The Coxon Family Millers

Mike Skinsley looks at the history of the Coxon Family and their link to many of our local mills.

Whilst researching my family history on my mother’s side I found myself exploring Northumberland, following the trail of the Coxon family. I have been able to trace the Coxon name back for nine generations to the late 1600s and even my mother, who is 94, has Coxon as a Christian name. Contact with various other people confirmed the nature and extent of the Coxon tree. I became aware that many members of the Coxon family worked in or at some of the corn mills of Northumberland in the 1700s and throughout the 1800s. I decided to try to determine the extent of the Coxon involvement with milling and to trace any rise or decline in their employment.

I was able to identify mills which had a Coxon connection through birth, marriage or death, or evidence from a census return which sometimes confirmed where they lived, their occupations and their family structure. There were many references which show the various Coxon families living or moving between villages. Some of this evidence is factual and reliable whist other evidence needs to be considered more carefully and perhaps matched or linked with other evidence. At the height of the use of water powered mills experienced millers would have been in great demand.

The millers tended to have large families, with their sons helping with all aspects of the running of the mill. Some sons would have helped with the actual milling, whilst others provided transport as the mill “carter”. Some mills were used to house the families, if they were big enough, whilst others used nearby properties to live in, for instance using the cottages at Debdon Burnfoot just down the track from Thrum Mill in Rothbury. When marriages took place, the couple often moved location to one of the other mills, leaving the older parents, or grand parents, at the original mill. For example, William Coxon lived and worked at Overgrass mill for 56 years whilst his sons moved and brought up their families elsewhere.

Coxon millersI have been able to identify 23 mills in Northumberland where there is evidence of occupation by the Coxon families. How long they occupied the mills varied from one year to 100 years. An analysis of the estimated length of time they occupied each mill shows the spread of their milling skills across the county. These are conservative estimates, for instance where only one piece of evidence emerged, such as a single census reference, then that appears as one year’s occupation. In reality the family or miller may have been there for several years but finding the evidence has so far not been possible.

My earliest, reliable evidence of occupation by the Coxon families in the mills of Northumberland is at Overgrass Mill in 1767 where, according to the North East Mills Group, there was a working mill from 1256 to 1827.

The twenty three mills show an occupancy of at least 590 years worth of milling with Overgrass, Stanton and Thrum having the longest and perhaps the most important influence in providing experienced “man power” for other mills in the area.

Eight generations ago on my family tree, Anthony Coxon was born at Woolaw in 1700.  His father may have been a George Coxon and if so he came from Lanchester in Durham, This is not a place that I associated with milling, but it is possible that he was experienced in milling and travelled all the way to Woolaw either to seek employment or to become responsible for a mill.

Anthony married Jane Brown in Elsdon and they both died in Woolaw, so they spent all their life in the Woolaw area. Looking at the NEMG file of mills in Northumberland the Woolaw area had a mill at Birdhopecraig. It is therefore possible that that this Coxon family lived, worked and learned their trade at the Birdhopecraig mill.

Anne (Nancy) Coxon, daughter of Anthony and Jane, married a Roger Coxon who was born in Elsdon in 1750. This indicates that there was more than one Coxon family in the area. Anne and Roger were to have ten children born in a variety of places (Corsenside, Old Town Elsdon, Harbottle and Cartington) which shows that they must have kept moving jobs to keep in employment.

Anthony and Jane had a son William born at Woolaw in 1736. This William married Susannah Mather and all their children were born at Overgrass Mill. They both died at Greens Farm, not far from Overgrass Mill. One of the sons, another William moved on to Rothbury and Thrum Mill which they occupied for three generations.

We begin to see a drift across the County from the mills in the western area around Woolaw and Elsdon to places like Overgrass, Thrum and Weldon. There was a complex criss-crossing between the mills. William Coxon arrived at Overgrass Mill from Woolaw whilst John Coxon went to Weldon Mill, Eleanor (Nelly) Coxon went to Stanton Mill, William Coxon to Thrum Mill, whilst Robert Coxon stayed at Overgrass.

At Thrum Mill, William had come from Overgrass, Elizabeth Coxon went to Felton where her husband was a farmer, Jane Coxon married twice but remained at Thrum but one of her sons, a John Orr ended up at Snitter.

Analysis of this movement data reveals that there was a slow build up in the early 1800’s in the Coxon occupation of mills.  Then there was this increase in the amount of movement by the Coxon families between mills with most occupancy occurring between 1841 and 1871, with twelve mills in 1861. A steady decline followed until there was only one Coxon occupied mill left in 1911. The decline was influenced by the growth of the industrial revolution. There was the promise of more employment nearby in the coal mines or heavy industry of Northumberland and Durham. Some Coxon millers moved into agriculture as farmers but the wages would not have been as high as those being offered in the industrial coastal area.Coxon millers 2

So, by the early 1900’s most of the corn milling was in sharp decline and the contribution of the Coxon families was no longer required. Many of the mills fell into ruin and are now overgrown, others have survived though most as house conversions.

Where the Coxon families came from originally, before 1700, remains unresolved. They appear to have been in the Woolaw area, but where they learnt their skills of milling and even who built the mills looks like remaining a mystery.

I have listed all the mills with Coxon associations (in alphabetical order) with my estimate of occupancy. This may not be a definitive list as it has not been possible to follow up each child born into the Coxon family and there were a lot of children born during this time.

Abberwick Mill, Edlington: Thomas Coxon (b1799) at Brinkburn married Dorothy Graham (b1804) at Hetton and they had eight children. Three were born at Weldon – (Bridge or Mill) before moving to Abberwick around 1835/1836 where they had 2 more children.

The two children who were born at Abberwick were George Graham Coxon who died at birth in 1836 and Thomas Coxon who was born in 1838. This Thomas was described in 1861 as a “Farmers Son” whilst another son, Richard then aged 20 was a “Miller” at Ogle Mill.

The 1841 census has six of the Landers family, plus six others, at Abberwick Mill confirming that the Coxon family had left Abberwick on their way eventually to Ogle Mill.

Bilton Mill, Lesbury: In 1861 Edward Coxon, aged 45, was at Bilton Junction, Lesbury with wife Alice. He was a farmer and miller of 50 acres. They had three servants.  By 1871 Edward is now aged 54 still at Bilton Mill with wife Alice and four servants.  He is listed in a 1897 directory as “Miller, Bilton, Ledbury”.

In the 1881 census Edward and Alice are still there, Edward is a farmer of 52 acres with 3 labourers.  His brother Robert, now aged 72, is also at Bilton Mill.  In 1891 they have all moved to Alnwick.

Brinkburn Mill: In 1861 William Coxon (b1832 at Debdon Burnfoot) had become the miller at Brinkburn.  He married Elizabeth Mennim (b1831, Alwinton) and they had six children.  William’s brother Robert was a mill carter.

Cartington Blue Mill, Thropton: William Coxon (b1796) and Mary Scott (b1800) were married and had a son John born 1821 at Weldon Mill. He died aged 25 in 1846 at Cartington Blue Mill.  His sister Isabella Graham Coxon died in 1848 also at Cartington Blue Mill.  His youngest sister Ann(ie) Coxon married Philip Watson. She died between 1841 and 1861. Philip lived with son and daughter at Blue Mill in the 1861 census.

Crag Mill: A 1834 directory lists William Coxon, Miller, Crag Mill, Belford.

Fallodon Mill: The 1871 census has Thomas Coxon, aged 37, and his wife Joan, aged 33, with five children and four servants living at Fallodon Mill, by 1881 this family appears at Rock Mill.

Felton Mill: The 1841 census has 4 of the Flemming family plus two of the Leighton family at Felton Mill.

Robert Coxon (b1838) and Jane Scott (b1842 in Hedgeley) were married in 1861. In the 1881 census Robert was a mill carter (corn).  They both died at Felton Mill in 1905 and 1895 respectively. They had ten children including Mary (b1862 at Brinkburn) who had a 3 month old son at Felton mill in the 1881 census; and Isabella (b1878) who was still at Felton Mill in 1901.

Hadricks Mill, Gosforth: Isaac Coxon (b1834) married to Jane (b1835) had five children. The second child, another Isaac, was born at Hadricks Mill in 1861.  In the 1881 census they have moved from Hadricks to Brenkley.

Hounden Mill, Warkworth: Henry Coxon, was born in 1838 at Stanton Mill, and died in 1842 at Hounden Mill aged 4.  The family must have moved from Stanton Mill in 1841 as the 1841 and 1851 census shows the family at Hounden Mill.

The 1841 census has Henry and Susan Coxon plus four of their children Isaac, Isabella, Henry and John living at Hounden Mill. Also there is one lodger.  In 1851 John is at Hounden Mill, with parents and sister Ann.  By 1861 John is working at a farm near Dinnington.

Kirkley Mill, Ponteland: John Coxon born 1798 at Weldon Mill and Mary Orpeth born 1800 were married at Long Horsley in 1827. A gravestone at Ponteland is “Sacred to the Memory of Mary, wife of John Coxon of Kirkley Mill, who died March 24th 1832, aged 32 years, also of Hannah, his second wife, who died Jan 4th 1864, aged 64 years, also of the above John Coxon, who died at Bassington, Sept 7th 1873 aged 74 years”.  In the 1871 census there were four members of the Coxon family at the mill but they had moved by 1881 to Mill Inn, Cowgate, Fenham.

Ogle Mill, Ogle: The 1841 census shows the White family occupying Ogle Mill.  By the 1861 census Thomas Coxon, aged 63, and wife Dorothy Graham, aged 36 were at Ogle Mill, with three sons, two grand children and a servant. Thomas was a farmer and miller, farming 90 acres. One of his sons Richard, was described as a miller, whilst the other two, Thomas (born Abberwick) and Edward J, were a farmer’s sons and a tailor. The servant was a dairy maid.  By 1871 Ogle Mill was occupied by the Nichol family.

Overgrass Mill: The mill is now just an empty shell.  There are records of a Martin Grey, born about 1640 at Overgrass, Felton who married an Elizabeth Forster, born about 1644 at Greenses, Felton. They married on 3rd February 1669 and had ten children between 1670 and 1686. Five children were listed as definitely being born at Overgrass whilst the others were born at “Alnwick” but no connection has been made linking these to later Coxons below.

A William Coxon born in 1736 at Woolaw and Susannah Mather born 1736 at Alnwick were married in 1763 at Longframlington and had  6 children. All the children were born at Overgrass Mill between 1767 and 1779. William lived and worked at the mill for 56 years, probably from his marriage in 1763 to around 1819.

The first child, John, (b 1767) married Isabel Curry (b1771 at Bogend) in 1794 at Cornhill. They had moved from Overgrass Mill to Weldon Mill before the birth of their first child in 1796. Second, Eleanor (Nelly) (b1770) married another Coxon, Isaac (b1764) at Edlington in 1793. They had eight children between 1794 and 1814 all born at Stanton Mill. Isaac died in 1829 at Stanton Mill.  William (b1772) and Elizabeth Grunson born 1771 were married in 1806 and they had five children. Their first child was born in 1807 at Thrum Mill so William must have left Overgrass Mill before 1807.  Both William and Elizabeth died at Thrum in 1844.

When age rounding is considered this could match some information I had that a William Coxon died at Overgrass aged 81 in 1845 and his wife Ann died at Overgrass aged 93 in 1867. There were two children, Walter born 1801 and Jane born 1811. However, I cannot at the moment link these with other Coxons at Overgrass Mill or even elsewhere.

The 1841 census for Overgrass Mill shows it was occupied entirely by the Richardson family.

Plessey Mill: William Coxon (b1832) married Elizabeth Mennim and they had six children.  The family moved from Alwinton to Snitter (possibly the mill) to Brinkburn and then to Newcastle before they moved to Plessey Mill.  In the 1871 census William is at Plessey Mill but by 1881 is in Newcastle.

Rock Mill: The 1841 address census has the Sharp family at the Mill along with some of the Hogg and Ogle families.  It seems that Rock Mill by this time was no longer a water mill but was part of a farm. Thomas and family are listed as farmers and not millers.  In 1871 Thomas Coxon and family were at Fallodon Mill so they must have moved to Rock Mill between 1871 and 1879. An 1879 directory lists Thomas Coxon, Farmer, Rock Mill, Rock

Rothley Mill: An 1841 census has eight of the Lamb family and three others, including William Anderson aged 25 working at the mill for the Lamb family.  Some of the Andersons, were to marry Coxons.

Snitter Mill: The name Snitter is derived from Middle English 11th/15th century for “Snow” or “Wild Place”.  In 1839 Robert Orpeth married Isabella Coxon and had two children, John born 1840 and Frank/Francis born 1843. Robert is a farmer of 80 acres employing one man.  The 1851 census shows that Robert Orpeth is a miller and farmer of 80 acres employing six labourers. William Coxon and Isaac Coxon were mill servants.  In 1861 Snitter Mill was still being run by the Orpeth family, father Robert and two sons were the millers. But also there was Isaac Coxon also working as a miller. Working as a house servant was Ann Coxon.

By the 1881 census the Orr family were living at Snitter. It is interesting to note that there was an Ann Coxon Watson aged 39, unmarried, living at Snitter Lane. Is this the same Ann Coxon shown in 1861?

Stanton Mill, Stanton, Longhorsley: The mill is now just a pile of rubble but the mill race can be made out.  Eleanor (Nelly) Coxon born at Overgrass and Isaac Coxon (b1764) were married in Felton in 1793 and they had 8 children all born at Stanton Mill between 1794 and 1814. Two of the children, Isaac and Eleanor, died at Stanton Mill in 1802 age 19 and 1826 age six months respectively.

Susannah Coxon (b1804) at Weldon Mill and Henry Coxon (b1800 at Stanton Mill) were married at Felton in 1828 and they had 8 children, most were born at Stanton between 1831 and 1841. Henry lived and worked at Stanton Mill for 41 years and died there in 1851.

Thirston Mill: Robert Coxon born 1838 and Jane Scott were married in 1861. Their second child Susan was born at Thirston (possibly the mill).  The 1861 census has a Walter Coxon age 64, a servant at East Thirston, was a Corn Grinder – perhaps at Thirston Mill.

Thompsons Mill: In the 1861 census Thomas Coxon (born 1828 in Eglingham and married to Jane Atkinson) was at Thompson’s Mills. Thomas’s occupation was a road maker. They had eleven children; their first was born in 1853 at Thompsons Walls.  It may be that the earlier entry is an error and that this was not a mill at all.

Thrum Mill, Rothbury: William Coxon (b1772 at Overgrass Mill) and Elizabeth Grunson (b1771) married in 1806 at Bedlington. They both died in 1844 at Thrum Mill, William in February, Elizabeth two months later. They had 5 children, all were born at Thrum Mill. These “first” Coxons must have been at Thrum Mill by 1807 when their first child Ann was born. William and Elizabeth’s second child, William, (b1808) was the miller at Thrum and died aged only 31 at Thrum Mill in 1839. Four of his five children, including Jane and William, were born at Debdonburnfoot, just down the river and across the road from Thrum Mill.

Jane Coxon was born in 1814 at Mount Healey, near Thrum Mill. She married twice, first to William Orr who was born in 1815 at Thrum Mill. They married in 1843. So the Orr family were living and working alongside the Coxon family in 1815 or even earlier. William Orr was the miller at Thrum. However, he died in 1845 aged 30. His son, John, died in 1887 at Snitter Mill

It appears that Jane married Joshua Johnson Tennant (b1825) in about 1850. They had three children, all born at Thrum Mill. Jane died at Thrum Mill in 1887 and this is the last confirmed date that a direct member of the Coxon family occupied the Mill. By 1891 they had certainly left Thrum Mill after at least 80 years of milling there. Joshua Tennant was miller and farmer and died in 1890.

William Coxon who was one of the five children of William above, (b1832).  In the 1871 census William is at Plessey Mill, Stannington and in 1881 he is a dairyman at 6 Stowell Street in Newcastle.

The 1891 census shows two families at Thrum Mill. There was Thomas Purvis, his wife and niece, as well as William and Sarah Orr. So by 1891 the Coxon occupation of Thrum Mill has ended but the Orr family were still there and William was the miller.

Walk Mill: An 1855 directory records a George Coxon, a farmer at Walk Mill.

Washington Mill: An 1834 directory lists Thomas Coxon, Miller, Washington Mill, Washington.  A gravestone inscription at Washington lists Esther, wife of Thomas Coxon, Washington Mill, died Sept 8th 1836, aged 69 years and Thomas, above named, died May 24th 1838 aged 67 years.  The 1841 census has Elenor Coxon at the Mill with three of the Bell family and four others.

Weldon Mill: John Coxon (b Stanton or Overgrass Mill) and Isabel Curry from Bogend, Berwickshire married and they had 10 children born at Weldon Mill. The first of which was born in 1796: their 10th child in 1815. This is the same John Coxon that worked at Abberwick Mill before moving to Weldon Mill.  John was miller at Weldon between 1794 and 1833.  Weldon Mill has now been developed into a private house.

From: Northumbrian Mills No 52, 2010