Letheringsett watermill is two hundred and twelve years old and was first mentioned in the doomsday book as ‘leringseta’. The doomsday mill was owned by one Walter Gifford, the first recorded miller, he was one of eight known owners, although the mill was part of Letheringsett estate its grandeur meant that it was regarded as a separate property. There were other mills on the site all of which burnt down.
The structure that stands today was built in 1802, it is made with red brick with a black pan tiled roof.
Richard Rouse built the mill that stands today, he made the mill so that it was twice the size of any of the former mills in order for it to house four sets of grind stones, the mill was fitted with an iron wheel so that it was capable of driving the four sets of stones, two of which are still working.
Not very much of the mills history is known, as in 1960 the mill was broken into and historical documents were stolen. The mill changed hands in 1972 where it became an animal feed mill, as human consumption of flour seemed to cease.
The miller in 1984, ‘Peter Warwick’ installed a Ruston and Hornsby engine converting the mill from water to diesel power.
In 1987 Michael Thurlow leased the mill with the idea in mind to restore the mill back to its full glory and to sell the flour to its full potential.
Restoration started with 10,500 feet of flooring, compliments of the 1987 gales. Michael Thurlow had no milling experience when he took on the lease as he had spent twenty years of his life in the royal navy as a radar operator and had traveled the world seven times, He gained all his knowledge from milling books and from visiting existing running watermills.
The workings of the mill also had to be restored, the water wheel for one had to be realigned and then its buckets rebuilt taking in to consideration that Letheringsett’s water wheel was of an unusual design (it runs both breast and undershot, this means that the water can either hit the center of the wheel or the bottom of the wheel to fill the buckets with water, this was done to maximise the useage of the ever changing water levels of the river Glaven.)
The mill now houses two sets of grind stones. The stones are made up of a bed stone (a stone that doesn’t move) and a runner stone which rotates on a shaft, a pattern is chiseled in to the face of each grind stone so that the stones cut the wheat into smaller and smaller pieces instead of rolling (crushing the wheat) as most modern day mills do today, the closer the stones are put together the finer the flour is. The stones are powered by the water wheel via the great spur wheel. During the war a Ruston and Hornsby engine was installed converting the mill from water to diesel power. The Ruston engine was used, partly because of the amount of water being used but also because the stability of the shaft was questionable, so the connection from the waterwheel to the stones was laid to rest until restored by Michael Thurlow.
The way the flour is made is done in stages, the wheat is brought in on a tractor (horse and cart in former days), it is then hoisted to the top of the mill via the chain hoist which is on the top floor, this is where the wheat is then cleaned and stored once needed it is placed in a large hopper which then feeds a smaller hopper on the second floor. When the mill is set in motion the grain is fed into the eye of the stones, to ensure that the wheat keeps flowing a jiggling mechanism is built in this is known as the shoe and willow, flanges on the top of the stone nut shaft clatter against the side of the shoe to keep the grain on the move, the willow is a piece of wood attached by string to the shoe which keeps the shoe against the flanges. The wheat enters the stones and gravity and the movement of the stones drags it through until the flour spills over the edge the draft created by the stones spinning keeps the flour moving around the tun until it reaches the flour chute and falls to the sack below.
Letheringsett watermill hopes that one day the mill can house the four sets of grindstones as intended by the man who built the mill. The stones themselves are hard to find, the best stone is found in France this is known as French burr stone it is hard brittle stone impossible to cut into round shapes, which is necessary for mill stones, therefore they are cut into chunks and then held together with plaster (a bit like crazy paving). An inferior grade of stones are found in the peak district they are millstone grit which makes very nice round millstone shapes but they do not perform nearly so well.
The mill also houses a chain hoist as a way of transporting the grain to the top floor of the mill, this is also operated by the waterwheel but using a different set of cogs which are engaged when the stones are disconnected, the chain hoist itself has a drum on which it is wound which then passes over two pulleys in the roof, it reaches down through three sets of trap doors to the ground floor.
Now that the mill is virtually fully restored the mill turns over an average of three and a half tons of flour a week. The mill grinds three types of flour all grown from English wheat, the mill sells its flour to customers far and wide some has even been exported to Russia and New Zealand. Michael has managed to restore the whole building to make a very successful and profitable business of which has received the top tourist attraction award for seven years running.
The mill now is recognized as one of the great Norfolk mills and their flour and bread is sought after all over the country. It is the only working watermill in Norfolk.
A little hard work pays off in the end!
Unfortunately Michael Thurlow passed away in June 2013. The business became a partnership between Michael’s wife Marion and his daughter Michelle who continued to run the mill in the way that Michael wanted. Since taking over the mill, the mill now houses two sets of fully operational millstones. Much of the flour produced comes from wheat grown locally in Norfolk, including spelt flour.
Sadly, Marion Thurlow also passed away on 23rd August 2015 – the mill is now run by their daughter Michelle, who endeavors to keep the mill running in all its glory for the foreseeable future.