History of the restoration
A long journey...
Despite having entered the care of the National Trust in the late 1920s, the restoration of the mill was only completed relatively recently.
Here's the fascinating story of the mill's restoration from a near derelict state through to the fully working flour mill and popular tourist attraction it is today.
Restoration work 1928 - 2005
The restoration begins
The City Mill was saved from demolition in 1928 by a group of local benefactors and gifted to the National Trust a year later. Prior to this almost all of the milling machinery had been stripped out and only the skeleton of the old waterwheel remained.
The mill served as a popular youth hostel for many years and little thought was given to milling flour again until the 1980s. Work on the machinery began in the following decade and the waterwheel was rebuilt first so that it could turn for visitors to see. Much of the funding for the restoration was raised locally by The Winchester Association of National Trust Members, whose generous support has continued to this day.
New millstones and gearing
With the waterwheel restored, our attention turned to the gearing required. Fortunately the major gear wheels had been rescued from nearby Durngate Mill when this building was demolished, these were fitted with new teeth before being incorporating into the new machinery.
Next, the question of millstones arose, but in a stroke of good fortune, a set of French stones which once served at Abbotstone Mill in Hampshire were languishing out of sight in the Science Museum’s store at Wroughton in Wiltshire. The Science Museum was very happy to donate these to our City Mill project in 1997 together with a number of other key components.
One of the millstones carried a maker’s plate and works number indicating that the raw material had been brought from France and assembled in London in the 1860s, so it is hardly surprising that the stones from Abbotstone were pitted and worn but they were good enough to start milling.
In 2003, Ian Clarke, a restoration engineer from Itchen Abbas, became involved for the first time and after a thorough assessment of the restored machinery, he worked through the winter of 2003 to bring the equipment up to the standard required for milling.
On 12 March 2004 all was ready to begin flour milling once again after a gap in commercial production of some 90 years. The first public milling took place on Saturday 20 March and a series of regular milling demonstrations have followed.
Rebuilding the waterwheel
The wooden waterwheel, which we restored in the 1990s, was already seriously weakened by rot when milling started and the wooden paddles, known as floats, frequently broke away from the rims. We took the decision to rebuild the waterwheel at the end of 2004 and the old wheel turned for the last time on New Year's Day 2005.
The new wheel required £6000 worth of European oak plus metal fixings. The 600 components arrived at the mill with the wooden parts ready-cut and shaped like a giant construction kit. Ian Clarke and his colleague Adrian Thompson then assembled the wheel in situ within the wheel pit which is always part-filled with water. Despite unpleasant conditions, the pair completed the wheel in February 2005 and milling resumed on two weekends a month through 2005 season.
Restoration work 2005 - 2013
Replacing the millstones
With the new waterwheel re-installed in 2005, we then made perhaps the boldest decision so far in commissioning a new pair of millstones from a specialist manufacturer in Holland. These arrived in England in August 2007 and were installed under the careful supervision of Ian Clarke.
The new stones weighing 500kg each and had been made to exactly the same size as the old stones and could therefore be fitted into the existing machinery relatively easily. They were cast with a composite material containing basalt and quartz and are expected to last as long as the traditional French millstones favoured by millers of old.
With the new mill stones in place by August 2007 the rate of milling flour increased immediately. It also proved easier for the volunteer millers to control the quality of flour produced. Milling demonstrations were increased to every Saturday and Sunday afternoon and the mill started to produce and sell over 10 tonnes of wholemeal flour each year.
New sluice gates and ironwork
In 2009 milling came to an abrupt halt when the main sluice gate failed due to rotting timbers. Repairing the gate proved a major undertaking. Ian Clarke was commissioned to assemble and install a new sturdy gate constructed from lengths of English oak.
In August 2010 significant changes were made to the lower mill floor where a screen of iron bars and wire mesh was removed to give uninterrupted views of the water wheel, gears and mill races for the first time. Simple new iron railings were introduced and we added an audio point to help visitors learn more about the mill.
In 2012 the secondary slip channel gate also failed and, once again, a new gatewas made and carefully installed.
Where we are today
We mill flour every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year as well as on Bank Holidays and Wednesdays from Easter through to the autumn half-term. We demonstrate what the mill can do during the week to visiting schools and adult groups.
At busy times extra weekday milling sessions are needed just to keep up with the demand.
The amount of flour produced and sold has increased steadily and in 2013 exceeded 15 tonnes for the first time. Visitors frequently ask what happens to the flour and in fact 66% (two thirds) is sold in the mill shop, 14% is sold in other National Trust shops and 20% (one fifth) is used by local commercial bakers.