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Page 7

Newsletter 125 Summer 2019   © Hampshire Mills Group

 

 

Bere Mill, Whitchurch

 

 

Ivor New
Photos by Eleanor Yates

 

The Bere Mill complex of buildings was largely burnt down in a major fire just over a year ago.  The house was badly damaged with the roof, its interior, and much of the exterior walling being destroyed.  The mill and barn fared even worse with essentially everything except heavy metal, foundations, and some walling being consumed by the fire.  The house has now been rebuilt and restored to a high standard, so attention has turned to the renovation of the mill.

Rupert and Elizabeth Nabarro, the mill owners, invited a team from HMG to visit the mill to discuss the possible options available before they start this work

The mill proper is set over the River Test upstream of Whitchurch.  It has been used for various tasks over its life but in the early years of the 20th century it was converted into an electrical power generating station to provide power to the Laverstoke papermill which is about a mile away via the direct footpath, and a little further via the river.

 

 

A Gilkes turbine with automatic sluice control was installed to drive a 440V generator.  The power from this was fed to the paper mill via a cable described as coaxial, which was later sold to supply power to St Michaels Mount.  As it was clearly a submersible cable one can but speculate that it could have been laid on the river bed for speed and cheapness of installation and ease of removal.

After the second world war the turbine was refurbished and the generator rewound to provide 40A at 220V DC, nominally 8.8kW, but in practice probably providing a maximum of about 7.5kW.  

 

The power generated, being at half the earlier voltage, would have been much safer, and in addition to supplying Laverstoke power was also made available locally.  This change would mean that the supply cable would need twice the current rating to supply the same power so the original one was replaced.  This configuration remained intact and was operated, at least intermittently, to provide power on site until it was destroyed by the fire.

When we arrived, Rupert welcomed us and described the general state of the buildings.  He then took us to view the remains of the mill.

 

Generator (above), meters and
electrical distribution equipment (on right).

 

It was a sad sight with virtually nothing remaining except the stabilised foundations with the vertically mounted turbine in situ together with the burnt-out metal work of the drive gearing, turbine controls, generator, meters and electrical distribution equipment.  All the auxiliary equipment, with the possible exception of the bevel gear at the top of the turbine shaft, is almost certainly beyond economic repair.

 

The cast iron bevel gear, while only in the order of a metre in diameter and comprising a rim with mortices to locate the wooden cogs and six heavy flanged spokes, in all weighs in the order of ¼-½ ton.  The expansion caused by the intense heat has caused stress cracking or breaking associated with each of the six segments of the wheel.

The most obvious issues are:  a compound break in the circumference; two broken spokes; and two segments with hairline cracks in the circumference.  Even with all this damage the wheel is all in one piece so it is understood that a specialist company may be able to repair it, but it might be simpler to use the broken wheel as a pattern to cast a new one.

The later years of the 19th and early years of the 20th century were important in the development of power generation and transmission.  It was over these years that the principles of electricity generation and effective distribution as a utility became understood.  The mill’s unusual and historically important configuration which was installed at this time makes it a prime candidate for conservation as even in its current state it provides a good insight into an unusual example of the technology of the time.  

 

Assuming the mill owners accept this, it would seem there are three basic routes that could be followed:

1.   Stabilise and conserve the equipment of this historically important system into a ‘museum’ exhibit.

2.   Repair, refurbish, and source replacement equipment, as required, to rebuild the generation equipment and generation capability to that which was lost, the aim being to maintain the historical integrity of the site.

3.   Undertake basic conservation as in option 1 (but accepting some detailed changes may be needed for this option to work) and then install a modern generating capability with the new turbine being installed in the headrace just upstream of the old one.  The installation should be designed to minimise changes to the existing environment, although some changes to the hatches and around the old turbine would probably be necessary.  It is anticipated that any new generating system would be fitted with modern electronic controls that would allow power generated in manual mode to be used locally, and power generated in auto mode to be fed into the grid. 

Clearly any work done must fit in with long term plans for the mill and will have its own attributes and costs.  The mill owners will clearly have an unenviable task as they try to balance the cost benefit equation that will inevitably have to be resolved.

 

On a historical note, all the well-known information regarding the mill has it springing into life when the mill house was built in 1711.  It does seem surprising that this clearly viable location had not been used previously as a mill site.  When looking at the 25,000 Ordnance Survey map while writing this a surprising detail was noticed – Bere Mill is written in antique lettering, which means at some stage the mapping survey thought the mill was a ‘non-Roman site of antiquity’.  It would be interesting to see if this is the case.

Finally, we would like to thank Rupert and Elizabeth for their hospitality and the opportunity to see the mill in its current sad state, and hope our visit was useful.  We wish them well in their endeavours to bring the mill back to a useful form that will enable it to survive well into the future.

 

Planning Applications have been lodged with Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council for repairs to Bere Mill.   

The Basingstoke Gazette of 18 May 2019 reports here.

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