Following a career in the civil service which took him around the world Mike has been involved with the restoration and upkeep of Hardley Mill for many years.
I was born in central Norwich, and went to school at Norwich School where my father was English and Art master before becoming headmaster. After leaving school in 1957 I did my national service and went to university where I read Survey and Geodesy. Whilst there we had a visit from the two deputy directors of Directorate of Overseas Surveys and it sounded an interesting job so I applied and I got the provisional appointment and I attended the School of Military Survey at Hermitage near Newbury. After which I joined the civil service, which took me all over world working in many countries such as North Borneo, Zambia, Kenya. After getting married we went to Guyana for ten months and then two years at Ordnance Survey in the Development Unit.
I spent twenty years between my twentieth and sixtieth birthdays out of the country. On January 21st 1998 my sixtieth birthday, being a civil servant I was thrown out and came home.
Interest in mills, meeting neighbours, Hardley Mill and Peter Grix
My wife being a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, we went on a jaunt with the Geographical Society to attend the Denver sluices and we also visited the mill. This was the first time that I had ever seen a windmill. It wasn’t turning as they hadn’t got a miller there to run it. I appreciated some of the skills needed.
We moved into our home here in December 1995 and got to know our neighbours immediately as we had to borrow a first aid kit as one of the removal men broke something and cut his head.
In 2002 my neighbour thought that I was looking bored. I was doing tree preservation for the council. So I went with my neighbour, who knew Peter Grix, to the mill where they were putting the pine beams in under the third floor. Peter was a Norwich man who became an architect and had always wanted to restore windmills.
When he retired he considered several. The ones he looked at in detail were Brograve and Benet’s level, they were turned down though because he couldn’t lease them. So he finished up with this one. The odd thing is that all three of those had internal appold turbines, a pure coincidence I think.
Normally in England we have the scoop wheel, which turns on a horizontal axis scooping water up. The appold turbine was developed in the mid 19th century and was exhibited at the Great Exhibition. It spins on a vertical axis at considerable speed, a 100 rpm or faster and it has a circular turning rotor which turns round and round and throws the water out sideways by centrifugal force. It is more efficient, a lift wheel can lift a third at most of the diameter of the wheel. So if you want a five foot lift you have got to have a sixteen foot wheel, which is quite big.
An appold turbine will cheerfully lift five foot quite easily. We have ours running at up to 120 rpm, lifting six tonnes a minute.
Hardley Mill – a brief history
Hardley Mill stands twenty yards from the banks of the river Yare, about a mile from the nearest tarmac road. The mill was commissioned by Thomas William Brograve Proctor-Beauchamp (to give him his full name), who owned all that land and paid for the schools in Thurton and Loddon.
He gave the contract to Dan England who was a Ludham based publican and millwright. In one of the censuses he said that as a millwright he had three employees. We think that the entire cap was built in the shed or whatever he had in Ludham. They then took it apart, loaded it onto a wherry, brought it round and unloaded straight onto site.
Proctor-Beauchamp wanted the mill to be built to improve the marshes. Digging ditches to drain a marsh requires a large capital investment so you tend to keep the pattern of the ditches the same. If you look at the map of 1842 and the present one the ditches are all in the same pattern.
The mill was built in 1874 and somewhere around 1900 they established a steam pump where the electric pump stands now, about 120 yards north of the present one.
In 1926 the mill was restored and then in 1949 the cap got back winded and then in 1953 we had the great surge and I believe that the bank broke somewhere down towards Hardley. After the surge almost all of the marshes were under water. Someone decided to get the old mill/pump working again. A small tractor was rafted in and set up outside the doorway and a hole knocked in the wall. A new low-level countershaft was installed with an inverted/new turbine wheel and a smaller pit wheel. I think these were all salvaged or reused items as it had metal teeth driving wooden ones (‘typical for flour mills but wrong for pumps’ – Vincent Pargeter). It was driven by a belt. It didn’t work.
A second, bigger tractor was rafted in and a hole made in the south wall of the tower. These two tractors were run in tandem and worked satisfactorily; it was then found that once started the bigger tractor could be stopped and the small one left to run on its own. This spring while talking to Paul Kemp I realised that the depth of water in the turbine well above the sill of the outlet weighted about four tons so it was not surprising that the small tractor had struggled to get the water in the well to spin at the necessary speed, 110+ rpm.
I have been told that the brother of John Capps (who used to run Thurton Foundry) who was articled as an Agricultural Engineer rowed across from Langley Street every morning, refuelled and fettle the tractors and rowed back to switch off in the evening. My informant told me the dinghy was moored to the pear tree in their orchard at the time.
It was at about this time, I think, that electricity reached Hardley and they brought a line across the marshes and they put in the big electric pump. This pump had automatic cut outs and doesn’t need day to day supervision. So our mill with its ruined cap was no longer in use. A wall by the doorway was patched up and they nailed corrugated iron across the doorway.
David Wright whose father owned some land in the area said that as teenagers he and his brothers got inside the mill, pulling off the corrugated iron, and went up to the first floor. They decided that it was unsafe and came back down again. It does make me wonder just what it was like if three teenagers in the mid 1950s decided something was unsafe.
Acquiring Hardley Mill and the start of restoration
The Langley estate had sold the mill to the inland drainage board in 1944 and they granted access along the track running across the march to the drainage board, its agents, factors, employees and contractors. Anybody having business working on the mill had the right of access. It wasn’t a public access it was restricted for the mill maintenance.
The drainage board didn’t want to lease it to an individual, so they leased it to Norfolk County Council who then leased it to Peter. In order to get a European Union LEADER Plus grant, a Trust was formed and the lease was transferred to the Trust.
When Peter first got the mill it was in a shocking state. It had the ruins of the cap, I think that there were two of the main four ribs left, half the brake wheel was up in the cap and the other half was broken on the floor inside. The wind shaft, which carries the brake wheel had disappeared. I have heard since from Paul Kemp who had heard it from Vincent Pargeter that it had been salvaged, but I have no idea where it is now.
Peter collected a group of friends to come and help him. They had bought the last surviving part of the gym at Wymondham College, which was a Nissen hut and started life as the 8th Army Air Force hospital. They could work inside the Nissen hut. He lifted the cap off, and hired a crane to lift out the innards, wallower shaft, and bits and pieces.
Peter spent a great deal of his time working on the restoration of the mill, and to quote Peter as far as his wife was concerned ‘mill is a four letter word’. He would Work on the mill on his own on Tuesdays, I would work on it with him on Wednesdays and sometimes Greg, my neighbour who Peter stayed with, would help. He then did some more work on it on Thursdays before driving home to Hounslow on Thursday evenings.
The Friends of the Mill was established to organise help to restore the mill, and there were roughly between twenty to thirty people involved.
I was able to use some of my skills learned through my work on the mill. I had enjoyed woodwork and I knew what I was doing using a chainsaw, working in Borneo I had learnt how to use a motor driven saw so I was expert on that as well, including on how to assemble it.
I discovered quite early on that I was I knew how to tie knots in ropes or being pedantic bends better than anybody else did. So I took over all the tying and joining of ropes.
Brickwork in very poor condition
The brickwork was bad and Peter had produced a programme for doing it, but it was delayed, I get the impression from reading the letters that the Internal Drainage Board was being awkward. Then suddenly a group from the county council were saying ‘you are behind time with your progress you must start pointing the mill straight away’.
So against his professional judgement but under pressure Peter used a builder to undertake the repointing of the lower stages of the mill. The work was done in freezing conditions and lime mortar was used so it wasn’t successful and we had to redo it. That was the start of the work on the brickwork and he was working on it for many years.
The turbine – a new one was needed
When we had got the floors in I said to Peter that it would be nice if we could get the turbine turning and he agreed. The old turbine was so heavily corroded that it couldn’t be repaired, we did have £400 for renovation but there was just no question of that being possible. So we looked at it and Peter produced a drawing which we passed to a pattern maker, whose name escapes me, who was based in a village south of Reepham.
We took the old one out by using a thirty hundred weight chain hoist which used to belong to the Coal Board. We dismantled what was left of the turbine mounting , and noticed that the original turbine wheel had disappeared. Another one had been brought in from somewhere else but it had been put in upside down. Rudy had descended into the turbine well and stood on a ladder and cut the bolts joining the two flanges of the turbine shaft. In doing this he set fire to his overalls because he didn’t notice which way the sparks were flying.
When we put the floor in we had left little hatches about twelve inches by fifteen inches so we could lift things in and out of the turbine well. We’d also left a set of hatches over by the front door all the way up to the third floor so we could hoist things up. And we had another pair of hatches for the crown wheel shaft, which came up through the first floor.
Later on these hatches got bigger, the hatch over the turbine shaft was stretched so we could put a RSJ across between the two beams and then move heavy loads such as the turbine and its shaft along it. The turbine weighs 500 kilos and there is also the turbine wheel which probably weighs 150 kilos. All this weight falls onto four flanges on the turbine shaft which fit onto four bronze bearing surfaces. These have lost about 2mm on all their surfaces so we are waiting for these to be repaired which means that the pump is not turning at present.
Crane days are the days when we had to hire a crane to lift something off. On the first crane day they lifted off the old cap. We had the second crane day in 1996 and they cleared the inside of the tower. The crane day in 2005 was when we put the wallower shaft back inside, resting on the crown wheel shaft.
June 2007 was our fourth crane day and fitted the steel collar on top of the brickwork, this was to give us some more headroom. The collar was about three foot high with a waterproof lid resting on that.
The crane day of 2008 saw us put the wooden curb and track in as one piece under the collar and then put the collar back on top of that. This day was also when we put the wind shaft and brake wheel sections into position in the cap, which we had built in the Nissen hut.
Another crane day saw us all join and the cap was lifted on and the stocks and clamps fitted. Towards the end of the afternoon Wally Gould and I watched as Vincent Pargeter sitting on the clamp moved himself to the end of the clamp pushing the big galvanised U-bolt. When he got there he reached down and put the plate over the ends which just hung there till he produced a nut from his pocket and fitted it. He then produced a second nut for the other end and a spanner to tighten them. I hadn’t realised he was pushing so much stuff in front of him. These nuts were at least 450mm below where he was sitting. All this was done with no safety harness at all. Wally and I were ‘gob-smacked’. We then had to turn the sails so the other three sets of U-bolts could be fixed to the other sails.
Restoration complete but now maintenance becomes the main job
Some years ago I came back to my wife and said ‘I think we’ve finished restoration’, she was worried because she thought that possibly she was going to have me at home seven days a week.
But within three months I realised that we had an ongoing maintenance campaign. We fund all our work ourselves and the repointing of the lower brickwork needs doing.
Peter never saw the mill working, by that time he was wheelchair bound at home, but I did send him a video clip of the pit wheel turning, he was almost speechless with joy seeing that, he was delighted. He left us a tremendous legacy, inspiring us all.
Crane Day 17th April 2009 (Photos Hardley Mill Archives)
Visitors to the mill, the need for more promotion
Once LEADER Plus decided that we really were doing things seriously they were very helpful. They told us that we needed a visitor centre and a mooring, and they were right because we get 90% of visitors by having a mooring. We get people who are walking the Wherryman’s Way come to visit too.
We charge adults £3 a head if they come round the mill, and children can come up for nothing. We do charge if they moor their boats for the night. Although sometimes when I am showing people around they put money in a donation box and actually we often get more than a comfortable margin that way.
We have got people who come down and run the visitor centre and teas, coffees and cakes, very nice cakes I’m told, and we make quite a lot of money at weekends.
We are quite hard to find, initially a small number of people walking the Wherryman’s Way would notice the mill and come and talk to us. Once we got the cap on and the sails turning that was when we started getting visitors, they could see the sails when they were down below Reedham.
Last week one of our visitors produced a booklet produced by the Broads Authority which didn’t mention Hardley Mill at all.
We have had an ongoing campaign with Ordnance Survey and their tourist map, that would they please show the fact that we’ve got a mill here, with charging facilities and mooring facilities. We also want them to take off the map the mill at the other end of Claxton which doesn’t and has never existed.
I think that possibly better publicity is what is needed, because at present we are dependent on the sails turning and people seeing us ten miles away. If the sails aren’t turning we’re just relying on people seeing the notice on the mooring saying ‘mill open’ and people can often go past it before they notice it.
Health and safety
When we started we cheerfully talked about having this and that unscreened, but were told that we had to have things screened, for safety reasons. So now we have everything screened with heavy gauge wire and we’ve probably got a better screened set of drive mechanism than most people. I do tell people that that’s as close as they’ll ever get to a turning brake wheel.
When we pack up in the evening we apply the brake and if I go down the next day and it’s blowing I just leave the brake on. We then put the listing strop through the brake wheel and that’s anchored back on the sheer of the cap.
The need for new volunteers who aren’t afraid of heights
We are always in need of volunteers. Wally and I are in our eighties so we need young people who are quite happy working at heights. It’s a state of mind, some people are quite happy looking through the platform that they are standing on to the bottom, others aren’t. Depending on the platform sometimes I’m worried, sometimes I’m not. This one I’m happy on, perhaps because I built it so I am confident.
We don’t currently have any young people involved in the group. The trouble is we do all our maintenance during the week and young people are working. I think that there are some younger people who come down and volunteer at the weekends. We’ve got people who are quite happy to run the centre, talk to people but we don’t have people who are prepared to tackle the forty foot climb to the top.
On a good day you will do that eight times, you open the mill up, then you take six parties round and then you’ll close it up at the end of the day. My record is seventeen times in one day.
Shortage of millwrights
There are very few millwrights around, there is Richard Seago in Norfolk, Paul Kemp based in Tilbury, Tim Whiting in north Suffolk and somebody who is supervising the work on Horsey who’s based in the north Midlands.
A few years ago the Broads Authority set up an apprenticeship scheme and seven men worked on that scheme but I’m not sure how many are currently working.
Importance of looking after the mill
A mill is a timber structure, out in the open, exposed to the weather. If you don’t paint it, look after it, hold its hand and check its repointing then it’s going to fall down.
Any structure which goes up thirty or forty foot in the air you’ve either got to keep in good order or somebody is going to serve an order telling you to demolish it.
Mike Stephenson (b. 1938) talking to WISEArchive on 30th August 2019 in Marsham.
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