Visit to Redbournbury Mill

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Visit to Redbournbury Mill' page

Society visit on 2 January 2016

By John Marlow and Margaret Pratt

This report first appeared in Newsletter 128, April 2016

We’d wrapped up warmly for the first outing of the year. Justin James, the miller gave us an exciting and informative tour, outlining the history of the succession of mills on the site first mentioned in the 1087 Domesday Book, and then taking us through the various processes that turns grain into flour.

Unused for milling since the 1950s, Justin’s family bought the mill in 1986.
The 1987 fire was caused by lightning striking the roof, but the skill and bravery of the Fire Brigade in saving the structure and the driving mechanism made restoration feasible, and achievable with help from many volunteers. English Heritage insisted that new timber (12 tons of oak and 6 tons of softwood) be used to replace damaged beams to distinguish which was the latest restoration from earlier ones.

The iron waterwheel is nearly 3 metres in diameter and over 2 metres wide and this drives a horizontal ‘lay-shaft’ which allows the 3 pairs of millstones on the top floor to be in a straight line rather than clustered round a central shaft. This most unusual layout, very rare in Britain, is of great interest to English Heritage. Each stone weighs about a ton, and the top one needs to be lifted and turned over occasionally for ‘dressing’ – re-cutting the grooves by hand. With only the help of a block and tackle, Ivy Hawkins used to do this single-handed! She was ‘the only lady miller in England’ and the last in the family who held the mill from 1841 to 1985 by which time she was 89. There is a handsome Crossley oil engine, restored by volunteers, which powers the mill nowadays as there is usually insufficient water in the River Ver to turn the waterwheel unaided.

Organic wheat purposely grown by Mr Roberts at Hammonds End Farm is used, also spelt which makes a much finer flour. The miller feels the quality of the flour with his finger tips as it flows down the shute ready to be bagged on the ground floor. The Bakery was open with bread, flour and cakes available. They supply local outlets including the St Albans Waffle House, and The Hub in Redbourn where we went afterwards for hot drinks, homemade cakes and the chance of a natter, a great start to the year.

This page was added by Rosemary Ross on 19/04/2016.

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