The village of Stow-cum-Quy lies at the southernmost point of the great Fenland which stretches 80 miles from Lincoln to Quy. This whole area was once an area of swampy marshland which has over the years been gradually reclaimed. Originally Quy was spelt as ‘Coeia’, meaning ‘Cow Island’; eventually this Anglo Saxon name was replaced by the more Gaelic name of Quy following the Norman Conquest. The prefix ‘Stow-cum’ simply means ‘place with’.
The idea of watermills was introduced in England by the Romans and the Saxons contributed to their advancement. Then came the Normans who surveyed all of England for the Domesday Book in the year 1086, where Quy Mill is mentioned.
By the 17th Century the Manorial system of milling, where the miller produces corn as a servant of the Lord of the Manor, had been replaced and now millers were tenants leasing from landlords or even owned their own mills. This leasing arrangement justified capital investment in mills as the millers were wholly responsible for production and were thus keen to be as efficient as possible. Consequently the present Quy Mill and House were rebuilt around 1830.
In 1851, the then owner, William Kent Collett, employed 19 men and had 600 acres in his possession, he was clearly a Victorian Capitalist and a product of Post Industrial Revolution Britain. Around 1948 the Mill stopped bread production to coincide with the coming of electricity to Quy. Nowadays there is insufficient water flow to turn the wheel naturally due to changes in the water course flows and high extraction rates.
The Waterwheel at Quy Mill is an ‘undershot’ wheel. An undershot wheel (also called a stream wheel) is a vertically mounted water wheel that is rotated by water striking paddles or blades at the bottom of the wheel. The name undershot comes from this striking at the bottom of the wheel. This type of water wheel is the oldest type of wheel.
The advantages of undershot wheels are that they are somewhat cheaper and simpler to build, and have less of an environmental impact, as they do not constitute a major change of the river. Their disadvantage is lower efficiency, which means that they generate less power and can only be used where the flow rate is sufficient to provide torque.
They are most suited to shallow streams in flat country and are also well suited to installation on floating platforms. The earliest were probably constructed by the Byzantine General Belisarius during the siege of Rome in 537. Later they were sometimes mounted immediately downstream from bridges where the flow restriction of arched bridge piers increased the speed of the current.
In 1771 we have the tragic but bizarre tale of a ten year old girl who drowned at the Mill. The young girl clambered into a cart whilst its driver was inside the House and the horse that was in the shafts at the time backed up the cart to reach its food sending the girl to her death in the Mill pond behind the cart. Some say they can occasionally hear a girl crying!