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Newsletter 106, Autumn 2014  © Hampshire Mills Group


Basil Thomas Hunt

17 April 1925 - 20 July 2014

by Sheila M Viner     




We record here with great sadness, the passing of a dear, well respected friend and head miller at Longbridge Mill.  Basil Hunt died in his sleep aged 89.

Basil was born near Aylsham, close to the Norfolk/Suffolk border, into a large family of agricultural workers mainly based at Beccles in Suffolk, but moved to Hampshire when his father secured a job on the Earl of Portsmouthís Farleigh Wallop estate sometime in the 1930s.  Basil went into employment there; however, it was short lived as, at the tender age of 15, Basil had a contretemps with the Estate Manager who had berated him for being 15 minutes late for work on one freezing winterís morning; deep snow had made the lanes impassable and Basil had struggled to get his bicycle over many a hedge and stile, wading knee deep through the icy snow determined to arrive at his workplace.  On being met with admonishment, Basil was then equally determined to find alternative employment Ė one which would give him a trade, a good wage and more reasonable working conditions without the added humiliation of tugging his forelock to his masters. He signed up to the Royal Navy as a stoker, when he reached 18, and thus began a life long love of boilers, pipes and flues which was to stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.

Corvettes, destroyers and latterly an aircraft carrier were the craft which he served on during the Second World War but before being discharged served in a more unusual capacity Ė as a guard during the War Crimes Trials of some senior Japanese officers including the infamous Tojo. You will find Basilís name on the Roll of Honour at Pamber Heath Memorial Hall.

The boiler room in the power station for AWRE, Aldermaston, is where Basil spent the rest of his working life. He enjoyed training apprentice stokers and it was also there that he learned of the proposed restoration of the steam engines at Crofton Beam Engine Pumping Station on the Kennet & Avon Canal. The restoration team benefited from his knowledge and experience for several years and he was always invited back for their annual dinners. His design was adopted for the badge and logo of the Kennet & Avon Canal Society.  Kew Steam Museum also benefited from his expertise and it was their disappointment to fail to secure him as a permanent worker there - as Basil was very proud to relate.

Hampshire Mills Group was extremely fortunate to gain him as a member who also learned to mill at Longbridge Mill in the 1990s.  Basil had visited the old watermill many times beforehand, getting to know Harold Lailey, the last Miller, plus he took many photographs of the millís transition from dereliction, through ravage by fire and, later, complete restoration; these he proudly showed to many visiting groups and which he wished to be placed in the Hampshire Mills Group Archives.

Basil took his mill duties very seriously and each week he would spend time there checking the machinery and running the waterwheel for a couple of hours whilst he enjoyed lunch. The restaurant staff all grew fond of him. He was always there for the monthly milling, and even in June he was still using the millís steep ladder-like steps and eschewing the broad public, easier to use, staircase to reach the stones floor.  Basilís carpentry skills remain within Longbridge Mill too, as down the years he has kept the wheel Ďafloatí, made the hopper and tun cover plus replacement bill handles, and numerous cogs and starts. 

 In the Groupís autumn 2013 newsletter he was declared to be the Oldest Known Working Miller - certainly in Hampshire if not the whole of England. That raised an embarrassed chuckle from him but he seemed quite chuffed. Other Hampshire watermills knew his ministrations as a member of the groupís work party as he was always ready to wield a spanner or drag some weeds from the tail race. HMG member Eleanor Yates relates one particular incident: ďIn 2007 Kingsley & I went to spend a day 'helping' at Longbridge.  Basil was replacing some missing wooden wedges and pegs in the wheel and I went inside with him to hold the torch and a bag of 'Basil-made pegs'.  Each time we finished a section the wheel was turned slowly so we could work on another spoke.  Until the fateful moment when the wheel escaped its minders and started turning much too quickly and two elderly hamsters could be heard running round inside the wheel.  Even after the wheel was stopped we weren't rescued until the pegs had been retrieved from the Loddon!  No bones were broken.Ē

The Norfolk boy never forgot his roots and regular visits to Beccles ensued over the years as he was always invited to his friends there for Christmas. For the last two years that Basil was unable to drive they came to fetch him from Basingstoke so that he should be with them to celebrate with their families.

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