Keeping the wheel turning
PUBLISHED: 11:12 14 June 2016
Since its restoration by an enthusiastic band of volunteers, Woodbridge Tide Mill has become a key attraction for the town
It’s not just the tide that keeps the wheel turning at Woodbridge Tide Mill. A dedicated group of local volunteers battled for ten years to bring this piece of Woodbridge heritage back to working condition.
Several years ago, it looked like the mill’s future was bleak when the heritage lottery declined to fund the proposed refurbishment work to the 225-year-old structure. However, a determined Nigel Barratt took up the mantle and continued to build on the work already done by Fred Reynolds. Finally, in 2011, after much hard work and fundraising, the tide truly turned for the volunteers when the Heritage Lottery Fund passed the bid and the project to restore Woodbridge Tide Mill began.
Another driving force was Bob Spillett. He and Nigel recently submitted a report to show the Heritage Lottery how far the mill has come. With nearly 45,000 visitors to date, it’s clear it has become something of a tourist magnet for Woodbridge.
One of just two working tide mills left in the country, Woodbridge Tide Mill is an important piece of British heritage. And while the current mill might be over 200 years old, the earliest known stoneground flour mill on the same site was built in the 12th century.
As well as its historical significance, Woodbridge Tide Mill has earned itself great reviews on Trip Advisor, praised for its interactive exhibits, knowledgeable volunteers, informative displays, spectacular engineering and picturesque setting.
Thanks to the 42 volunteers and Friends of Woodbridge Tide Mill, the support continues. From people like John Smith who looks after maintenance, to John Leming, who helps with day to day running of the landmark.
The volunteers have dedicated themselves to learning traditional milling, millwrighting and other skills, but sometimes need to call in an expert. Bryn Ansell, a stone mason with 44 years experience working on such auspicious buildings as Ely Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and York Minster, volunteers his time to maintain the stones that grind the grain. He repairs them with ‘gobbo’ – a setting agent made from sharp sand, lime putty and fly ash. More importantly, he also ‘dresses’ the stones, using techniques that date back to the Roman Empire, creating ‘furrows’ and ‘stitching’ that hold grain in the centre of the stone, and cut it like scissors. This must be done every 400 operating hours to keep the stones working properly.
It’s this dedication to authenticity that has brought some interesting visitors to the mill. Recently a group of five people from Fulton Mill, a Dutch windmill in Illinois, visited England and spent a large part of their time with the Woodbridge team. They learned a great deal about milling processes from the volunteers and exchanged ideas and techniques.
Millie keeps things family friendly
For most millers, mice are a serious problem, but Woodbridge Tide Mill has a very special mouse that has become something of a local celebrity. Millie the Mouse is the mill’s mascot and a much loved personality in the town. This talented mouse attends community events, has her own range of Millie merchandise – with proceeds going towards keeping the mill running – and even writes a regular column in the monthly Woodbridge supplement of the East Anglian Daily Times. She does a vital job in drawing younger people to the mill, and the heritage and history it represents.
A mill with plenty of friends
Woodbridge Tide Mill volunteers can be proud of themselves for restoring a Grade 1 listed building that had become a beautiful, but dusty and dilapidated property, popular with local watercolourists and great in the background of a postcard pic, but little use to anyone else. They’ve recreated a piece of the area’s important heritage, and turned it into a cultural beacon for visitors keen to see how things were done many hundreds of years ago. Hopefully the tide wheel will continue to attract curious visitors as long as the tide keeps coming in.
Check out the best times to visit Woodbridge Tide Wheel at www.woodbridgetidemill.org.uk. Between Easter and September the mill is open seven days a week. Family and concession tickets are available.