Almost the greatest loss to country scenery is the decay of the ancient windmills and water-mills. The first has robbed the hilltops of a most picturesque feature, while in the valleys and little glens the roaring, creaking, dripping wheel sounds no longer, except in favoured spots where it still pays to grind the corn in the old way. The old town and city mills often survived longer than the country ones, and those on the Thames longer than those on smaller rivers. The corn and barley which was taken to market in the town was easily transferred to the town mill, and thence by water to the place of consumption. Every Wykehamist remembers the ancient and picturesque mills of Winchester, with the mill-stream bridged by the main street. At Oxford some of the most ancient mills remain to this day, while others have only recently been destroyed, or have undergone a curious conversion into dwelling-houses, beneath which the mill-stream still rushes. One of these houses stands near Folly Bridge; another old mill has just undergone the same process, that close to Holywell Church. Some of these mills are the most ancient surviving institutions in Oxford, far older than the colleges - older even than any of the churches except perhaps one. Some of these - the Castle Mill, for instance - have ground corn for centuries since the abbeys, for whose use they were founded, utterly disappeared. Others were standing long before abbeys or colleges were founded, and were part of their endowments. They are the oldest link between town life and country life left in Oxford, or indeed in England. For a thousand years the corn grown on the hills beyond the Thames meadows has been drawn to their doors. Saxon churls dragged wheat there on sledges, Danes rowed up the river to Oseney and stole the flour when they sacked the abbey, Norman bishops stole the mills themselves. That iniquitous Roger of Salisbury was "in" this, as we might guess. Roger, who knew that attention to detail is the soul of business, commandeered this particular mill with others in these parts, and, when forced to let it go, with a fine sense of humour made it over to the Godstone nunnery as a pious donor.

The Knights Templars had another mill at Cowley, and the king himself one on the Cherwell, which was given to the Hospital of St. John, who "swapped" it with Merton. Later on these mills helped King Charles's army vastly, for all the flour needed for the Oxford garrison was ground inside or close to the walls.

At present the Thames is mainly visited as a source of rest and refreshment to tens of thousands of men "in cities pent," and of pleasure rather than profit. In a secondary degree it is useful as a commercial highway, the barge traffic being really useful to the people on its banks, where coal, stone for road-mending, wood, flour, and other heavy and necessary goods are delivered on the staithes almost at their doors. But when the old mills were first founded, and for eight centuries onwards, it was as a source of power, a substitute for steam, that the river was valued. The times will probably alter, and the Thames currents turn mill wheels again to generate electric light for the towns and villages on its banks. The chance of this coming about is enough to make any one who owns a mill right on the water keep it, even though not useful at present. First the old roads with auto-cars, then the old mills with hydraulic lighting and low-power dynamos will come to the front again. Whereof take the old story of the Oxford river as full and sufficient witness, and Antony Wood for storyteller. "Oxford," he says, "owed its prosperity to its rivers," of which there were apparently as many branches and streams then as now.

The rivers were "beneficial to the inhabitants, as anon shall be showed," though the Cherwell was "more like a tide" than a common river sometimes, and once nearly overflowed all the physic garden. That garden stands there still. So does the Cherwell still behave "more like a tide than a river," and the scene at the torpid races a few years ago is evidence that the rivers have not diminished in volume. What, then, was the "great commodity" given by them to the city? First and least, a water which was good for dyeing cloth and for tanning leather; secondly, and by far the greatest benefit, it turned the wheels of at least a dozen important mills. As mills were always a monopoly, as much opposition was raised to the making of a new one as would now be evoked by the proposal to construct a new railway.

It was meddling with vested interests of a powerful kind, but there were so many rivers at Oxford that each turned one or two mills without injuring any one's water rights.

Of all these mills, the greatest advantage to the city came from the Castle Mill. Notwithstanding its name, this was not the property of the Castle of Oxford, though it stood within arrow-shot of its towers, and was thus protected from pillage in time of war. It stands under the remaining tower, the water tower, of the castle still, and on exactly the same site, and on the branch of the Thames which from the most ancient days has been the waterway by which barges and merchandise came from the country to the city, bringing goods from Abingdon or corn and fuel from the upper river. And it is still called by its old name of the Weir Stream. "There is one river called Weyre, where hath bin an Hythe, at which place boatmen unload their vessels, which also maketh that antient mill under the castle seldom or never to faile from going, to the great convenience of the inhabitants." So says Antony Wood, adding that it stood before the Norman conquest. After that it was forfeited to the Norman kings, and then held in half shares by the burgesses of the town and the abbots of Oseney, that once wealthy and now vanished abbey, which stood close by where the railway station now is. They shared the fishery also, and apparently this partnership prevented friction between the town and the monks, as each could undersell the other, and prices for flour and fish were kept down at a reasonable figure.

Henry VIII. gave the abbey's share to the new bishopric of Oxford, but the funds of the bishopric were embezzled by some means, and the town ultimately bought the mill for L566.

St. George's Tower, the only remaining fragment of the castle, is built of stones and mortar, so compact that though the walls have stood since Robert d'Oily reared it, late in the reign of the Conqueror, the stones and mortar had to be cut out as if from a mass of rock when a water-pipe was recently taken through the walls. It is now the water tower which holds the supply for Oxford prison.

Old Holywell Mill was on a branch of the Cherwell, and stood just behind Magdalen Walks, whence a charming view was had of its wheel and lasher. It belonged to the Abbey of Oseney, who gave it to Merton College in exchange for value. Now it is a handsome dwelling-house, below which the mill stream rushes.

Merton College seems to have had a fancy for owning mills, for it also acquired by exchange the King's Mill. Only the house and lasher are left to show where this old mill stood. It had a narrow but very strong mill stream, which in winter used to come down in a sheet of solid water like green jade, a beautiful object among the walks and willows of Mesopotamia. It was an outpost of the King's forces when Oxford was held for the Royalists.

Botley Mill, though on the westernmost of the many streams into which the Thames divides at Oxford, was outside the walls. It dates from before the Conquest. This belonged to the Abbey of Abingdon, in the chronicles of which are some records of an injury done to the "aqueduct, which is vulgarly called the lake." This name is still the local term for all side streams and artificial cuts from the Upper Thames. The men of a now vanished village of Seckworth broke the banks of the "lake" when Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, was being besieged in Rochester Castle. The lord of the manor was subsequently sued for this by the abbot of Abingdon, and had to pay ten shillings damages. Doubtless the men of Seckworth had to contribute to pay for their indulgence in this mischief, but it looks as if the abbot's miller had been cheating them.