Sele Mill, on the North Road, has been a feature of the Hertford landscape for over 1100 years. It’s recorded first in the Domesday Book (1086) as part of the Sele estate.
The mill became a centre of attention in the 15th century, when a new owner took over. John Tate came from an influential family of London mercers. Around 1488, he adapted the water-powered mill into the first recorded paper mill in the country.
At this time paper was imported from the Continent, but new technology was reducing costs. Tate’s connections with European markets or with fellow mercer William Caxton (who established the first printing press in Britain) may have encouraged his move into paper-making.
Tate’s watermark has been found in an encyclopaedia printed by Wynkyn de Word in 1494, making it the first book to be printed on English paper. Henry VII visited four years later and a document recognising his marriage was printed on Tate’s paper.
The reasons for the end of production are unknown. It would be another fifty years before a second paper mill was established in Britain and then only for brown paper.
John Tuffnell’s Oyle Mill
In the second half of the 17th century, the mill became known as John Tuffnell’s Oyle Mill, although it’s not clear who Mr. Tuffnell was. It would have ground locally produced oil-bearing seed, such as linseed to be used for cooking or as a lubricant.
Hertfordshire White Flour
In the 18th century the mill was sold to Jonathan Smith, owner of Hertford’s Dicker Mill. He renamed the whole concern New Mills and Sele was rebuilt as a flour mill. Its product was known as Hertfordshire White Flour and this became a fashionable ingredient featuring in recipe books of the day. Hannah Glasse used it in her recipe for muffins and oat cakes.
To make muffins and oat-cakes. To a bushel of Hertfordshire white flour, take a pint and a half of good ale yeast, from pale malt, if you can get it, because it is whitest …
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, 1747
Growth and Competition
Towards the end of the 1700s the mill was leased out to miller Stephen Hagger. Generations of the Hagger family worked as millers through the next century, producing corn flour.
Around this time Miller’s House was built on North Road. Its architectural value was recognised as a Grade II listed building much later in the 1970s. The listing records its plaster spandrels, moulded cornice and the Tuscan Doric column porch.
In 1866 the Garratt family took over production at a time of technological change and increased competition. In the next twenty years, American wheat imports flooded the market previously supplied by British corn. By 1890 the Garretts had brought new machinery, which subsequently overheated and caught fire. The local fire brigade seems to have been inadequate to the task: the fire burned on for three days.
Steam Roller Mill
Unperturbed, the Garretts rebuilt the mill, now known as the Sele Steam Roller Flour Mills, in the following year. By the 1980s it was producing 20,000 tons of flour a year, but within the decade market pressure caused the mill to cease production.
The mill buildings were turned into accommodation, following the trend of the surrounding meads. Now Sele Mill is the last mill standing in Hertford and its history is celebrated on a blue plaque on the gatepost.