The History of the Teme Weirs, Ludlow
The weirs along the river Teme, to the west and south of the town, are one of the aesthetic delights of Ludlow.
They are also a striking and picturesque reminder of the town’s industrial heritage.
The weirs were built to capitalise on the rapid flow of the River Teme. Before they were constructed the noisy rushing of the river through its gorge resulted in the prefix ‘lud’ in the place name Ludlow, ‘lud’ referring to ‘the loud waters’. In an article in Vol. 2 of The Cambridge Urban History of Britain (2000) Barrie Trinder suggests that for its size Ludlow was ‘ one of the best endowed urban water sites in Great Britain’.
There may have been small mills, perhaps on tributary streams to the Teme, in the pre-Norman period. A mill is recorded at Ludford in the Domesday survey of 1086, probably on a small brook downstream from Steventon, where as late as 1846 an adjoining field was called Mill Field.
The earliest mills on the Teme were at the bottom ends of Mill Street and Lower Broad Street, where the bed-slope gradient is steeper than on any other section. The Mill Street mill was probably the earliest, giving the street its name, and was used for grinding corn. The mill in Lower Broad Street, originally built by the Lacys, the lords of the castle, was later acquired by Peter Undergood, who gave it to St John’s Hospital in 1231. Using new technology developed in the 10th and 11th centuries, this mill was used for fulling cloth, the production of which was encouraged by this source of power.
There is evidence that the horseshoe weir had been built by 1241, powering the Old Street mill on the Ludlow bank and two mills on the opposite bank at Ludford. This weir may have started as a straight diagonal serving just the Old Street Mill, which was then adapted to serve the Ludford mills also; or it may have been built as a single entity, reflecting considerable co-ordination and engineering skill. A mill further downstream, in the township of Steventon, later called the Case Mill, was operating before 1272. The last mill site to be developed was that of the Castle Mills at Dinham in the early 14th century, where there were often two mills.
Most of the mills were retained as part of the lordship of Ludlow, and so were owned first by the lords of the castle, and then, after Ludlow became a Parliamentary Borough in 1461, by the Ludlow Borough Corporation. In 1267, however, half the rents of the Mill Street and Old Street mills were given to Aconbury Priory in Herefordshire, which caused legal disputes after the Reformation. Until the Reformation the two Ludford mills were owned by the Palmers Guild, a wealthy Ludlow institution; and that at Lower Broad Street by St John’s Hospital. The former then passed to the Corporation, and the later into private ownership. The Steventon Mill was also privately owned.
In the late medieval and Tudor periods, many of the mills were used for fulling, and were a key factor in the manufacture of cloth, then Ludlow’s principal industry. When that industry declined after 1600, however, the mills were adapted to other uses, including the manufacturing of paper and silk, the processing of leather and the founding of brass. The mills gradually ceased production after 1850, and many were eventually converted to residential and commercial uses. Their historical importance is now widely acknowledged and those at Ludford and Mill Street have been designated as listed structures at a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The Lower Broad Street mill fell into serious disrepair many years ago, though its diagonal shape is still visible from the Charlton Arms. The other weirs, however, at Dinham, Mill Street, Old Street/Ludford and Steventon, are now in good repair. The strenuous efforts of the Teme Weirs Trust, supported by various public bodies and agencies, are now ensuring that these important monuments of Ludlow’s heritage are preserved for prosperity.
Dr David Lloyd MBE