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Newsletter 142 August 2023 © Hampshire Mills Group



City Mill, Winchester



Paul Bracey, Volunteer Miller and Room Guide


Things have changed since former miller Martin Gregory wrote in newsletter 119 (2017) about structural repairs required after serious flooding in 2014.  Ruth Andrews reported in 122 (2018) about the HMG visit hosted by former mill manager Ric Weeks, to see repairs in progress.  This piece brings you up to date with events since then.

Flood damage repairs and asbestos removal works in the former YHA hostel undercroft washroom area seen by the HMG group were completed by the end of 2019.  Asbestos remediation returned 50m2 of eastern undercroft floor space to mill use.  That, along with commercial considerations, led to the National Trust (NT) deciding to divide the upper ground floor in half with an oak framed glazed screen, creating a café at the far end.  This opened in December 2019, and immediately became a popular Winchester ‘must visit’.  As a result of the flooding, structural engineers checked lateral stability of the front gable wall under pressure from the water build up down below.  It transpired that the front wall had been on the brink of collapsing towards City Bridge during flooding.  It has now been suitably strengthened without visual impact.


On 20 March 2020, all National Trust properties were completely closed due to Covid 19.  During the 16 month public closure, mill machinery was regularly turned over, and limited flour milling was undertaken by a few staff and volunteers for three or four months.  This enabled some commercial flour sales to continue for a while.  There were several mechanical issues during this time – an axle tree cross winged gudgeon bearing worked very loose and had to be re-packed.  This had also happened in 2018 and 2019 as a result of incipient shaft rot near the bearing.  Pit wheel wedges also worked loose, causing pit wheel and wallower to come out of mesh.  No permanent damage resulted, due to prompt shutdown by millers.  These problems were dealt with by the millwright. 

City Mill did not reopen its doors to the public again until 10 June 2021.  Machinery continued to be turned over by staff, but weekend milling did not resume properly until November 2021 due to technical and administrative issues. These included more stringent NT food safety audit standards affecting flour handling. 

However, milling quickly settled down, with production around 40-80kg of wholemeal flour per week. Commercial sale of flour did not return, as all flour produced was easily sold in the mill shop. The millwright resumed his normal twice yearly inspections.


Millers will know that the axle tree end bearing problem previously referred to is indicative of serious rot in the oak. This led to launch of a £75,000 fundraising appeal to facilitate replacement of the now 28 year old main axle tree. Further deteriorations meant the millwright’s November 2022 inspection report included a ‘red list’ of additional machinery problems that millers were asked to keep an eye on. These included badly worn timber pit wheel cogs (installed in 2006-7), oak waterwheel frames and starts (2005), main timber vertical shaft bridge beam and a timber trestles supporting the same (2004). Milling continued satisfactorily up to New Year’s Day 2023. After then, machinery operations were stopped due to high water levels in the Itchen.



During a stone clean and machinery test run on 27 January 2023 (after river levels had dropped), it was noticed that a float complete with starts was missing, lost downstream.  After closer inspection of the wheel frame felloes, the millwright stopped all milling and turning of machinery pending replacement or refurbishment of the 1995 axle tree and red list items.  All ironwork remains in good condition.  Floats were removed to stop accidental turning of the machinery.  Fundraising was re-launched with a new £130,000 target. 25% of that has been raised so far. The fundraising team have an HLF application in progress, and several other fundraising possibilities are also being assessed.  Total flour production since demonstration milling started in 2004 is believed to be around 140 tonnes. 

So perhaps the timber items to be replaced have performed quite well.

As part of necessary external refurbishment works, the island garden is currently closed for complete strip out and major reconstruction/reconfiguration of the overgrown 1978 layout.  Abbotstone Mill’s burr stones used by City Mill in 2004-5 will remain within the new garden layout which is due to be re-opened soon.

City Mill has been through many challenging times throughout its recorded 1091 year history.  Perhaps a few machinery problems with readily available solutions are not so bad!  The building fabric remains sound. Visitor numbers are now close to pre-Covid times, so public interest is still strong.

Visits to the mill and café are now free, but donations to the restoration fund are welcomed.  A programme of events aimed at fundraising is on the City Mill website.  The City Mill's page on this website is here.


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