MUSTILL, Cow Roast, Northchurch, 1891-1943

May, 2004

Gwen Ing ( @t saw the posting Lock Keeper's Cottage, Bulbourne, 19/20th Century and wrote: My gg grandfather and grandmother were lock-keepers at the Cow Roast Lock from 1891 to 1943.  They lived in the lock-keepers cottage nearest to the bridge at Cow Roast Lock.  My gg grandfather was given the job when he was retired from the Duke of Northumberland Light Infantry when he was a Colour Sergeant.  Apparently the Duke found him the job and when he died in 1900 my grandmother was given permission by His Grace the Duke of Northumberland to retain the post and she was there until shortly before her death in 1944. I have a copy of the letter from the Duke in my possession. I have never discovered what connection the Duke had with the canal but the Inland Waterway Index told me that he was probably a shareholder or on the Board of Directors.  Apart from that the Inland Waterways were unable to trace any reference to a George & Florence Mustill.  They reared 7 children there- four were born there.

There are many stories handed down. One was that there is a well in the garden or close by in which a roman helmet was found. It was always told with the punchline- did he fall or was he pushed!  

First, I will assume that you have seen the full entry in the 1901 census, but for other readers I will summaries the index entry for the family:

Name Age Born Occupation
Josiah Mustill 66 Essex Chishill
Florence Mustill 32 Essex Cheshill Water Checker For Mill Owner
Florence Mustill 13 Northurmb Alwich
Maud Mustill 11 Northurmb Alwich
Violet Mustill 8 Herts Cowroast
William Mustill 6 Herts Cowroast
Herbert Mustill 4 Herts Cowroast
Edward Mustill 2 Herts Cowroast

I have posted a page on the Cow Roast to explain its Roman connections and its later role in transport, and will concentrate here on the connection with the Duke of Northumberland.

The clue is how Florence is described in the census as a "water checker for mill owner". This at first puzzled me as there are no mills near the Cow Roast, and new have been. However a look in the book The Grand Junction Canal provided an answer.

The Tring Summit is the name given to the length of canal at its highest point, and runs between the Cow Roast in the south to Bulbourne in the north. From the Cow Roast the canal runs downhill, through a series of locks, until it eventually reaches London and the Thames. Every time a barge travels down from the Tring Summit to the Thames it uses (assuming it is travelling singly, with no special measures) one lock full of water, which will need to be provided from the summit. To ensure sufficient water major reservoirs were constructed in the Tring area, with a pumping station at Little Tring, to provide water.  If a barge came up from London to the paper mills at Apsley and then returned to London, it would still need water, but this could come from the River Gade, rather from the reservoirs at the Tring Summit.

Before the canal was built there were many water mills that for centuries had been driven by the water flowing down the valley. Every lock-full of water taken from the rivers for the canal meant less water for the mills and arrangements were made to protect the rights of the millers. The Duke of Northumberland owned many of the mills on the River Colne south of Uxbridge was concerned about the possible diminution in the flow of water along the Colne and in 1812 an Act was passed to monitor the amount of water being taken by the canal, and particularly along a branch known as the "Long Level" which went to Paddington.

This Act meant that water from the Tring Summit (which previously would previously flowed north, and not entered the River Colne) could be used for the Long Level, but water from the River Colne could not. Initially two extra lock keepers were appointed by the mill owners to monitor the traffic - one at the Cow Roast and one at Cowley. They reported to the Duke of Northumberland. When the number of mills using water power decreased (with the coming of steam power) only one lock keeper was employed at each place, but still had the duty to report to the Duke. Your ancestor was obviously the lock keeper who carried out these duties at the Cow Roast.

June, 2004

Matt Wheeler of the Dacorum Heritage Trust writes: Another theory for the Mustill enquiry is that Florence Mustill took water reading for John Dickinson's. John Dickinson himself was obsessed with water levels and got John Evans to take meticulous readings in the Cow Roast area (we have one of his original notebooks). Dickinson took court action against the canal company for pinching his water! It could be that John Evans continued to take readings after Dickinson's death but paid someone like Florence to do this for him. People can find out more about this subject by visiting our [history of paper making] exhibition at Frogmore Mill!

By the way, three Mustills from Northchurch are mentioned in "The Gazette" of 8th September 1917 as serving their country - E Mustill, GH Mustill and H Mustill.

My guess is that there was no direct connection between the Mustill family and John Dickinson & Co. However the Duke of Northumberland was acting for a number of mill owners on the River Colne, and may have supplied John Dickinson & Co. with the figures - possibly for a fee to cover the cost. It is likely that the 1812 Act was drawn up in full knowledge of the effect of the building of the canal on the water supply to the mills in the Gade Valley. (The Gade flows through Apsley, where John Dickinson's mill was, and is a tributary of the Colne.) It may even be that information supplied by John Dickinson was the motivation for the Duke to get the Act passed. There may even be a direct reference in the Act itself. (Anyone like to check the Act and let me or Matt know?) 

For a history of John Dickinson & Co. Ltd. see The Endless Web

There is are web pages for Cow Roast (Northchurch),  Little Tring (Tring) and the Grand Junction Canal.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.