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A morning with the roof off

April 11, 2012

A month ago now, on Saturday 3rd March, Adrian Walker, the director of Lambert and Walker (the contractors who are working hard to conserve the mill for us) opened up the site to ten guests to see the how well they’ve been getting on and, excitingly, what the mill looks like with most of its roof removed…

After a safety induction from Adrian and Andy, the site manager, we all donned our high-vis and hard-hats and entered the big white box of scaffolding to be greeted with the extraordinary sight of the mill mostly roofless, a sight probably not seen since the roof had been built 600 years ago!

Part 1 of the tour – The Timber Structure

Up in the roof of Nether Alderley Mill with the slates removed and the daylight streaming in... © Wiles Maguire

Braving the heights, we were taken up into the ‘birdcage’ within the mill itself, directly under the apex of the roof.

The most noticeable difference (apart from the obviously missing roof slabs) is that the mill is currently flooded with daylight as we’ve never seen it before.  On Saturday, all the hidden nooks and crannies were lit up, allowing us to see the irregularity of the beams and the internal graffiti with startling clarity.

It was an experience to reach out and feel the lumps and bumps in the timber beams and to begin to understand how past carpenters had shaped them, not in straight uniform lines, but according to the unique qualities of each and every piece of living wood.

Adrian showed us where past work had been done on the timbers, with a clearly modern piece spliced into a much older timber, and explained how a large part of conservation is making sure these later repairs are obvious for any later observers to know for certain what has been done and when.

Down into the Basement…

The repairs to the stonework in the basement of Nether Alderley Mill © Wiles Maguire

Next we were led down into the bowels of the mill, to the basement which is partly cut out of the bedrock and where Lambert Walker have been successful in managing a water leak.  Because the mill is built into the side of the dam wall, there will always inevitably be some water coming through where the bedrock meets the stone wall, but the team have done a sterling job of digging some basic but effective drains (under the watchful eyes of our archaeologists) and repairing some of the stonework in the basement.

This, as well as lowering the level of the water in the mill pond, means that, where before the basement was tangibly damp and you could hear the water streaming out of the walls as you descended into it, the water now trickles gently and purposefully, draining out of the basement in a managed way.

Where has all the mill machinery gone?

In the meantime, the millwrights had also been in to assess the machinery itself, taking away the parts that they need to work on off-site in their workshop.  They would return with them in a few weeks to work on the mechanism in situ.

A broken millstone from the basement, moved out and pieced back together! © Wiles Maguire

And last but not least, the piece de resistance

For the finale, we all trooped out onto the lowest level of scaffolding to view the roof without its grit-stone cover, and what a sight to finish on!  As soon as the scaffolding was completed in February, the contractors had started to carefully remove the slates, which diminish in size as you ascend the roof, from around one metre tall to about 30cm.

We measured up the roof slates that had been most recently removed against ourselves, marvelling at the strength required to move them (and sympathising with the poor cart horses who would have had to bring them to Nether Alderley when the roof was first put together).

The roof as it looked on the morning of the tour, with the timber frame almost fully exposed © National Trust

Adrian explained that, although there will inevitably be some slates that can’t be replaced because of the general wear and tear that comes with age, they expect to replace at least 80% of the original roof slates.  Because of this, they’ve been carefully numbering every slate as it is removed, which was an interesting parallel with the numbers we had seen carved into the timber-frame inside.  The frame would have been put together off-site, carefully numbered, and then reconstructed on-site; the precursor to flat-pack furniture!

So what’s next?

After we left, the next steps were for the architects to work with the building contractors to tighten up the plans now that the roof was off and so much exposed that hadn’t been visible before.  After this, work began on repairing and conserving the timber frame and internal masonry work, and the millwrights returned to continue working on the mill mechanism.

We went back to see the work at the mill further down the line this Saturday just gone, the 7th April.  Keep an eye out for the next update…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mrs N.M.Watkins permalink
    June 26, 2012 10:54

    Brilliant coverage of a wonderful job being done. Thank You

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