Sunday, 28 July 2013

Charlecote Mill

We recently made a family visit to one of the frequent open days at Charlecote Mill, Warwickshire; a place that we pass frequently, always meaning to visit. It's a lovely place that's set back from the twisty lane between Hampton Lucy and Charlecote, and nestles into low-lying farmland where the River Avon flows.

Having parked in a nearby paddock and with the National Trust property of Charlecote Park behind us, we dropped down from the lane and threaded single file through a weedy paddock following quircky hand painted signs for the water mill. A wonderfully picturesque setting if ever there was, with views of the mill grabbed through tree canopies and above wild flowers as we approached.


Whilst I always approach any ‘visit’ with an open mind, I can’t help feeling I was pre-programmed to expect a history charged visit to the mill. I wasn’t disappointed in this at all - indeed the visit more than lived up to expectations. Passing under willow trees, the mill building loomed above us; an expanse of mellow clay brick that was pretty in a quaint, solid working structure kind of way. Moving closer, the sound of the clunking wheel drowned out the rest of the world, and it really did feel like I’d walked back through time to some Victorian country estate powerhouse - all we needed were some scruffy urchins running by chasing hoops!

All too soon I was brought back to 21stC when a very modern miller, Karl Grevatt walked out to greet us dusted from head to foot in flour! Following a warm welcome, we explored for a while until joining a small group on a comprehensive tour of the mill. It was a surprise to learn how commercial the milling operation has become of late, despite being carried out there in one form or another for over two hundred years. It was also interesting to hear how the milling operation is the prime focus, with public open days slotting firmly into second place. I'm not sure what I'd really expected, but what we found wasn't a living museum, but a working factory processing valued goods - one particular outlet for flour was for making chapatis, loads being delivered to the city on a regular basis.

It wasn't hard to pick up on Karl's enthusiasm for the mill and its history, of which he was very knowledgeable, but also for his enthusiasm for its future use. We also heard of Karl's successful attempts to follow in the steps of previous millers by repairing and restoring mechanical parts of the mill - such as teeth on the huge wheels, which wear and need carving anew. This is seemingly a daily task, but a vital one that needs a good eye and creative woodworking hand. There's also the heavy millstones which we are more used to seeing as garden ornaments these days - these stones aren't as easy to come by these days so new, more modern materials are being used instead. However, the mill stones still need a watchful eye and need re-carving regularly to keep the channels open - all fascinating, specialised and really great to see in action.

I think for me the visit was all the more important for seeing the passion and commitment that individual millers had shown to the mill over the years. Just learning a little of how the mill operated was enough to show  the dedication the generations of millers had possessed. Charlecote Mill looks to be in good hands at the moment, but it's also easy to see how delecate the operation is. The building needs specialised care, constant maintenance and regular use, but as is the market these days; the flour needs new age customers to make it viable. I'm hopeful that regular clients keep on buying, which in turn will keep the mill wheels turning. I know what brand flour I'll be buying from nw on!

Do watch my youtube clip for an insight into the workings of Charlecote Mill.

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