July 23, 2006
It’ll cost you only £2.60 to have a fully guided tour around the mill (free if you join the National Trust) and although I’m not really into engineering I found myself being amazed by the technical elements in this working water mill. Our guide was clearly very knowledgeable but he had a keen interest in both the engineering and the social history attached to Stainsby.
There’s been a mill at Stainsby since the 1200’s but the oldest remaining part of the current building is the drying room, dating back to the early 1600’s. It was here that damp grain was spread across a floor of ceramic tiles (later cast iron) with the heat from a ground floor furnace permeating through the maze of holes in the floor. Some of the early flooring is there to hold and inspect.
The mill is powered by a locally cast iron wheel, 17 feet in diameter with a total of 49 buckets, but the River Doe Lea (it’s really no more than a stream) is not fast flowing so it’s the weight of the water that provides the turning power. It was hard, seeing the speed of the wheel to imagine that the mill would be effective but a cleverly constructed ring gear, off the edge of the wheel convert the slow revolution into meaningful energy. There are two grinding stones for bread flour, one to crack the wheat for animal feed, a couple of separating fans and a sack hoist and when all these were operating it would have been an incredibly noisy and dusty environment for the two men, the miller and his apprentice, who were working. Indeed the life span of a miller was generally no more than 50 years as the intake of dust settled on the lungs and gave rise to serious respiratory problems.
Our guide gave us a demonstration of the sack hoist and it was spooky to watch the heavy sack of grain rise effortlessly to the mill’s loft. It was here that "the boy" would empty the unsorted raw material into funnels for it to be filtered through a mesh tunnel with the chaff being blown to a "waste pipe", being collected on the ground floor and the grain being poured into a sack for return, via the sack hoist, to the top floor for further processing. Once ground the flour would be sorted through another channel, as the masters of the estate only wanted the finest of flour and were happy for the coarser mixture to be given to the poor and needy.
A fascinating half-hour visit with a great insight into local social history.
From journal Hardwick Hall - A Great Day Out