The Mealemen of Wandsworth

In the last issue, we promised some more information about tmow. Thanks to our archivist, Marguerite, we can fill out some of the history.

Essentially, the expression ‘mealeman' denoted someone involved in the grain trade, and encompassed both millers and the flour wholesalers, but more frequently the latter.

The Mealemen of Wandsworth came to prominence for two entirely separate reasons over a period of about 40 years.

First, in 1610, they objected to a proposal to abstract a tenth of the flow of the Wandle, to supply water to the City of London. A strong petition was raised by the mealemen, and the Royal Commission quietly buried the proposal (not least because the King's own flour supply was depended on the mealemen of Wandsworth, as did 40 parishes and the City itself).

It is recorded that, already, the flow of water was insufficient for the mills then using its flow, so that "it had to be penned everyday for 6 hours in winter and 8 hours in summer".

A transcript of the petition appears below.

The second event was more dramatic, and the basis of a narrative poem entitled "The Tragical Story of the Surrey Petition" (Col. Colomb RA, in 1879) and an earlier poem by Richard Lovelace. The Surrey Petition happened in 1648 and was an appeal by residents of Surrey for the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles then being in prison at Carisbrooke Castle. On 16th May some 3,000 men gathered on Putney Heath, and, lead by the Miller of Wandsworth marched to London to present their petition. As with the much later processions of the Mayor of Garrett, this entailed a walk up the south bank of the Thames to London Bridge, then a walk back down Cheapside, etc. to Whitehall.

The Parliamentarians were having none of it, the petitioners were met by force in Parliament Square, and the Miller of Wandsworth was amongst those killed.

This information is largely gathered from "Mealemen of Wandsworth" a booklet reprinted from The Wandsworth Boro News and Battersea Boro News, 1911, of which we have a photocopy.


If this their purpose be effected, it will prove exceeding prejudiciall & hurtfull to his Majesties subjectes wthin ye said Countie & to ye Citie it selfe & ye said milles doe raise weekelie out of them about £101 wch in ye whole yere amounteth to £5252

if ye third parte of ye water be taken away, they must consequentlie worke lesse.

There are ten housholdes or families maintained by theis milles in wch are about 50 men servantes besides ye masters, wifes, children, maide servantes & horses.

Thinhabitantes adjoyning contayning 40 parishes,wch now are furnished wth theis milles, cannot be served according to their necessities as now they are,

There are about 60 mealmen yt maintaine their families by he labor of those milles, likewise there are many bakers dwelling wthin ye citie & confines thereof, whoe grinde their corne at those milles,

Yf it hapen at any time (as often it doth) ye Thames to be frozen, whereby ye westerne barges cannot passe & bring such store of corne as usuallie they doe,

ye Citie shall want a third parte of such meale as then is failie brought to London, throughe ye benefit of those milles yt grinde in all frostes, ye river being still open and never frozen.

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