Pebble Mill – a short history

A short history of Pebble Mill written by Dr Melissa Grant

Perhaps intriguingly I own a selection of old maps of Birmingham (if you really want to know why check out an exhibition I did in 2014 called Bioprospecting Birmingham  and I have noticed that Pebble Mill is shown on a lot of them. By doing a little bit of research [1-3] I found that there has been a mill on the site since at least the 16th century when it was likely known as Kynge’s (or King’s) Mill. It was owned by John Kynge and then passed onto his son in 1557 and was described as a fulling mill, meaning that the mill power was used to soften woollen fabric, cleaning and shrinking the loosely woven fabric before dying . At the time the wool industry was very important to the 2000 or so residents in Birmingham. By 1648 it was owned by Guy Benson and was then known as Benson’s Mill. Benson used it as a blade mill probably for sharpening new blades such as scythes and knives, as the iron industry took off. This was the time of the Black Death and Birmingham was not spared as the plague made its way to the town in a box of clothes destined for a maid in Moor Street. ‘Plague fields’ were set aside for mass burial of the deceased: one is suggested to be in the Ladywood area but another ‘between what are now the Pershore and Bristol Roads’ [4]. In the Bills of Mortuary in London there is evidence that quarter (70,000 people) of the population died. Bubonic plague was lethal but wasn’t a constant killer, unlike the top 4 killers of the time (consumption (TB), infant death, fever, and teeth). It’s likely that death by teeth was due to abscesses and the lack of antibiotics [5].
But back to Birmingham (population 232,638 in 1851), out in leafy Edgbaston life was not too bad with a death rate by 1851 down at 15 per 1000 in comparison to 25 per 1000 in the more densely populated areas of Birmingham [6]. The mill was owned by a selection of people from 1700 including a gun barrel manufacturer and a knife seller and then by the 1871 census the mill was owned by William Summerton. He was a family man with a wife Prudence and 5 children. The mill was listed as a grain mill and was at the start of the Pershore Turnpike, a toll road extending to the south. Maps suggest that the mill was actually over by what is now the Nature Centre/Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park and that the mill pool extended up to where the new BDH now stands (you can see that here from a survey in 1882). The pool was drained in 1883 after a spate of suicides and the land turned in farming. The next farmer at the mill was Henry Harrison. Born in Walsale Staffordshire around 1825, he can be found in the 1871 census too, but living in Harborne with wife Maria and 5 children. By the next census (1881) he was living in Pebble Mill and working the 25 acres with 2 men. Having a poke about in the online records there are three potential candidates of the same name who were buried in Kings Norton between 1903-1917. He potentially lived to a ripe old age but a little more research will be needed to figure which was the farmer of Pebble Mill. The farm seems to have existed til the 1920s and then of course the area became the BBC Pebble Mill site in the 1970s.
The latter two owners of the mill site could have benefitted from the dental hospital itself as it opened in 1858 at Odd-fellows Hall on Temple Street [7]. It moved about quite a bit and of course now has its home on 5 Mill Pool Way. And so I have come full circle from the origins of the land use, some of the mills inhabitants to the current hospital. It will soon be joined by three others and we can imagine what the future of this area might hold with advances in dentistry and medicine. Thankfully death by teeth is now a highly unlikely demise!

Melissa Grant

[1] A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7, the City of Birmingham. Victoria County History, 1964,
[5] Clarke. J Hist Dent. 1999 47, 11-3
[6] Birmingham and Midland Hardware District. Timmins 1967 Published by Routledge

Picture by William Westley ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Westley---East-Prospect-of-Birmingham-1732