Millstones project: a milestone for Houghton Mill
Before it closed in about 1928, Houghton Mill had three water-wheels, each driving several pairs of millstones. In 1930, all three of the water-wheels were removed, together with their shafts and two of the large pit gear wheels, but the rest of the machinery was left substantially complete and undisturbed.
The property came into the care of the National Trust in 1939, and in 1983 we reinstated one pair of millstones and devised an electric belt drive to enable the mill to grind flour once again. Funding from the Lottery and the EU meant that we could reinstate one of the water-wheels, enabling us to mill flour again under water power. We've been doing so ever since, running from 1pm to 5pm every Sunday (plus Bank Holidays) throughout the season (when river conditions permit).
Why did we need a new set of millstones?
We wanted to be able to produce flour on a commercial basis, as well as being able to show visitors every day how the mill works. But when river levels are very low or very high we're unable to run the millstones because of the effects of the Environment Agency flood controls. We also have a limit on how many hours a week we may run.
We looked into whether it would be possible to install a new pair of stones into the mill that could be driven electrically, so that we would be able to demonstrate milling under any river conditions and at the touch of a button. Some of our volunteers, along with our millwright Geoff Wallis, came up with a plan to reinforce the stone slab floor and install an electric drive system that would straddle the existing remains of the old drive shaft. The plan includes fitting a pair of recycled stones into the existing hole above, resting on the original timber hurst framing and even using the old levelling screws which supported the original bedstone.
The project, step by step...
Stage 1: Funding was made available from a legacy the mill had received.
Stage 2: Planning was approved by the District Council and English Heritage as Listed Building Consent was required. The village Parish Council unanimously supported our application and Listed Building Consent was granted on 18 July 2012.
Stage 3: A work group was established, (led by a team manger and three team leaders, all volunteers) and has been guiding the construction of the project, namely the tun, horse, grain chutes and bin.
Stage 4: In December 2012, the new millstones arrived and were installed over the winter 2012/13, marking a new milestone for Houghton Mill. The millstones are now fully operational, enabling Houghton Mill to show visitors what a working 18 century mill was really like, whatever the weather (or river levels).