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Page 7

Newsletter 104, Spring 2014  © Hampshire Mills Group

Eling Tide Mill in the news

Part of an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, February 20th 2014. Articles also appeared in the Southern Daily Echo, The Daily Telegraph and the Times on Tuesday 18th February



On the fringes of the New Forest, at the mouth of the River Test in Totton, Hampshire, is a piece of England that has lain undisturbed since the Domesday Book.

To one side, pastel-coloured rowing boats bob up and down with the ebbing tide; to the other lies a muddy millpond, scattered with fallen branches. Joining the two, on a toll bridge over the river, is Eling Tide Mill, one of just two working tide mills in the UK and the only one to regularly produce flour, around 10 tons of it – and two different varieties – a year.

It is an unassuming building – red brick, slightly tumbledown – with just a tiny signpost by its wooden door. Inside, low-slung beams and rough-hewn floorboards make it dark, dank and difficult to move around in, not unlike the conditions when it was first used more than 900 years ago.



Though steeped in history, Eling is not averse to change and, since it reopened in 1980 after nearly 40 years of decay, has been kept running by a succession of dedicated local volunteers. This week, an advertisement for a new, full-time miller (24 hours a week, no experience required) made national news, with applicants from all over the country bidding to keep the ancient tradition alive.

The man in charge of training the new recruit is David Plunkett, 70, Eling’s chief miller, who has worked here on a voluntary basis for almost 40 years. Plunkett, who greets me with oily workman’s hands and a set of creased white overalls, has agreed to show me the ropes and put me to the test as Eling’s first female miller.

“This has always been my escape from work, even though it has been more physically onerous than anything else I’ve done,” he explains. “It is a huge privilege to do this job because it is so rare and the surroundings are wonderful. I’ve trained up nearly every miller they’ve had here since 1975. It’s a great line of work but it’s not easy.”

David, who has been a stonemason and clerk of works at Windsor Castle, knows this place like his home. He can spot a bad grain of wheat with a glance; pick out a poorly oiled wheel from its creak. He was, he says, drawn by the building’s history.

Though no one knows when Eling was built, it was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086, and later owned by King John, who sold it to the Bishop of Winchester in the 1200s. The bishop entrusted it to a college he was building, now  the public school Winchester, which owned the mill (and leased it out) until the middle of the last century. 

Today the mill is run by the local council, who will pay the new recruit around £16,000 a year.

Its longevity illustrates just how vital tide mills once were throughout Europe and America, before the invention of the steam engine led to their gradual decline.

As well as milling flour, they were used for sawing wood, operating the bellows and hammers of ironworks, making cotton and grinding spices and gunpowder. Before it fell into disuse, Eling produced animal feed……..

One or two of the facts are not completely correct and are subject to artistic licence by the author - Sarah Rainey

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