The machinery at Nether Alderley Mill

Sacks inside a mill

The machinery at Nether Alderley Mill is over 100 years old, with some parts dated to 1871. The original Elizabethan machinery was made entirely of wood and had long worn out and been replaced. The mill transformed grain into flour for the village.

The start of the transformation

Grain was bagged up in the kiln and moved by the sack hoist to the upper floor. Here it was emptied into the hopper and flowed down onto a shallow trough, known as the shoe, and shaken by a four-pronged spindle (the chattering damsel) to allow the grain to flow evenly.

Grain entered the centre of the millstones and was ground between them, emerging as flour at the edges before falling to the floor below through a second chute.

Here it entered a sifter that separated it into three types of flour: fine, sharps and husks. Each type was bagged at the bottom of its chute.

The miller's job

Although the water systems and milling mechanisms are complex they do follow a logical sequence, with water entering the mill to power the water wheels that, in turn, drive the systems that turn the millstones, sack hoists and flour sifters.

Managing the water and grain supplies, as well as knowing how to make running repairs or bring in the right help from millwrights, blacksmiths, carpenters or stone cutters, were crucial parts of the miller’s job.

The right materials

Before milling could start it was important that everything was in working order. This included the grain, which was dried in the kiln to stop it from going mouldy once ground.

The milling mechanism dates from the 1800s and is mainly made of cast-iron. Until it was possible to produce cheap cast-iron, machinery like this was made entirely of fruit wood such as apple or pear, which limited the size and, therefore, the power available.

The millstones

Perhaps the most important parts of the process are the millstones, each of which weigh over a ton. The bottom millstone is known as the bedstone and is fixed to the floor whilst the top millstone, the runner, spins above.

Once the stones were milling it was important the miller didn't let them run dry. Without grain between them sparks could occur and, as flour dust is highly flammable, a small spark could easily cause an explosion.