The Old Mill Stream

Text and graphic - John Palmer
Corfe Mullen's North boundary is the Dorset Stour. On the North East the boundary is a curious ditch called "The Old Mill Stream" on old maps. Why?

When the Roman Army landed at Hamworthy in AD 44, Vespasian (later Emperor) led 4,500 veteran soldiers in a march Northwards to Corfe Mullen. Here they built a fortress next to the main ford over the Stour. Today the place is called Lake, and is just the other side of the hedge at the big roundabout on the A31. The fortress was excavated around 1970, was larger than expected, and served as the Roman HQ in the South-West for 10 years before moving on to Devon. [--more--]

In those days, Dorset's largest river took a different course, along what is now a ditch overgrown in summer. In Saxon times, the river still flowed along this "ditch", and was used to define the boundary of Corfe Mullen parish. Sometime the main river was diverted along its present course via Eye Bridge, and the ditch used to feed river water to a mill at Lake. A weir was needed at the end of a lane from Cowgrove, still called Weir Lane, the weir has now vanished though shown on old maps. The old streambed still has a superb ox-bow, proving that once the water flowed fast here. The Mill Stream encloses 100 acres of pasture owned by the National Trust, called "Eye Mead" or Island Meadow.

Around 1600 the Mill was owned by William Gillingham, grandfather of Roger who founded the Almshouse and School at Pamphill in 1695. But the Mill fell out of use during Victorian times, and around 1900 the unused ditch (still called the "Old Mill Stream") was filled in completely at the upstream end.

At the start of the Mill Stream is a one-acre wood of big willows. Old maps around 1750 show these trees once grew on two islands in the middle of the river. But the river moved, and the trees now grow on the mainland.

In 2007 a new landowner, curious about the dry ditch on his land, uncovered its long history using the Archives at Dorchester, and decided to clear the infill so the Mill Stream flowed again. The Stream now flows vigorously in wet weather, helping to bring rainwater from the Corfe Mullen highlands to the River Stour. When the river is high, it flows the other way too, trying to follow its old route back to the modern weir below Eye Bridge. Alas, that section is too overgrown, a millionaire is needed to fund deepening nearly 2 miles of ditch. And an invitation to Time Team is needed to unearth traces of the Old Mill at Lake once owned by William Gillingham.

Find out more about the Mill Stream Ditch online at or from the Author at

Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system