mapped in the 1830s on the first edition OS map. The whole area is now heavily overgrown and relatively inaccessible, but there are still surface indications of the structures that once stood at Forge.

Just beyond the western limit of the study area lay the site of the watercourses and slitting mill in use during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at Weeford. This would appear to have operated in co-operation with the finery, hammer mill and forge downstream, at Thomas Lawley paid annual rents for the supply of both.

By the first half of the sixteenth century the lands were evidently divided, Ralph Sacheverell levying a fine of the manor of Hints with the appurtenances, 20 messuages and 2 cottages together with 1000 acres of land, 100 acres of meadow, 800 acres of pasture, 300 acres of wood, 100 acres of furze and heath and 20 shillings rent, in Hints and Wigginton. Hints ford and the adjacent mill are first mentioned in passim around about this time, in the 1540s. The mill was repaired or rebuilt prior to 1694 and derelict or partially destroyed 1847. No surface features remain today.

Thomas Basset’s retention of the manor place and all other lands, common for 400 sheep and 40 beasts at all times of the year, also for fishery of all waters, except of the floodgates and mill dam, required an annual rent of £4 payable to R Sacheverell, his heirs etc, Ralph retaining all the residue of the said lands.

Through the 1600s the Bassets’ sale of lands included the Manor or Mansion House, ie Hints Hall, and the capital messuage of Hints Lodge etc, to Ralph Flyer, or Floyer, whose family retained the estate until 1793, when William Humberston Cawley took the name on succession. The remodelling of the Hall, the beginning of extensive landscaping of an expanding park, and the water gardens at the fish pond were all undertaken after this date. As a fish-pond, the former mill-pond played an important role in the landscaping of the park and its water features of the mid- and late nineteenth century. The weir or waterfall was primarily ornamental, but the sluices and hydraulic ram system would appear to have worked to tap the pure spring water of nearby Pool Meadow in the early twentieth century to supply the village. Today, older residents speak fondly of their traditional water supply. Further flood control sluices and the provision of septic tank drainage are features of the eastern end of the pond.

The Hall was demolished after the second World War and has been replaced by a singularly unimpressive house.

Summary of Sites Identified During the Survey

  • Site 1 Fishpond: considerably enlarged and rebuilt in its present form from an original millpond of mediaeval origin.
  • Site 2 Weir: nineteenth century landscape feature.
  • Site 3 Sluice: nineteenth century landscape feature.
  • Site 4 Intake of nineteenth century hydraulic ram.
  • Site 5 Valve chamber of ram.
  • Site 6 Tail race of demolished water mill, site adjacent.
  • Site 6a Site of ?mediaeval and post-mediaeval mill.
  • Site 7 Culvert outfall of tail race.
  • Site 8 Brick outfall of ram system.
  • Site 9 Derelict weir, take-off for Forge.
  • Site 10 Demolished footbridge below plunge pool.
  • Site 11 Course of leat, largely destroyed.
  • Site 12 Header pond for post-mediaeval hammer mill at Forge, now under woodland.
  • Site 13 Site of Forge, cottages and hammer mill.
  • Site 14 Site of Greasley Hall.
  • Site 15 Septic tank, nineteenth century origins but now incorporated in highway storm drain system, feeding adjacent pipe in north wall of mill/fish pond.

Map references of main sites referred to are as follows:

  • Weeford slitting mill SK 1475 0360
  • Hints water mill SK 1561 0291
  • Hints Hall SK 2578 0278
  • Botley Bridge, weir SK 1600 0257
  • Hints forge pond SK 1665 0232
  • Hints forge, hammer mill SK 1669 0234
  • Greasley Hall SK 1630 0235