Topcliffe Mill House

Introduction

The house next to Topcliffe Mill at 36 North End began life as the mill granary, which can be seen in several early twentieth century photographs of the mill and its outbuildings (see below).

The date of construction of the original granary is not known, but it probably dates from the 18th century. Almost all of the timbers in the house (and the adjacent watermill) are elm, which is thought to have come from woods on the outskirts of the estate. To date, elm has generally been considered to be unsuitable for dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) and so far it has not been possible to obtain an accurate date for the age of the timbers in either building.

The mill was awarded Grade II listed status in January 1983. The house was also listed at the same time, due to the group value of the buildings.

Owners

Although there was a manor house close to the mill in the late 13th, 14th and early 15th centuries, this was located in the moated field to the west of the drive, not on the site of the present house.

The ownership of the land from the 11th to the 16th centuries is given on our page on the early history of the manor.

St. Thomas’s Hospital, 1553-1948

St Thomas’s Hospital in London owned the mill, buildings and land for almost four centuries.  During this time the property was leased, providing St Thomas’s with an annual income. For more information, see our page on some of the surveys that were carried out by the hospital. The mill granary, which was subsequently converted to the house, was built during this period.

Miss Maude Agnes Bowen, 1948-1969

Miss Bowen purchased the property from St. Thomas’s Hospital, converting the granary into a house. Miss Bowen was responsible for converting the mill granary to a house (see details below).  She owned the property until her death on 5th July 1969.

Anne Patricia Abbs, 1970-1976

Ms Abbs (or Ms Mahoney, as she became known) owned the property from 1970 to 1976.

J H and J R Humphrey, 1976-1983

Dr and Mrs Humphrey were the next owners, having purchased the property from Ms A P Mahoney.

Andrew and Valerie Emerson, 1983-2002

Andrew and Valerie Emerson purchased the house from the Humphreys in 1983.  They carried out extensive alterations to the house in the 1980s (see below).

Ralph and Kathryn Betts, 2002-

Ralph and Kathryn Betts are the current owners, having purchased the property in August 2002.

From Granary to House

In 1948, Miss Maud Bowen bought the mill, along with 16 acres of land. Initially, she intended to convert the mill into a house. However, this was not considered practical and so Miss Bowen submitted plans (see photographs below) to convert the granary instead. As the granary already had two floors, the conversion was comparatively straightforward.

As can be seen from the plans below, internal walls were built on both floors to give three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and a drawing room, dining room and kitchen downstairs. As many of the original elm beams as possible were restored and are still visible (in 2021) throughout the original part of the house. A small porch was added and as the house faces north, double doors were inserted, opening into the dining room. Large red brick fireplaces were built in the lounge and the dining room. All of the internal doors were oak and these are still used throughout the house today (2021).

The house was originally 22 feet x 45 feet and had a plastered exterior and a reed thatched roof.

Alterations and Extensions in the 1980s

The house was transformed in the 1980s by Andrew and Valerie Emerson. The thatch was removed and the house was extended to the north, south and east, creating an additional three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a utility room. Andrew and Valerie also renovated the mill and replaced the outbuildings to the west. See the photographs below for more details.

The History of the House in Pictures

The history of the house can perhaps be better understood by viewing the photographs below.

Topcliffe Mill, in April 1930.
The building on the far right hand side of the photograph is the mill granary, which was subsequently converted to a house. The cottage attached to the mill was pulled down in 1949.
W M Palmer
Outbuildings at Topcliffe Mill in the 1930s.
The mill granary (since converted to a house) can be seen in the centre of the photograph.
Cambridgeshire Collection
This photograph, taken in the 1920s, was taken from very close to one of the other outbuildings seen in the photograph above. The thatch of one of those buildings can be seen in the top right hand corner of this photograph.
Bell's Postcard
Topcliffe Mill house plans, 1948
South Cambridgeshire District Council
Topcliffe Mill House plans 1948
South Cambridgeshire District Council
Topcliffe Mill, taken during the conversion of the granary to a house. The timber framed structure of the granary can be clearly seen on the right hand side. The cottage that adjoined the mill (see previous photograph) had been demolished.
E M Gardner, reproduced with kind permission of The Mills Archive Trust
Topcliffe Mill taken during the conversion of the granary to a house. The timber structure of the granary can be seen on the left hand side of the photograph.
E M Gardner, reproduced with kind permission of The Mills Archive Trust
The rear of Maud Bowen's house in the 1950s
Photograph supplied by Jennie McIntosh
Newspaper Article from the 1960s featuring Topcliffe Mill House
Cambridge Daily News
Topcliffe Mill house, 1965
Meldreth WI
View of the house and mill, 1965.
Meldreth WI
An aerial photograph from 1970 showing the mill, house and remaining outbuildings
Photograph supplied by Andrew Emerson
The rear (southern elevation) of Topcliffe Mill house, c. 1980
Photograph supplied by Andrew Emerson
Topcliffe Mill House in 1983.
Photograph supplied by Andrew Emerson
Removal of the thatch, December 1983
Photograph by Andrew Emerson
The southern elevation of the house, taken in December 1983 when the thatch was being removed and the house extended
Photograph supplied by Andrew Emerson
The house during extensions and building work, March 1984 Note the porch has been removed and the original front door blocked up
Photograph by Andrew Emerson
An aerial photograph, taken in 1989 following the completion of the building work organised by Andrew and Valerie Emerson
Photograph supplied by Andrew Emerson
Topcliffe Mill and House, 2021
Photograph by Kathryn Betts
The north side of Topcliffe Mill House. The shape of the original porch can still be seen (around the small ground floor window)
Photograph by Kathryn Betts, 2021

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