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Winchester City Mill

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Winchester City Mill is a great example of how a small museum can be filled with interesting exhibits. It is run by the National Trust with paid staff on the entrance desk and in the shop but with volunteers running the mill. There are not many historic exhibits but that does stop this place from being full of interest.

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After passing through the shop you visit the main part of the mill a large open space. Half was once the mill with four millstones whilst the other half was a large granary. Today it is a large exhibition hall. Just one millsone has been reinstalled but there are plenty of exhibits as the images below show.

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There were a number of volunteers on duty who are trained to work the mill. Most have some experience of milling and a couple had worked for Hovis. I fell into conversation with Martin Gregory and my first question was how long the millstones lasted.

"About a hundred years. Millstone manufacturers never saw their customers twice" he smiled

Like most people I find millstones appealing objects but never thought there could be much about them to interest me. But Martin was took me on a very interesting journey. Transporting these heavey stones from the quarries was very hard in the middle ages so millers relied on local quarries. The problem was that the stone was poor quality and grit would often end up in the bread itself. Howevere from the seventeenth century transport improved an a number of centres in Europe became important. From then on all millstones in England came from Europe. The main centre was La Ferte just outside Paris. The stone here was reputed to be the best in the world. See here for an article on Millstones

When war broke out in 1939 the quaries were abandoned and as traditional millstones were no longer need they were not reopened for a number of decades. The La Ferte quarries have now reopened and continue to manufacture millstones for old mills and also companies like Hovis manufacturing stone ground flour.

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The design of the millstones varie.d from country to country. In England we have perpendicular groups which force the grain out of the millstones. There was a very useful model illustrating the  process

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Another interesting fact I learnt was that the millstones were made in sections and then slotted together like a jigsaw or wood carving joints. Cemeent was used to fill the gaps and an metail band held the whole thing together . I have seen  many old millstones which I thought were "broken" but which had simple lost sections. There was a good example of one of the old stones in the mill garden.

Other Exhibits

There was a whole variety of models and interactive exhibits which all illustrated different aspects of how mills worked. Here are some examples

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Audio recordings with actors reading diaries of characters associated with the mill

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An mini-millstone into which you could pour grain and produce flour

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The information panels were clear and easy to understand

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I rather liked this one as a variation

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A timeline consisting for cards suspended from string was another imaginative way of breaking away from the traditional information panel

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There was a working model which showed how all the parts of the mill worked

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A demonstration of pulleys added a bit of science to the displays and was good for young children who had never come across the concept before