Craftsmanship in Cambridgeshire

by Hannah Reynolds

Week 11 saw the Scholars travel to Cambridgeshire, my local stomping ground. The week began with an interesting day at CEL Roofing just outside of Peterborough. We were hosted by their enthusiastic and knowledgeable Managing Director, Carl Edwards. We were able to build on existing knowledge of the lead casting process, hand pour some cast embellishments and try our hand at lead welding before going out on a site visit.

Leadcasting at CELWe were able to see re-roofing and stone repair being carried out by CEL’s building repair section at All Saints Church, Elton. We then spent two days with members of the SPAB Mills section, millwright consultant, Luke Bonwick; Chair of Trustees for Burwell Mill and Museum, Paul Hawes; owner of Histon Mill, Steven Temple and architect and previous Scholar, Philip Orchard.

We visited both Burwell Mill and Soham Mill where conservation projects are currently underway. This was an eye-opening insight into the intricate workings of our historic mills, as well as the challenges faced by those fighting to ensure this industrial knowledge and heritage is not lost.

Paul Hawes is also owner of Cambridge Brick and Tile Company in Burwell; they still produce hand made bricks and tiles using local Burwell clay, which Paul’s family have been doing since the 1840s. We were lucky enough to be invited to try our hands at tile-making. It is safe to say, despite our valiant efforts, more practice is needed before we match the 450 tiles produced a day by Paul’s craftsmen!

Ely CathedralThe week closed with a visit to the historic town of Ely where we were kindly invited to sit in on the meeting of the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Diocese of Ely, a committee on which Philip Orchard sits. The Committee makes decisions regarding current faculty applications, the church’s equivalent to the planning application process. This was followed by a lecture from Dr Tim Reynolds (Diocesan Archaeological Advisor to Ely Diocese) regarding the correct engagement and importance of archaeology within church projects. Stuart Hobley, East of England Development Officer for the Heritage Lottery Fund, gave an overview of the available grants for places of worship from the Heritage Lottery Fund and explained the application process. We ended the week with a visit to the outstanding Ely Cathedral.


A Medieval mill

I’m back again…. Now I know the Scholars and the other Fellows will be sharing their experiences and their opinions of the places we have visited with you very soon but to keep you all informed of our travels here’s a quick entry detailing part two of when the Fellows were let loose in the Peak District.

The second visit of the week was to Nether Alderly Mill, Cheshire, a 12th Century Flour Mill now in the possession of the National Trust who, along with Architect and Scholar Lucy Stewart, Lambert Walker Conservation and Restoration and The Norfolk Millwright Alliance, are bringing it back to life as an operating Flour Mill and visitor centre.

To enable this, major structural timber work and millwrighting is taking place and it is with the millwrights that the ‘controversial dilemma’, which many in the heritage sector face daily, lies.

Does one repair, in this case a machine, to its original working state keeping the past alive or maintain it in its current condition leaving it as a museum piece and an item of yester year?

This dilemma then poses further questions such as ‘’If you do agree to repair then what point in time are you trying to achieve as after all it is a machine, and if you do change the gears and cogs, is it still the same historic Mill or a 21st Century contraption??’’ But on the other hand if repairs aren’t made then it no longer serves its original purpose as a working mill!

The argument of conservation vs restoration has been resolved to an extent at Nether Alderly, as the aim is to now produce its own brand of flour using just one of the grinding stones whilst the other is to be maintained in its current state. This decision was not by any means an easy one to reach, but seems to be one that will protect and conserve the mill for future generations. If you’re interested in mills and mill conservation, visit our SPAB Mills Section site.

Back on the road… all the best, Emily.