The Creek at the Old Sawmills could tell a long and colourful story. From Medieval merchants to a world famous recording studio, this enchanted site is immersed in history.

Early Times

A Stone age axe was discovered on site in the early 1960’s, suggesting perhaps, a settlement here since time immemorial. The area has mention in the Domesday Book and evidence of medieval activity can still be observed with the remains of a medieval quay clearly visible at the head of the creek. The creek is still known as Bodmin Pill. Pill is an old Westcountry term meaning a creek, or a landing place. The medieval merchants of Bodmin chose this location, as a preferred landing point from the sea. The reason for this would have been to avoid paying landing dues up river at Lostwithiel, the ancient capital of Cornwall. The path up through the woods from the quay has been used, through the centuries, as access from the sea to Bodmin and onwards to Padstow on the North coast and forms part of the Saint’s Way.

The Sawmills

From 1729 the site was owned by the Fortescue family of Boconnoc Manor as part of a very large estate. The sawmill was a thriving business for many years and barges regularly came into the creek to fetch loads of freshly sawn timber. The creek would have been a good deal deeper in those days- and as the railway bridge wouldn’t have been there then, much larger boats would have been able to access the pill. The railway was built across the entrance to the Sawmill around 1860, And as compensation the railway company provided a replacement quay on the main river, from which the Sawmills could carry on shipping their timber. The outer quay is still used today and proves a useful alternative for mooring when the tide is too low in the creek. We believe the wheel stopped turning at the Sawmill around the turn of the century, and its rumored the water wheel could still be seen sitting in the creek years later. The iron hubs of the wheel still remain and sit on the lawn concealed as planters!

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame was a regular visitor to nearby Fowey, and was married in Fowey Church. He spent many an afternoon on the river and during a long stay in 1907 he completed what was to become his most successful work which was published the following year. It has generally been accepted that the prime inspiration for this book was the River Fowey and a documented river excursion in May 1907 found the author and friends picnicking in a little creek off the main river. It is believed that afternoon’s trip was the inspiration for Ratty and Moles first picnic outing in Chapter one. There really is only one creek with water mill in that locality…. Bodmin Pill… the description fits well and has changed little, save the water wheel and the colour of the paintwork, but read the following excerpt and decide for yourself……

“Leaving the main stream, they now passed into what seemed at first sight like a little land-locked lake. Green turf sloped down to either edge, brown snaky tree-roots gleamed below the surface of the quiet water, while ahead of them the silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir, arm-in-arm with a restless dripping mill-wheel, that held up in its turn a grey-gabled mill- house, filled the air with a soothing murmur of sound, dull and smothery, yet with little clear voices speaking up cheerfully out of it at intervals. It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both forepaws and gasp, `O my! O my! O my!’”

From chapter one from Wind in the Willows

The World at War

Despite its remote location, The Old Sawmills played a small part in the war effort during both World Wars. In the first, the woodland which surrounds the buildings was heavily coppiced for timber that was to find its way to the trenches of the Western front. The larger area of Woodland however has lain undisturbed.

During World War two, the Old Sawmills was requisitioned by the American Army in 1943 for preparations in the run-up to the D-Day landings. With little home comforts and time on their hands, they built a hydro electric scheme for a little heat and light. They were an engineering regiment and resourcefully managed to source cast iron pipe work and a turbine. Today remains of the pipe work can still be seen in situ along the stream. Foundations of their cook house can also be discovered in the woods overlooking the river.

Post War Years

There is mention of the old Sawmills again in 1948 in a book written by David Wilson Macarthur,

“An old mill house, with terraces and gardens wild and overgrown. The place was unoccupied, and we were told that it had recently been bought but was again for sale. It must have been a charming place at one time, and could easily be so again, with its bright little stream tumbling down to the creek, its shore and its terrace and its woods and garden plots and paths.”

Throughout the next 18 years, the Old Sawmills was home to a number of different people, A boat building business “Dux boats” was established by The Duckworth family in the 1950’s. Then in 1966 the writer and journalist Denys Val Baker and his wife Jess bought it and set up home there with their 6 children. They were to live here for the next 7 years, Denys writing and Jess running a pottery in what is now the studio. “Life up the Creek” was an autobiography published in 1971 and written all about their life at the Old Sawmills.

Sawmills Studio

The departure of the Val Bakers in 1973 marked the start of the most recent chapter in the life of the Old Sawmills. Opened in early 1974 as one of the very first residential recording studios in the UK, Sawmills Studio has developed an enviable reputation as a unique recording environment with a long list of successful clients to its name, including Robert Plant, Stone Roses, Oasis, Muse and Jessie J. Regularly described as “legendary” by the media it has played host to many, now, well established artists and played a big part in the initial development of some. The studio is still operating, and studio bookings now alternate with the holiday bookings.