Keeping the wheel turning on the historic water mill

Houghton Mill's huge waterwheel

The impressive water wheel you can see today at Houghton Mill is one of the largest in the UK. However, at times throughout its history the Mill has run with up to three and even no water wheels at all.

By the peak of flour production in the 1850s the course of the River Great Ouse around Houghton Mill had been diverted to maximise the amount of water power that could be exploited by the three working water wheels and ten pairs of mill stones. 

However, by the 1920s the mill was working at a much reduced rate and when Houghton Mill was finally closed in 1928 the water wheels were removed. 

Bringing the water wheel back to life 

In 1983 The National Trust opened the mill to the public and following repairs the mill was able to start making flour once again.  

However, although the flour was milled using the original millstones, they were powered by an electric motor as the waterwheel had not been restored. 

Finally, after over 70 years and with the help of a Heritage Lottery Grant, we were able to reinstate a working water wheel in 1999. 

Conserving the waterwheel 

Every ten years or so essential maintenance work has to take place on the water wheel to make sure it will operate for many decades to come. 

During the winter of 2019-20 professional wheelwrights took apart and rebuilt the sluice gate. Over the summer of 2020 the volunteer team at Houghton Mill will replace 30 oak floats and 30 sole boards. 

Keeping the mill running when water levels are low 

These days the river flow is controlled by the Environment Agency. In 2013 we installed a new set of electric-powered millstones so visitors can still experience the sights and sounds of the mill in action, even if the conditions are not right for the traditional waterwheel to operate.