Riverside Mill


Frances Billinge 2021

Figure 1. Bovey Tracey Mill/Riverside Mill.

By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust


The building currently known as the Riverside Mill, is a Grade II Listed building, and its waterwheel is also listed (Figs 1).[1] Originally this was the site of a pair of cottages. In 1845 John Divett, the co-owner of the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company, purchased these cottages and the adjacent property, Bridge House.[2] In 1854 John Divett rebuilt the cottages as stables with a water tower. Bridge House was re-named Riverside in the late nineteenth century and this name continued until a few years ago when the building was converted into residential flats and a local Co-Operative store.[3]  In the latter part of the twentieth century the stables were sold and became known as the Old Mill/Riverside Mill.


This map, the first known of Bovey Tracey, showed the buildings on this site and further up the main street (Fig. 2).[4]  The River Bovey is on the lower left and the buildings on the lower right are where Bridge House and cottages were sited.

Figure 2. Section of Gulielmus Map.

By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre.


From the tithe map we know that Bridge House and Bridge Tenements were separate properties:

1217-1219               The double cottage and courtledge later known as the Riverside Mill  

1220                          Bridge House with its outbuildings.

The inhabited buildings were coloured red and uninhabited grey (Fig. 3).[5]

Figure 3. Tithe Map. Yellow – Bridge Tenements Bridge House. on the right hand side of Bovey Bridge. By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre.

The owners of both properties were the Earl of Devon, as Lord of the Manor and Borough of Bovey Tracey, and others (Table 1).

TABLE 1. 1841 Tithe Owners and Occupiers of Bridge House and Bridge Tenements

Owner        Occupier       Plot Number       Plot Name    Acre/Rood/Perch     

Earl of Devon  Noah Flood     1217      Double cott 0 0 4         

Joseph Sprague      ditto 1218            Bridge Tmt orch      1 2 3

Joseph Sprague       ditto       1219           Bridge Tmt  gdn        0  0 17

Earl Devon etc.                          1220            Dwelling House etc  0 0 6                                                                                                           

The name Joseph Lee Sprague is of interest as he was a retired minister of the local Baptist Church. Local legend, without any evidence so far found, has it that Sprague used the River Bovey for baptisms.[6]

 1841 CENSUS

The census of the same year as the tithe map gave more details of the four households living in Bridge House and the seven in Bridge Tenements (Table 2).[7]  Bridge Tenements were also called Noah’s Ark, which was probably a pun on Noah Flood’s name. He was recorded as a resident on the tithe apportionments but on the census he was actually living higher up Main Street, now called Fore Street.  


HOUSE                                  OCCUPIER                                        AGE                OCCUPATION

Bridge House                           Head-William Soper                      70  

                  (Agricultural labourer)

                       Elizabeth Soper                                65

                                                Thomas Soper                                     20 

(Agricultural labourer)                  

                                                Head- Nicholas Steer                          70


      Elizabeth Steer                                    70

                                                1 child                          

                                                Head- Thomas Wills                            35

                    (Common carrier)

                                                Susan Wills                                          40

                                                4 children

                                                William Clampitt                                 60 


                                                Head- Joseph Sprague                        75 

                   (Dissenting Minister)

                                                Anna Sprague                                      25

                                                I child

                                                Elizabeth Coram                                 25 

                  ( Female servant)

                                                Edward Bearne                                   25

                   ( Land agent)

Bridge Tenements              Head- John Stroud                               30  

                  (Agricultural labourer)

                                                Sarah Stroud                                        30

Head – James brown                           30 

(Agricultural labourer)                  

                                                Sarah Brown                                        30


                                                Head- Joseph Carpenter                     35 

                   (Agricultural labourer)

                                                Sarah Carpenter                                  30

                                                3 children

                                                Head-James Sparks                             65


                                                Honor Sparks                                      60

                                                Head-William Sheers                          60  

                 ( Agricultural labourer)

                                                Mary Sheers                                        50


                                                Head- William Steer                           40


                                                Mary Steer                                          35

                                                3 children

                                                Eliza Frost                                            30


                                                Head- George Daymond                     30


                                                Sarah Mason                                       30


Some caution is needed in interpreting these records as we know there were other tenements just across the river. These tenements were called Marsh Houses/Cottages but were not differentiated clearly on the 1841 Census (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Riverside Mill/The Old Mill water tower just visible behind Marsh Cottages.

David Lewis Collection.


The next record is a picturesque image by William Spreat showing women collecting water from the River Bovey next to Bridge Tenements cottages which were later demolished and then rebuilt as stables for Bridge House (Fig. 6).[8]

Figure 6.  On the Bovey at Bovey Tracey. William Spreat 1844.

By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre.

BRIDGE HOUSE 1845-1911

By 1845 John Divett had purchased and re-built Bridge House (Fig. 7).[9] At the time this was one of the larger houses in the town.

Figure 7. Bridge House rebuilt by John Divett.

By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.

1851 Census  A stable servant with the Divett family

On the 1851 Census John Divett was living at Bridge House with his wife Henrietta, daughter Mary and five servants including Thomas Wills a seventeen-year-old stable servant who had been born locally. Bridge Tenements were no longer specified but three ruined cottages were listed nearby. It is tempting to conclude that these were the premises which John Divett rebuilt as his stables.

1854   New stables and water tower built

In 1854 John Divett erected stables with a water tower and waterwheel within the courtledge of Bridge House on the site of Bridge Tenements beside the River Bovey. The waterwheel was used to pump water into to the tower for domestic use and servicing the stables and was operational until 1920. This was a progressive domestic water supply as local residents relied on private wells in their house or yard, pot water taken from the river and streams or the town pump. There was no piped water. The first standing pipes came towards the end of the century so Divett’s domestic water supply and water tower must have been viewed as a remarkable innovation.

We do not know who built the original waterwheel but John Divett collaborated with Henry Beare who had an iron foundry in Liverton. It is possible that Beare was involved with the Bridge House stables as his work for other local water wheels is recorded. [10] Furthermore in the early twentieth century iron work on the three extant bottle kilns at Bovey Pottery was supplied by Henry Beare’s son.[11] John Divett arranged to have water channelled from Becky Falls to operate several water wheels at his Pottery. As well as this Divett manufactured drainage pipes so he had the knowledge, engineering contacts and materials to incorporate this innovative design into his new residence.[12]

John Divett was also an important dignitary in the business and civic life of Bovey Tracey. His pottery business provided local employment, he helped develop the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway, he was a J. P. at the Devon County Sessions, a Tithe Commisioner and a County Magistrate for Teignbridge.[13]  

The stables, water tower waterwheel are listed by the Historic Environment.[14]

1861 Census A coachman with the Divett Family

By 1861 John Divett’s household also included a coachman Matthew Peake, forty seven, from Cornworthy. The enumeration them went straight to Marsh Houses indicating that no-one was living in the stables.

1871 and 1881 Census A Stable Helper with the Divett Family

On the 1871  census John Divett’s household included William Hurrell, eighteen, of Ashton who helped in the stables. By 1881 locally born John Hamlin, eighteen, helped in the stables and was also a domestic servant.

1891 Census Bridge House Renamed Riverside

By the time of the 1891 census John and Henrietta Divett had died and their daughter Mary had inherited. She continued to live in the family home and re-named it Riverside. Mary Divett’s servants included William Cook, seventeen, a stable boy from Kingsteignton. Mary, like her father, was involved in local civic duties. As part of the Poor Law she was a visitor for the Newton Workhouse, she sat on the Diocesan Association and was elected to the Parish Rural District Council at a time when women rarely were seen in such positions. She also sat on the Rural Sanitary Authority.[15]

1901-1911 Census No Resident Stable Staff

On the 1901 Census the residence was called Riverside House and in 1911 it was just enumerated as Riverside. Mary Divett still lived there but there was no mention of stable staff.


Mary Divett died in 1914 and the property passed to her cousin Raleigh Buller Phillpotts, later of Rora in Liverton. In 1919 the horses and equipment at Riverside Stables were for sale.[16]

By 1926 Riverside had been sold and became a hotel. It continued as such into the twenty-first century when the site was developed into flats and a convenience store (Fig. 8).[17] On the 1939 National Register Riverside Hotel was listed, also Riverside Cottage and Riverside Nurseries. There was no separate mention of the Riverside Stables.[18]

Figure 8.  Riverside Hotel. By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust


Bovey Tracey Cooperative Society is recorded as having its bakery factory on the site from 1940.[19] In 1941 a fire caused considerable damage and the newspaper report is the first reference to the premises being described as a mill, ‘These buildings are well known from the ancient water wheel at the side which gave them the name of the Old Water Mill’.[20]

No mill has ever been recorded at this site. Lance Tregonning confirmed this in his 1993 book on the story and legends of Bovey Tracey and stated that the building was stables/outbuildings for John Divett’s house.[21] The historic mills of Bovey Tracey were sited where Dartmoor Garages, Station Road are now. The ancient mill leat from the River Bovey through Parke is extant and can be followed from Parke to The Dolphin.  The historic mill was recorded in Domesday and it and the leat were shown on the Gulielmus Map c. 1840.[22] Residents remember the bakery factory and the people who worked there, and that the premises were called a mill even although it was known not to have been a mill.[23]


In 1958  the Invertere Coat Company of Newton Abbot was reported to have taken over a mill at Bovey Tracey for re-building and production. The company called the site the Old Mill.[24]


The ‘mill’ name persisted and at the town’s septuacentennial celebrations of the granting of borough status to Bovey Tracey  it was reported  ‘that the children rode on horseback or walked across the three hundred year old granite bridge by the mill into the meadow’ where a pageant was held.[25]  


Letters dated between 1962-1971 refer to commercial textile premises at the Riverside Mill Bovey Tracey and confirm the continuation of this name for the premises.[26]


The clothing factory moved elsewhere and by 1966 it was reported that Standard Telephones and Cables limited were taking over the premises, ‘…the factory at Bovey Tracey will be in a building known as the Old Mill which was modernised by a clothing company before Standard Telephones acquired it’.[27] The advertisement for staff gave the address as Old Mill Bovey Tracey. [28] This business was still operating in 1974 and its annual report described it as Standard Telephone Cables Components Group Mica Capacitator at Bovey Tracey Old Mill.[29]  It is not yet confirmed when this business moved but local memory suggests that at some time after 1974 the premises were left vacant and deteriorated.[30]


In 1986 the Devon Guild of Craftsmen obtained the premises and the address became Riverside Mill.[31]. In 1998 the Devon Guild commissioned Green and Carter to restore the waterwheel. The company has reported that much of the original wheel had already been replaced and there was no named ironwork to identify the original manufacturer.[32]


Martin Bodman’s comprehensive book on local mills concluded that the Riverside Mill was never a mill, ‘The building and waterwheel, which can be seen from Bovey Bridge, were constructed … for John Divett’.  Bodman further described that, ‘The waterwheel was used to pump water to a tank at the top of the tower above, which was then gravity fed to bathrooms and a kitchen. The system ceased to work in 1920’.[33] This conclusion was also supported by millwright and mill historian Martin Watts at a site visit in 2019. [34]


The address of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen is Riverside Mill. The building dates from 1854 and is on the site of ruined cottages. The building was erected by John Divett as stables for Bridge House, later re-named Riverside. A water tower and waterwheel were incorporated in the building. 1940 was the first reference so far found for the change of name to the Old Mill. This name has remained, no doubt enhanced by the presence of a waterwheel which people often associate with a corn mill. The stables and their water tower beside Bovey Bridge continue to a significant building in Bovey Tracey. The presence of a water tower for a domestic building in a small town must have been impressive in 1854.  As is often the case the history of Riverside Mill and its original owners is more interesting than the legend suggested by the current name.

Facebook Phillip Northcott’s father worked at the bakery/ J K Northcott 7 Drake Road . I have found Phillip A Northcott b 1952


I would like to thank James Mann, Mike Steer and other local residents, and also Michael Steer (Australia) for their memories of Riverside Mill. Thanks also to Viv Styles, Chairman of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust, for supplying photographs and giving permission for their use.


[1]  Riverside Mill listing reference 1097408,www.historicengland.org.uk  2016; Waterwheel listing reference Heritage Gateway Historic Environment Record MDV74048.

[2] Exeter Flying Post, 19 June 1845 p. 3.

[3] 1891 Census, The National Archives.

[4] Devon Heritage Centre, 2802Z, ‘Gulielmus’ Map of Manor of Bovey Tracey c.1640.

[5] Devon Heritage Centre, Tithe Map DEX/4/a/TM/BoveyTracey1.

[6] Lance Tregonning, 1983. Bovey Tracey An Ancient Town (Exeter, Wheaton and Co. Ltd) p. 30.

[7] 1841 Census, The National Archives.

[8] Devon Heritage Centre, William Spreat 1844, SC0223:1/5 On the Bovey at Bovey Tracey.

[9] See note 2; Malcolm and Frances Billinge, 2017. The Divett

s of Bovey Tracey www.boveytraceyhistory.org.uk.

[10] John Hobbs, 2000. Devonmoor Art Pottery (Torquay, Torquay Pottery Collectors Society) p.7.

[11]  Peter J. Weddell Keith Westcott, 1986. The Bovey Tracey Pottery Kilns in Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings (Exeter) 44, 143-162, p. 153; Henry Beare and Sons, in Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History Bagtor Mill 1875, Cockington Mill 1878, and others www.gracesguide.co.uk accessed 1 February 2021.

[12] Exeter Flying Post, 30 August 1849 p. 7, Malcolm Billinge, 2018. Local Geology, Brick-making and Civic Development in Victorian Bovey Tracey www.boveytraceyhistory.org.uk

[13] Frances and Malcom Billinge, 2017. The Divetts of Bovey Tracey www. boveytraceyhistory.org.uk

[14] See note 1.

[15] Billinge 2017, op.cit.; Frances Billinge, 2020. Pioneering Women 1830-1945 www.boveytraceyhistory.org.uk

[16] The Western Times, 7 March 1919, p. 6.

[17] Op. Cit., 28 July 1926, p. 2.

[18] 1939 Register, findmypast.co.uk.

[19] Western Morning News, 14 August 1940, p. 5.

[20] Ibid. 30 August 1941 p. 3.

[21] Tregonning, 1983, op. cit., p. 45.

[22] Frances Billinge, 2014. The Management of Water in the Historic Borough of Bovey Tracey Rep. Trans Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 146, 83-102.

[23] Grateful thanks to James Mann and other residents, and also Mike Steer in Australia, for sharing  their memories of the bakery.

[24] Torbay Express and South Devon Echo, 4 November 1958 p. 5, I am most grateful to James Mann for drawing my attention to this.

[25] Herald Express, 8 July 1960 p. 5; Elizabeth Westwood, 2012. Bovey Tracey Rediscovered (Bovey Tracey, Coombe Meadow Publishing) p.  54.

[26] Devon Heritage Centre, C/T/4/F, Kingsbridge and other premises, 1962-1971.

[27] Torbay Express and South Devon Echo, 13 January 1966 p. 3.

[28] Ibid., 11 January 1966 p. 3.

[29] Standard telephones and Cables Limited Annual Report 1974, www.stlqpc.org.uk accessed 5 February 2021.

[30] Grateful thanks to James Mann and other residents for their memories.

[31] Christine Halstead, 2004, in Veronica Kennedy ed., The Bovey Book (Bovey Tracey, Cottage Publishing) p. 187.

[32] Charles Doble, Managing Director and CEO, Green and Carter Ltd., personal communication, with grateful thanks, 2021.

[33]  Martin Bodman, 2015. Mills on the Teign (Cullompton, Leat Press) p. 91.

[34] Martin Watts 2019, site visit and personal communication.