Potted History of Pin Mill

Pin Mill is a tiny hamlet nestling in a sheltered bay on the banks of the River Orwell at the bottom of a valley, that runs down from the village of Chelmondiston. The boundary between the two places is roughly in the region of the present day Pin Mill Car Park. It is a hamlet that owes its existence to the river and the associated maritime trades and leisure pursuits. This small place has always looked outward to the sea instead of to the surrounding land. 

Place name

The origin of the place name is unknown. Several theories have been suggested. One is that many decades ago there was a mill in an adjoining field that made wooden pins (treenails) used in the manufacture of wooden boats. (Jonathan Webb of Webb’s boatyard still has a Trunell Mute used to hammer wooden pins into planks). Another suggestion for the place name is that a father gave the land to his daughter for Pin Money. (A dress allowance). A will of a John Crane in the 1600s mentions two pightles (small fields) at Pinneharde in Chelmondiston. Other wills mention Pynd Fold, either a pen for fish or cattle. But the derivation of the name remains vague.
Signs of early habitation have been found on nearby fields, including Neolithic stone tools, Mesolithic arrowheads and scrapers. Even in those far off days the site was attractive to man as there must have been an abundant supply of fish and fresh water.
This sheltered bay on the River Orwell also attracted the Saxons and Vikings as they made their way up to raid the town of Gippeswyk (Ipswich), but so far very little evidence of their settlement around Pin Mill has been found.
In later years the lands passed through the same ownership as Chelmondiston and eventually became part of the Woolverstone estate belonging to the Berners family. The estate was purchased by Oxford University in 1937 and when sold in 1957, individuals were able purchase their properties. However many of the cottages in Pin Mill were never owned by the estate.


The earliest building is the Butt and Oyster public house, which is mentioned in 1456 when the Water Bailiffs’ court was held there. Inquests were also held in the pub, as many instances of drowning occurred in river accidents.




This early pub, built on the very edge of the river, served as a watering hole for the sailors from the large ships anchored in Butterman’s Bay that brought goods from all over the world. The ships were too deep in draught to sail up the shallow winding channel to Ipswich, so their cargo would have been offloaded into smaller vessels.
Smuggling, a lucrative activity along East Coast Rivers is thought to have been associated with this attractive riverside pub in former days
A few small thatched cottages pre-dated the mainly Victorian cottages that remain in the 21st century. These thatched cottages were removed, as was a large early farmhouse that stood on the site Ferry Lodge. A wooden clapboard cottage stood almost in front of the Butt and Oyster, but this dwelling was also demolished circa 1919.
An 1807 map shows only Dwiny cottage on the land behind the Common. Also marked on the map is the early Malting


and Shore Cottage.


This malting existed in the 18th century. An inventory of Maltster, Antony Alderton, dated 1733 included in his kitchen “100 gallons of brandy worth twenty eight pounds together with a piece of cheese and 7 dozin glass bottles”! 
Boatyard Cottages, Malting Cottage and Sam’s Cottage housed workers of the 18th century malting. Two of these cottages were pulled down in 1812 and rebuilt with the original bricks. (Earlier bricks were much smaller than those of the Victorian era).
The malting was rebuilt in the early 1800s and became a brick making business. Adjoining fields are shown on the 1839 tithe map as the Brickfield and the Brickyard, and some of the cottage gardens have evidence of clay extraction, the material used for making bricks. 
Many cottages were built during the mid Victorian period and the cottages to the rear of Pin Mill Common were known as “Pauper’s Row”. They housed large families who because of their poverty were excused payment of the Poor Rate.
Ferry Lodge, on Pin Mill lane, was used as a telegraph office and for some years provided children with a shop where sweets could be obtained. After the war the Pantry, a small shop opposite Ferry Lodge sold basic groceries to villagers. Pat and Gladys Watts, retired publicans of the Butt and Oyster, converted this building to a bungalow, named Richmond, during the 1980s.
There have been very few new houses. Two bungalows were built on the hill above Ferry Lodge, and Richmond was demolished and rebuilt as the first eco house in Pin Mill during 2011.


Population increased during the mid Victorian period and in 1850 there were 32 families of 140 people living in Pin Mill. Forty children attended the National School in Chelmondiston. In 2012 the population has decreased considerably and many small adjoining cottages have been converted into one dwelling. The malting has been converted into four houses, and the old Alma public house is now three dwellings. Several houseboats have been placed along the shore below land now owned by the National Trust.

The maritime trades

Stone dredging was a trade associated with Pin Mill in the 1850s and there were at least 50 boats working out of Pin Mill. Stone dredging was a precarious way to earn a living. The stone, used for making cement, would be dredged up from the West Rocks. Later easier methods of producing cement were discovered to satisfy the expansion in the building industry and stone dredging ceased.
Many men were engaged in the fishing industry and they often supplemented their income by wrecking. Climbing on board wrecked boats to retrieve saleable gear was also dangerous and in October 1862, whilst climbing on a half submerged wreck, seven local men lost their lives. Four women in Pin Mill were widowed and one mother lost two of her sons.



Pin Mill has long been associated with the Thames barge. The barges were used to off load the larger ships in Butterman’s Bay. Many brought goods to Pin Mill, including coal that was stored in the coal shed at the top of Pin Mill Hard. (Now a garage belonging to the Butt and Oyster.) A horse and cart conveyed the coal to the Anchor Mill steam flourmill in Chelmondiston, as well as to the villagers’ hearths.


Ted Webb repaired barges from his barge workshop on the Hard for more than 40 years. In the 1960s Rueben Webb and son Fred set up a boatyard on a field near Pin Mill Common, and continued to repair barges.
By the 1950s the use of barges for transporting goods was in decline and a number of barges became houseboats, some ended up as rotting hulks, and others continued sailing for recreational use. In 1962 Pin Mill Sailing Club ran its first Barge Match, and now this annul event offers the opportunity to watch these beautifully restored barges, several over one hundred years old, racing on the local rivers.
Yachting was a popular recreational activity and William Garrard started a boat building business c1850. Harry King was apprenticed to Garrard and in 1896 Harry took over the business. The Harry King and Sons sign near Pin Mill Common is well over 100 years old. The Kings built and repaired many wooden boats and during both wars built life rafts and dinghies for the Royal Navy. The old boatshed is long gone, but many well-known yachts were built there including Selina King for Arthur Ransome, who featured Pin Mill in his 1937 book, ‘We did not Mean to go to Sea.’ Norman and Sam King took over the business from their father and Sam’s son Geoff carried on until 2006, when he passed the business on to Gus Curtis and his wife Sarah.
Jack Powell ran a sail making business in a shed next door to the Alma public house. Later the Ward family ran a chandlery from the extended sail loft and it is now a thriving photographic business renamed the Studio. The Alma public house existed from 1864C to 1908 but Jack Powell’s sister continued to run it as a guesthouse for some years after its closure as a pub.
Tickets for the paddle steamers, which hove to off the Hard, were purchased from the Alma Inn, and Ward, the ferryman would row the passengers out to the steamers for passage either to Ipswich or Harwich and some steamers even went to London.
Pin Mill Hard is the only public landing stage on the River Orwell and has existed for several centuries, but was rebuilt in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee. These improvements gave steamer passengers much better access. More recently the Hard has been completely renovated and is now run by the Pin Mill Bay Management Community Interest Company Ltd.

Pin Mill during the War Years

During the war, Pin Mill was part of the restricted area along the river and guard points were situated at the top of Pin Mill lane and Hollow lane. In 1940 there were six high speed naval launches stationed at Pin Mill, some of the crews were billeted in the Grange, Chelmondiston. There were dormitories and washhouses built on land opposite Ferry Lodge as living quarters for other service personnel. To facilitate landing on the Hard, the army constructed a wooden jetty. This remained for several years after the war. Several local barges and little ships joined in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 and in 1944 several landing craft were assembled on the river ready to join the invasion fleet for the D Day landings.

Pin Mill Sailing Club and Regattas

A village regatta committee ran the first Pin Mill regatta in 1883 and most years until the outbreak of World War I in 1914 In the Victorian era, many yacht and rowing races took place, shore events were held and often a travelling fair would arrive and swing boats were erected on Pin Mill Common to the delight of local children. By 1935 the regatta was organised by Pin Mill Sailing Cub and after World War II the regatta became an annual event that still takes place today. 
Pin Mill Common was a place where villagers had the right to “Lay their dinghies and tan their sails”. Not only yacht sails, but large barge sails were laid out and cutched with a mixture of red ochre, fish oil and other ingredients.
Orwell Corinthian Yacht Club had a floating clubhouse at Pin Mill in the early 1900s and they started many of their races from Pin Mill. This Club ceased to exist in 1927. In 1908 Pin Mill Cruising Club commenced and arranged various races and sailing activities. After the First World War the Club was renamed Pin Mill Sailing Club but was reorganised once again in 1935 and meetings took place in the Butt and Oyster. Activities were suspended, with the outbreak of World War II but recommenced in 1945. It was not until 1947 that the club had their own headquarters, when the sailing barge Florence was purchased, renamed the Quest and moored near the Butt and Oyster. This served as the clubhouse until 1950 when a lease was obtained on a boat workshop on the present club site. In 1958 the Club purchased the land and in 2012 the Pin Mill Sailing Club still has a strong membership.
Pin Mill has been featured in several films, including the 1950 Ha’Penny Breeze and the 1993 television series Lovejoy, when the Butt and Oyster had its name changed to ‘The Three Ducks’.
The picturesque village of Pin Mill is well known all over the world for its sailing activities, and the many traditional yachts and barges that can be seen on the River Orwell. The mudflats along the shoreline are a haven for wildlife and vast numbers of wading birds visit during the winter months. Pin Mill, set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, is visited by walkers, artists, bird watchers and those seeking the peace and tranquillity it offers.

© Renee Waite