From warship to watermill

Thursday 18 November 2004

A Hampshire water mill, built from the timbers of an 18th century American warship, is to host an exhibition on the fascinating history of the vessel.

Opening this weekend, the exhibition, created by Dr Robert Prescott and Ann Gunn from the University of St Andrews, will provide a history of the USS Chesapeake, outlining the events leading to her capture and brief history in the Royal Navy until 1819 when she was sold and her timbers used in the construction of Chesapeake Mill, Wickham.

The exhibition, opening on Saturday 20 November 2004, reflects the extensive research which the St Andrews team has carried out on the history and archaeology of the building.

The mill is built from reused timbers from the USS Chesapeake, which was captured by HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. Architecturally, the mill is the finest example of re-used ship timbers within an industrial building outside the confines of the Royal Dockyards.

The opening of the exhibition, which features illustrations and artefacts including ship-building tools and a model of a sister ship to Chesapeake, marks a significant step forward in the interpretation of the important historic monument. The Chesapeake Mill ceased operation as a grain mill in the 1970’s and remained unoccupied for many years. In 1998, it was purchased by Hampshire County Council to protect it from deterioration and inappropriate use. Various proposals for re-development were considered but nothing happened and, in 2003, the Council decided to sell the building for commercial use. The successful purchaser was the partnership of Taylor Haimes Limited, who have renovated the building and intend to open it as an antiques and home furnishings centre. In response to concern that public access to this historic site might be restricted, Taylor Haimes Limited have set aside a room in the mill to serve as an interpretation centre, introducing visitors to the history of the building and revealing details of what may be seen of the ship’s structure within the mill.

Speaking about the Chesapeake- Shannon battle, Dr Prescott said, “This was the great age of the frigate, in which dashing young captains fought heroic single-ship actions that were avidly followed by the public. The action between these two ships was brief, lasting less than 15 minutes, but was fiercely fought and there was great loss of life on both sides. Among those who were killed in action was Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, whose dying words ‘Don’t give up the ship’ have become a cherished part of United States naval lore”.

In 1819, the Royal Navy sold the Chesapeake to Joshua Holmes, a Portsmouth timber merchant who took the ship apart in his yard to the north of the city. Many of her timbers were still serviceable and they were advertised for sale in the Sussex and Hampshire Gazette. The successful purchaser was a local miller, Mr John Prior, who transported the timbers to Wickham where they were incorporated into the new water- mill that he built to replace an earlier mill on the same site. Prior’s name, and the date of construction, 1820, can still be seen on the façade of the present mill building. The mill’s dimensions reflect those of the ship, which was carefully dismantled so that every last inch of the long deck beams could be used.

Ann Gunn said, “When you are in the mill you can readily imagine you are on board the ship. All the beams over your head which hold up the floor above you are gun-deck and quarter deck beams from the ship, and the lintels that span the openings of doors and windows are formed from the ship’s planking. We hope our exhibition will help to make visitors aware of the historical significance of this unique building, which holds great interest for people in both the United Kingdom and the United States”.

Dr Robert Prescott, Inaugural Director of the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies at the University, has extensive experience of research in the field of historic ships. He has served as a trustee of both national and local museums and is a member of the UK National Historic Ships Committee

Meanwhile, Ann Gunn is a lecturer in Museum and Gallery Studies. She has a fine arts background and, prior to joining the University, was employed as a curator and registrar in a number of museums and galleries in Britain and the United States.



A selection of black/white jpeg photos illustrating the Chesapeake available from Claire Grainger.

For more information, please contact Dr Robert G W Prescott on telephone 01334 463017 or mobile 07904 153877.

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information, please contact Claire Grainger, Press Officer – 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or [email protected]; Ref: press releases/chesapeake View the latest University news at

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