It’s a familiar landmark on the River Bure, but I’ve often wondered why it has been attributed with several different names over the years. I know it as Dydler’s Mill, but have also seen it referred to as Dydall’s Mill and Miller’s Mill. But where did the name come from?
A dydler is a person who dydles! A dydle was a tool used to dredge the rivers and ditches and was probably best described by George Christopher Davies in his 1884 book “Norfolk Broads and Rivers – The waterways, lagoons, and decoys of East Anglia”. He wrote: “The dykes are kept clear, and the channel of the river deepened by “dydling,” a dirty and laborious occupation. At the end of a long pole is a metal scoop, in the shape of a ring, with a network or course canvas bag, like a landing net in shape, attached. This is plunged into the river and scraped along the bottom to the side, where it is lifted out, and the black, semi-liquid mud poured on to the rond. Long black lines of this border the rivers in many places, and it is some time before it consolidates, and course vegetation grows on it.” The duties of a millman were not always solely confined to the upkeep of the mill, so does the name Dydler’s possibly come from a secondary occupation of the marshman who once looked after it?
The mill was built c1850 by the England millwrights of Ludham and it sits on a bend of the River Bure between Hoveton Little Broad and Salhouse Broad, on a stretch known as Dydles Reach. So should it actually be Dydles Mill? Was the mill named after the reach, or the reach named after the mill I wonder? I suspect that Dydall’s may well be an alternative spelling, or misinterpretation of the word Dydles. There were also many literary references between the 1930s and 1950s in which it was called Miller’s Mill. There was seemingly a long tradition of naming the Broadland mills after the owner or mill keeper – Neave’s Mill and Beaumont’s Mill on the River Ant were just two examples. The “Miller” in Miller’s Mill was one Drew Miller who made it his home in the late 1920s, and wrote a series of rather whimsical tales of Broadland entitled “Seen from a Windmill – A Norfolk Broads Revue” which was published in 1935. How many of these stories were based on actual events is questionable, but it’s quite an entertaining read none the less.
It was Drew Miller who converted the mill for residential use, having fallen in love with the derelict ruin which had been destroyed by fire. He wrote; “That was in the year the Great War broke out. The man of the mill had gone to France to fight for his country, and a boy, left in charge, did not realize how essential lubricating grease is, and fire was the result. The flames could be seen for miles around, and people grieved because of the destruction of something they all loved. The conflagration consumed the sails, the wood top and the platforms, and all that remained of the most graceful mill on the Norfolk waters were the thick brick shell, a mass of melted iron and some scorched wood sunken into the marsh. Other means were found to drain the marshes, so nothing was done with the ruin, and it became a picturesque derelict.“
He continued; “Never had we coveted anything till we saw the ruin of the mill. Each time we visited we wanted it more, till one day we were lucky enough to acquire it; then we followed the birds’ example and made a home of it. Making the place habitable was a bigger job than we had anticipated, as our requirements were so much greater than those of our feathered friends, but, with the hearty co-operation of workmen from the neighbouring village, we reclaimed the marshland around the place and converted the ruin. We put in windows and floors and erected a glassed studio on top, making it resemble a lighthouse; although this was quite unintentional.“
Drew Miller seems to be something of a mystery as I can’t seem to find any information on him. In “Seen from a Windmill”, he gives the impression that he was an American journalist, although there are rumours that he was actually a spy! He published another book called “What to do on the Norfolk Broads” in 1937 under the name A.G. Miller – possibly an Andrew then?
Whether it’s Miller’s, Dydler’s, Dydles or Dydall’s, Drew Miller certainly saved what remained of the former drainage mill from the fate which awaited so many others in Broadland. As they were superseded by steam and generator driven pumps, the mills began to fall into various states of disrepair and many were eventually demolished. Only a few now stand with sails intact, some have been converted into holiday homes, whilst others are at least being conserved and protected, even if full restoration isn’t possible at the present time. It is always such a thrill to pass by Thurne Dyke Mill on one of it’s open days when the sails are turning – visit the Norfolk Windmill Trust website for more details on that and the other Broadland drainage mills under their care.