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Page 4

Newsletter 120, Spring 2018   © Hampshire Mills Group



Soberton Mill, River Meon



Ruth Andrews

Photos by Imogen and Douglas Lyndon-Skeggs and Ruth Andrews


I would like to thank HMG members Imogen and Douglas Lyndon-Skeggs who invited us to Soberton Mill on 14 January 2018 to show us the sluice repairs and newly-dredged headrace, which has enabled the mill to regain its water supply.  They very patiently also let us re-visit the mill and take a few photos. This Georgian mill (below left) is unusual because, although being unrestored, it is securely roofed and moderately safe to enter.  The milling machinery is long gone, but a few tantalising clues to its configuration remain.



We entered the stones floor (above right) from the gravel drive outside the much altered and enlarged mill house, and descended to the flour floor where we found our first curiosity.  The ladder from the stones floor descends into a circular brick compartment (below left).  This feature is most unusual for an English mill.  It looks as if it might once have housed the wallower and great spur wheel.  The brick section supports the bearings and tentering gear for two stone spindles (below right).  We do not understand the purpose of the windows, but they may have been added after the milling machinery was removed. 



Outside the circular feature there are pulleys for belts from the Armfield turbine which was installed in the early 1930s in the external wheel pit.  It occurred to me later looking at my photos that the original wooden floor at this level was missing, exposing what looks like it could have been an older waterway or even a wheel pit.


We then ascended to the bin floor (below left) where things were much more familiar.  As Imogen pointed out, the massive timbers throughout the mill are once again from a wooden ship (think Chesapeake) and there are several interesting initials and dates, for example ‘DB 1848’, ‘J Cal 1888’, and ‘R Smith’ (below right).




Imogen and Douglas aim to install a turbine and generate electricity but for now the old turbine (a 12inch single-head side gate ‘River Patent’ Armfield) is clearly visible below the newly-invigorated waterfall in the wheel pit (above).  Imogen tells me that the turbine and a generator was installed by Bernard Wharburton-Lee, the first VC of the second world war, who was a massive enthusiast and lived at the mill house.  He died at Narvik in 1940 aged 44 and is buried in Norway.  He was the last person to do restoration work of any note on the millstream.  He straightened and concrete-lined the part of the leat close to the house and made extensive tunnels for the waterways under the drive to pass water through the turbine or overflow through a channel and then back into the river downstream.  The generator produced the first electricity for the house and the turbine was later turned into a water-pump to boost the low water pressure in the house.



Having satisfied ourselves with the mill, Imogen and Douglas and the dogs took us a walk up the very long embanked Tudor head race.  The original mill was built well above the flood plain of the Meon and the leat was utilised for water meadows.  In the past, dredging was done by horses dragging square chains to raise the silt and flush it downstream.  These chains are still in the mill (below left).  Over the years the leat had become very silted-up and the sluices had decayed. 



Walking up the embankment now, it is very hard to believe the amount of work that went into dredging the channel.  The masses of silt dredged out of the waterway have been cleverly contoured to look like part of the embankment.  The difficulty in using a digger is the need to avoid piercing the clay lining.  The picture above right shows the final moment when the earth dam holding back the water was about to be removed.


One of the reasons that the mill lost its water supply was that the sluice to the water meadows decayed.  The embankment was strengthened and the site of the sluice reinforced.  Much of the work was done by the river-keeper who trained at Sparsholt.  He also works on the Kennet and Avon Canal and salvaged some of the sluice works for the vertical sluice gates from the waste bins of the canal.  They were restored by the blacksmith in Farringdon and installed on-site by him.  The work also included completely rebuilding a brick spillway.


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