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Our work at Bourne Mill

Exterior of Bourne Mill, Essex
Exterior of Bourne Mill | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Bourne Mill has a long and fascinating history, and thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we’ve been able to delve deeper into the mill’s history and embark on projects to share its story. Find out more about how we’ve uncovered Colchester’s social and industrial past, and the work we do to preserve this fascinating history.

Uncovering Colchester’s Social and Industrial Past

Bourne Mill has a rich history, and it’s important that we share its story in ways that best reflects its social and industrial past. In 2016, the National Trust embarked on a project with students from the University of Essex to reinterpret the mill, as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project called ‘Bourne Mill – Uncovering Colchester’s Social and Industrial Past.’

Working with Essex County Council, the project focused on the history of Bourne Mill, the people who lived here, and its industrial significance in the East Anglian cloth industry. The centrepiece was the reconstruction of a working replica of bicycle-powered fulling stocks, which you can see at the mill today.

We also undertook further research into the mill’s history, which you can read about below, and with the help of students from the University of Essex, created educational resources to engage young people with the mill’s historical significance.

The aims of the project were to:

  • Develop a richer understanding of the mill's history, particularly in relation to the textile industry
  • Offer students who may aspire to a career in the heritage sector the opportunity to work with us
  • Encourage more volunteering and community interest in the mill
  • Use activities and events to let the wider community know about the heritage of Bourne Mill
  • Help with the interpretation of the mill’s history through research
  • Design a bicycle-powered replica model of the fulling stocks that would have been at Bourne Mill

The project was completed in 2016, but you can still see its legacy at the mill today.

Staff and volunteers undertaking boardwalk repairs at Bourne Mill, Essex
Staff and volunteers undertaking boardwalk repairs at Bourne Mill | © National Trust Images/David Piper

Researching the history of the mill

The volunteer team at Bourne Mill are passionate about this place and have researched various aspects of the mill’s history.

To improve our knowledge, under the Heritage Lottery project, we commissioned a historical report from Dr Chris Thornton, and another report exploring the role of food and entertain in the mill’s history from Ivan Day – both of which are available upon request.

Volunteers from the Colchester Decorative and Fine Arts Society also contributed to research which informed the project.

Conservation work at Bourne Mill

Over the centuries Bourne Mill has functioned as both a grain mill and a fulling (cloth-treating) mill. The mill stopped working in 1935, and in 1936 it was bought by the National Trust, which has been meeting the challenges of conserving the sixteenth-century stonework, the working waterwheel, and the millpond and mill grounds ever since.

Repairing the waterwheel

To keep the waterwheel turning, the team at Bourne Mill undertake repair works every other year to resolve issues caused by the waterwheel permanently sitting in water, or the culverts being too shallow.

Preserving the stonework

The mosaic of different stones needs to be looked after in a particular way. Some methods in the past haven't been suitable, so some work is 'repair and restore' while other work requires us to 'conserve and preserve'.

Creating the Physic Garden

The Physic Garden at the front of Bourne Mill was created by volunteers in 2015, thanks to donations of plants from all over. Herbs and plants would have been grown and used for medicinal purposes throughout history, and the volunteers have reflected this history with the planting in the Physic Garden today.

Bourne to be Wild

Celebrating diversity across Colchester and the importance of an enriched healthy community for both people and nature, ‘Bourne to be Wild’ takes inspiration from the wildlife in the city of Colchester and Bourne Mill. The print-based project aims to rewild the urban streets and by bringing visuals interpretive artwork to the city.

The project began with a series of workshops between September and November facilitated by INSTAR. Working with community groups based in the city including, Firstsite’s Young Art Kommunity, Level Best Trainees, and Outhouse’s Youth Group and Craft Pride, they offered a hybrid of wildlife exploration and nature inspired printmaking activities, nurturing confidence, creativity, community and friendship throughout.

Find out more about the commission here.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Visitors exploring the garden at Bourne Mill, Essex

Discover more at Bourne Mill

Find out when Bourne Mill is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

Our partners

Heritage Fund

Inspiring, leading and resourcing the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and communities, now and in the future.

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University of Essex

We’re a university where curiosity prevails, and where exploring new ways of thinking and pushing boundaries, isn’t just encouraged, it’s expected.

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Essex County Council

Welcome to Essex.

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