New Hall Mill - Sutton Coldfield

It was on a soggy Sunday morning in May 2007 that I paid my first ever visit to New Hall Mill. Days open to the public are rare, so May 13th 2007 was a "must go see" day. I was not to be disappointed in spite of the weather. In fact, the weather contributed to the atmosphere of the place, the wet meadows and vegetable plots. The cafe was overflowing with thirsty visitors so I bypassed that pleasure and went straight into the Shop and then the Mill.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Friends of New Hall Mill

www.newhallmill.org.uk

A Guide to New Hall Mill, written by Friends of New Hall Mill, was first published in 1999 and last revised in 2005, although a new revised version is due out shortly. New Hall Mill is a privately owned water mill situated within the New Hall Country Park here in Sutton Coldfield. It is managed by New Hall Water Mill Preservation Trust (Reg Charity 502226) and operated by the Friends of New Hall Mill. Visit their website, link above, for more information.

New Hall Mill is Sutton Coldfield's only surviving mill. All the machinery has been lovingly restored and runs only on Open Days. Much care is spent on recreating the atmosphere of a working mill but also is covered by the million of Health & Safety laws that exist in our present day society. String sturdy steps take you up the three different levels of the Mill.  Unfortunately, due to size and age, it is unsuitable for disabled within the Mill, apart from the ground floor. Nevertheless, this would not distract from the enjoyment of the place.

There is also much to see outside the Mill with a short path cutting through the trees, the beautiful Mill pond. There is a longer path running around the meadow where you can see wild grasses and plants, according to season. The Exhibition Room, Toilets and Sales area were formerly stables and cow house.

The History of The Mill.

Just off Wylde Green Road, New Hall Water Mill is a two and a half storey high building of the 18th century, although parts of the mill and cottage are from an earlier age and could have been part of the first mill on the site, probably around the 1500s. A lease dated 20th September 1709 shows that the mill was then owned by George Sacheverell of New Hall. The lease also tells us that the mill had 4 pairs of stones. It does not say whether the were driven by two waterwheels, each working two pairs of stones, or four waterwheels, each working a single pair of stones.

In 1899 a loaf of bread made from wheat that had been cut, threshed, milled and baked all on the same day was sent to Queen Victoria. Since then, this feat has been repeated twice to commemorate the Silver and Golden Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II.

Benjamin Styles became miller in 1898. His forebears were a family of millers associated with windmills in East Warwickshire including Warmington, Burton Dassett and Upper Tysoe. He bought New Hall Mill in 1923 but sold it to the New Hall estate in 1928. New Hall Mill had returned to its former owners. Around 1960, difficulties in maintaining the water supplies led to the abandonment of water power in favour of diesel power. Alterations to the course of the Plantsbrook in the 60s finally cut off all water supplies to the Mill.

In 1970, Sir Alfred Owen decided to restore the mill to a full working mill. Following a full survey in 1971, work commenced in 1972. A new roof was was needed on the mill and wheelhouse. Floors and steps reformed and the mill pond drained and repuddled and the stream dredged out about 250 metres upstream. Wooden pen trough was repaired and an outer gate added to allow repairs without lowering the level of the pond. A holding tank was inserted, with a recycling pump, into the course of the tailrace to maintain water levels.

The internal staircases were added to afford public access. Workshop floor re-boarded as did much of the upper floor of the mill. Further remedial work was carried out in 1995 and 1996 and the mill was officially reopened on 12th May 1996, 10 years and 1 day before the date of typing this onto the net! The Friends of New Hall Mill was born in August 1996, the members of which work closely with the Trust to maintain the mill as well as operating the machinery on Open Days.

The mill as listed in the 1923 Sale Catalogue is virtually unchanged from that description. Local red brick forms the main part of the mill with part of the northern end is sandstone from a much earlier structure. The "hutch" protruding through the roof once contained the sack hoist mechanism. Although the roof is very heavily restored, some of the frames are of great age and may be been reused from an earlier building.

The curious Ďhutchí protruding through the tiled roof would once have housed part of the sack hoist mechanism. Although the roof has been heavily restored, some of the timbers in the main trusses are of great a and may have been re-used from an earlier building. The part of the cottage adjoining the mill is timber-framed and may not have been intended for domestic use but actually have been part of an earlier mill. The existence of three blocked openings into the mill would suggest this, also The tailrace from the northern waterwheel which actually passes beneath the cottage. The mill is fed by a relatively small pond which was originally connected by a long leat to the Ebrook. now called Plants Brook. Since the water supply was broken in the 1960s, the upper part has become silted and overgrown. Although the pond may once have fed as many as four internal waterwheels, by the late 18th century this was almost certainly reduced to two. A segmental arch in the brickwork near the foot of the fire escape shows where the water was taken into the mill at the northern end. The water would then return to the brook after passing beneath the cottage.

The southern wheel was situated near to the site of the present wheel. The water would have carried straight on into the mill to drive the second wheel. Now the water turns at a right angle and enters a wooden pentrough before flowing over the present wheel. It may have been intended to take the water away from this wheel, under the yard and down the tailrace which runs parallel to the outbuilding and then meanders across the field until it meets the brook near the road bridge. However, alterations to the supply and levels of water at Pennís Mill, downstream. may have prevented this new system from even being completed as the tailrace of the new wheel was connected to the existing tailrace, a tunnel which runs under the mill. Without a continuous water supply from the brook, water now has lobe recycled to keep the wheel turning. This is effected by collecting the water from the tailrace in a holding tank. When the tank is full, a powerful electric pump forces the water through a pipe back into the mill pond. Both the pond and the return outlet can he seen from a viewing platform.

The present waterwheel was added in the mid 19th century. It was made for Thomas Price. a millwright from Witton Lane, Hill Top, by George Turton, Iron and Brassfounder of Kidderminster. The wheel is difficult to date as many similar wheels were cast between 1840 and 1910, but Thomas Prie seems to have been in business from the 1860s, This waterwheel is overshot, fed from a wooden pentrough which has an unusual roller and which has an unusual roller and chain mechanism controlling the gate, carefully retained during restoration. The wheel measures 11 ft (3.35m) diameter by 6ft (1.83m) wide, with thirty-six buckets. Until early 1997, the bucket risers and the sole boards were made of wood which was rotten and need of replacement. As the mill is no longer run commercially, the wheel is stationary for long periods. The wood in the bottom half of the wheel would soak up the water, while the top half would dry out. Consequently half of the wheel was heavier than the other which unbalanced its motion, so it was decided to replace the rotten wood with iron. The wheel shaft is probably not the original as it is much too long, protruding 4ft (l.20m) from the end of the wheel. The additional length did prove useful in 1980 when the shaft sheared. The miller, Ben Davis. jacked up the shaft, cleaned up the end and drilled and tapped it so a new plate and gudgeon could be bolted on. All this he did on his own. Ben Davis was an expert at "make do and mend".

In the corner of the wheelhouse by the end of the shaft is a suggestion of a hearth and flue. It could be that the miller tried lighting fires to prevent the waterwheel freezing up in hard winters, a practice certainly used elsewhere.

Inside The Mill

As you enter the mill you will have the overriding impression that not much has changed since Ben Davis was in residence. Careful consideration has been given to maintaining the atmosphere of a working mill.

As you go through the door, in front of you is the main horizontal shaft. It is this that carries the drive to the millstones on the floor above, If you look up you can see the base of the bedstones on the floor above. There are two of them, with vertical shafts (stone spindles) passing through (heir centres. Attached to the lower end of each stone spindle is a gear called the stone nut, which meshes with a corresponding bevelled gear on the main horizontal shaft. The main horizontal shaft is driven by the large pit wheel, which is visible through a viewing hole in the wooden casing on the wall opposite the entrance door and to the left of the main horizontal shaft. The pit wheel is attached to the waterwheel shaft. Above the wooden casing is the handle which operates the sluice gate on the pentrough outside. This controls the amount of water flowing onto the waterwheel, and thus the speed of the machinery. To the right of the wooden casing is the meal trough, the spout above would have a flour sack attached to it to catch the flour.

TENTERING (ADJUSTING THE GAP BETWEEN THE STONES)

Just above the meal trough are two hand wheels, these are for adjusting the gap between the millstones. The gap between the runner stone (top stone) and the bedstone (lower stone) is critical, as it controls the fineness or coarseness of the flour. By turning the hand wheel, the tentering gear raises or lowers the stone spindle which is connected to the runner stone. The miller would stand by the meal trough and feel the quality of the flour as it emerged from the spout, and by turning the wheel he could adjust the gap accordingly. A belt drive connects the main shaft to overhead shafting through which it is possible to have all the auxiliary machinery in the mill driven by the waterwheel. However, the northern end is usually driven by the diesel engine, leaving an aspirator (on the second or Gamer Floor) and a meal creeper to be worked by water power.

To the left of the entrance door are the sack scales, complete with a full set of weights (Imperial), and the desk at which former millers sat to write their accounts. Receipts are kept on hooks over the window. The walls and window ledges are covered with tools and useful itemsí to keep both mill and small-holding running smoothly. Opposite the millerís steep ladder is the circular saw bench and the bottom of the sack hoist. Grain was lifted to the bins in the roof via the hoist and then fed through the machinery, reaching the ground floor as meal. There it was bagged and weighed and returned to the first floor to await collection, the ground floor being too damp for storage.

Beyond the sack hoist is the bagging point for a combined milling machine, behind which is a relatively modern hammer mill (the red and yellow machine). In this the grain was beaten through a mesh by fast spinning hammer like flails, the product being blown by a fan into the conical spout for bagging.

THE ENGINE ROOM

Through the door at the foot of the stairs is the engine room. This was once the pit where the northern waterwheel stood. If you look carefully at the walls you will notice the water intake and the marks left by the wheel. The pit has been filled to floor level and forms the base for a twin cylinder Ruston Hornby diesel engine which Ben Davis purchased from the Royal Show at Shrewsbury in 1949. The large tank in the corner of the room holds the cooling water essential for lengthy operations. The sandstone blocks which form much of the lower parts of the walls are thought to date from the first mill on this site.

STONE FLOOR (FIRST FLOOR)

The door on the right at the top of the stairs leads to the workshop where Ben Davis kept an enormous variety of tools, all in excellent condition. He was a great believer in doing things himself and in his own way. There is no public access to this workshop, but some of the historic collection of tools is now displayed in the millerís workshop on the top floor. On the left of the stairs is a combined milling machine, made by Henry Bamford and Sons in about 1904, which is driven by the diesel engine. It contains both a roller mill and a plate mill which can be selected according to the product required. that is, whether it is to be crushed or ground. A set of replacement plates can be seen in their box nearby. A second combined milling machine, made by Harrison McGregor stands nearby. Further along is the trap door for the sack hoist. At the southern end of the stone floor are the two pairs of millstones and a hand-operated winnower. This machine contains sieves and a fan which help to separate various seeds and chaff from the wheat before milling. Another popular feature on the stone floor is the rotary quern, one of the earliest types of mill. This modern version was imported from India, where querns are still in daily use. In England, the use of querns declined from medieval times, nevertheless this modern one gives visitors hands-on experience of an historic method of milling grain.

THE STONES

Both pairs of millstones are French Burr stones, usually imported in pieces from quarries in France. then shaped and made up by specialist millstone manufacturers in this country. The best stone was thought to be from the quarries at La Fertť-sous Jouarre near Paris. The rock is a kind of chert, a sedimentary rock with flinty particles. When chipped, the stone produces a very hard, sharp cutting edge which is ideal for grinding. Stones of this quality were originally intended for flour production but in more recent times have been used to make animal feed. The pieces of stone are held together with iron bands and a simple plaster of Paris mortar. There are 4 or 5 bands on the runner stone (upper stone). As the stone gradually wears away, a band is cut off. When the stone has worn down to the last band, its weight has mostly gone and it is time to relegate it to be used as another door-step or part of a wall. Ben Davis acquired replacement stones from mills which were closing down, at least one coming from Furnace End Mill at Over Whitacre. Perhaps this explains why the western pair are not even the same diameter.

British stones are mostly millstone grit. Derbyshire Peak stone being the most common, and are usually hewn in one solid piece. These stones are much softer than French Burr but produce a meal of a pleasing soft texture, being mainly used for barley and oats. Some of these stones, partly made, are still to be seen high up on the hills of Derbyshire, abandoned when so many mills stopped working before the First World War. Two old stones of this type can be found outside the front door of the mill. The bedstone (lower stone) is bedded fast in the floor and the runner stone revolves on the stone spindle with a small adjustable gap between the two stones. The grain enters the centre (eye) of the runner stone and grooves cut in the working face of both stones help to reduce the grain to meal as it travels from the eye to the skirt (edge).

DRESSING THE STONES

The grooves in the stones have to be re-cut at intervals. To do this, the runner stone has to be lifted. When new, a French Burr stone can weigh over a ton. A stone crane was added during restoration to make lifting the stone an easier task. Ben Davis preferred his block and tackle, mounted on a scaffold pole laid across a few joists on the floor above. Not surprisingly this system has been declared unsafe. Once the stone has been lifted, the miller, or a specialist stone dresser, would use a mill bill to level and sharpen the stone and cut the furrows deeper. A mill bill is a double edged tool made of tempered steel, which is wedged into a wooden handle (a thrift). Stone dressing requires a delicate touch and many hours of patient work to complete. As he worked away, pieces of stone and metal would dislodge and become embedded in the stone dresserís hands. An employer was able to determine a stone dresserís experience by asking him to hold up his hands and show his metal.

When a new runner stone is placed in position, it has to be trued up in a similar way to balancing a car wheel after fitting a new tyre. To do this, molten lead is poured into holes at the edge of the stone until it runs free of vibration. Towards the next flight of stairs are a small Bamford plate mill, a belt-driven grindstone, and the drum of a machine which was possibly used for cleaning grain. At the foot of the stairs, on the right hand side, is a pleasant view of the mill pool which is a haven for wild life as well as providing the motive power for the mill.

THE GARNER (SECOND OR ATTIC FLOOR)

Grain was stored in sacks on the top floor and tipped into chutes or bins which led down to the stones or other milling machines. Just below the top floor can be seen the mechanism of the sack hoist. This is a rather late variety operated by two grooved friction wheels being brought into contact by rope operated levers. This replaced a system which would have been housed in the hutch rising through the roof. When the miller raised sacks on the hoist, which could be operated from any floor, he listened to the trap doors as they banged shut after the sack passed through them. For a lift from the ground floor, the miller counted three bangs; after the third he knew the sack had reached the top floor. He then released the rope that disengaged the hoist and the sack would settle down on top of the closed trap door. Being a Ďone-man operation meant that much time was spent climbing up and down the ladder-like stairways. Visitors are now much better served by the spacious flight of stairs installed during reconstruction in 1972. At the southern end of the Garner is a hopper that feeds the aspirator. This machine has a fan which sucks dust, chaff and light seeds from the wheat before it is put through the winnower on the stone floor below. At the northern end of the Garner is a reconstruction of a millerís workshop and store.


HOW IT WORKS

The miller opens the sluice gate to allow water from the mill pond to pass over the waterwheel, As the water fills the buckets, the weight of the water pulls the wheel round. The turning waterwheel drives the machinery that turns the millstones. Grain in sacks is hoisted to the garner floor by means of the sack hoist, then tipped into storage bins. Gravity feeds the grain from the bins down a chute through the aspirator to the stone floor below where it enters a hopper which feeds the winnower. The cleaned grain is then transferred to the hopper above the millstones. A vibrating shoe then feed the grain into the centre of the millstones. As the grain travels towards the edge of the stones, the weight of the upper stone grinds the grain into meal. The mill stones are surrounded by a wooden casing called a tun. This contains the meal as it emerges from the edge of the stones. Gravity again takes over as the meal falls through a hole and down a chute to the bagging point on the ground floor. Flour sacks are attached to the bottom of the chute to catch the flour. When the sacks are full they are weighed and then hoisted to the stone floor to await collection. The full sacks could then be lowered down through the loading door on to carts for delivery. See below for glossary of terms.


A Millís Tale

I am an old water mill in the Royal Town of Sutton.
I do my work well and donít care a button.
Iíve stood all my life on this very same spot,
I use the park water and donít waste a lot.
Iíve a fine waterwheel, which is termed overshot,
and the stones turn round just like a top.
I have a good friend, in the squire of the Hall,
I supply all the flour as fast as they call.
I grind for the farmers and others besides,
I give them good weight and measure likewise.
I ground some wheat once, that was reaped on the same day,
And in less then six hours it was bread on the tray.
There were seventy nice loaves, so good to digest,
and everyone said Ďtwas a very good test.
The demand for bread which was very keen,
That a loaf was sent to our late belovíd queen.
I make a good picture, I wish you to know,
Iíve hung in the gallery three months for a show.
Iím hundreds of years old, if my days were all numbered.
Iíve always stood firm if its hailíd, rained or thundered.
I had a severe test when Wyndley Pool burst,
Of all the great floods, this was the worst.
In conclusion I ask you to give a call,
And leave some good orders for the mill at New Hall.

Benjamin Styles, February 1903

GLOSSARY

ARMS Spokes of a water wheel.
ASPIRATOR A machine for cleaning the grain.
BEDSTONE The lower and stationary mill stone.
BIN Container for grain. on the top or gamer floor.
BIST Small bag of bran, to support the arm or knee when stone dressing.
BUCKETS Fittings on waterwheel to hold water.
COGS Teeth of gear wheel.
DAMSEL A metal bar, turn by the runner stone that agitates the shoe, and so supplies grain into the runner stone.
EYE Centre of millstone.
FLOOD GATE Sluice to divert water from waterwheel to overflow stream.
GRIST Refers to animal feed ground at mill.
HAMMER MILL A machine with revolving flails that break open the grain.
HORIZONTAL Main shaft which carries the drive from the pit wheel to
SHAFT the stone spindles.
HURST or HURSTING Metal or timber frame supporting millstones.
HOPPER A receiver, shaped lake an inverted pyramid that feeds grain to the stones.
LEAT Man-made open water course to feed the mill.
MILL BILL A forge-edged double ended chisel type tool for dressing mill stones.
MILLERS WILLOW Piece of wood used as a spring to agitate the shoe.
NECK BOX Bearing in centre of bedstone.
OVERSHOT WHEEL A waterwheel that is fed with water at the top and takes energy from the weight of water in the bucket.
PAINT STAFF Wooden straight-edge for testing the flatness of mill stones.
PINION Smaller gear of a pair.
PIT WHEEL The gear wheel mounted on the waterwheel shaft.
PLATE MILL A machine that grinds grain between metal plates.
RACE Channel of water, to or from the wheel
ROLLER MILL A machine that crushes grain between metal rollers.
RYND A metal bar across the eye of the runner stone.
SACK HOIST Device for raising sacks of grain to bin or garner floor.
SHOE Agitated chute, from hopper to eye of runner stone.
SHROUD Outer casing at circumference of waterwheel to produce enclosed water bucket.
SKIRT Outer edge of Stone.
SOLE PLATE Bottom board of bucket on waterwheel.
STAFFING Checking the flatness of mill stone surface.
STONE CRANE A device for lifting a runner stone
STONE NUT Pinion that drives the stone spindle.
STONE SPINDLE Shaft that supports and drives the runner stone.
TAIL RACE Open stream below waterwheel.
TENTERING Process of regulating the space between bed and runner stone.
THRIFT A wooden handle for holding a mill-bill used in dressing the stone.
TUN Wooden casing round mill stones.
WINNOWING Removing the chaff and dirt from grain.




WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW

New Hall Mill is a privately owned water mill situated within the New Hall Country Park. It is managed by the
New Hall Water Mill Preservation Trust (Registered Charity No. 502226) and operated by the Friends of New Hall Mill.
By becoming a Friend, you and your family will be helping to preserve and develop one of the most
significant examples of Britainís industrial heritage in this part of the Midlands.

April 12 2012


A 'Hive' of actvity

May 2013

The narrative is reproduced by kind permission of the Friends of New Hall Mill and cannot be reproduced in any format or downloaded without their permission.
The information has been updated in 2005 from original publication in 1999. The photographs are mine.

 


ASK FOR FURTHER DETAILS IN THE MILL,
IN THE EXHIBITION ROOM,
OR VISIT OUR WEBSITE:

www.newhallmill.org.uk

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