Restoring City Mill's machinery

The waterwheel turning at Winchester City Mill

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.

Early days

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.

 

Sourcing machinery

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.

 
 

A generous donation

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's hardly surprising that the stones from Abbotstone were pitted and worn but they were good enough to start milling.
 

Restoring the equipment

In 2003, Ian Clarke, a millwright and restoration engineer from Itchen Abbas, became involved for the first time. 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.

Wheel’s turning again

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 followed.

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.

A new waterwheel

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 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 the 2005 season.

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 weigh 500kg each and had been made to exactly the same size as the old stones so they could 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.

Increased production

With the new millstones 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.

Further repairs

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 gate was made and carefully installed.

In demand

We mill flour every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year and Wednesdays during the summer months and school holidays. We also demonstrate what the mill can do during the week to visiting schools and adult groups.

The amount of flour produced and sold has increased steadily and we currently produce 25 tonnes of flour a year. Visitors frequently ask what happens to the flour and in fact 66% is sold in the mill shop, 14% is sold in other National Trust shops and 20% is used by local commercial bakers.

Watch our volunteer millers make stoneground wholemeal flour.
Flour being packaged at Winchester City Mill
Watch our volunteer millers make stoneground wholemeal flour.

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