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The mill uncovered…

July 17, 2012
Nether Alderley Mill, with the scaffolding removed. © Wiles Maguire

Last week, the scaffolding came down from Nether Alderley Mill, so if any of you have been driving through Nether Alderley along Congleton Road recently, you’ll be able to see its long, sweeping roof once more!

Although, unless you know the work’s been going on, you possibly wouldn’t think that much had changed from outside. This is a credit to the hard work of all the experts we’ve had on site over the past 6 months, working hard to make sure we can reopen Nether Alderley Mill while still making sure we don’t lose any of the little idiosyncracies that make it such a special place to be!

So, here’s a (short) overview for you, of everything that’s been happening going on since our last major update:

Making the building safe…

If you happen to be walking past the mill* and take a look up at the mill roof, it might be difficult to see where exactly the changes have happened. Most obviously you’d be able to see that, in places, the wood around the mill’s windows has been replaced and they’ve all been re-leaded. But it’ll take closer inspection to see where the rest of the work has been going on. This is because the majority of the structural work at Nether Alderley Mill has been happening under the roof tiles.

Attaching a batten on the roof of Nether Alderley Mill, from which the large roof slates will hang. © Wiles Maguire

Take a closer look, and you might be able to see that the roof looks a little straighter, although not too straight: neither the National Trust nor our contractors wanted the mill to lose all of its bumps and lumps, as this is part of what gives the building its character! So as much as possible where the dips and undulations of Nether Alderley Mill’s roof were structurally sound, they’ve been left as they were. But some of these dints were symptoms of deeper, structural issues within the timber frame of the building itself which needed careful attention…

After the roof was removed to take a closer look at these issues, Lucy from our architects (Wiles & Maguire) and Andy from our conservation contractors (Lambert & Walker) spent two long days painstakingly going through every single beam on the vast roof, working out where repairs were needed and, if necessary, replacements.

Once we had a clearer understanding of the work that needed to happen, a father-and-son team of joiners who specialise in carpentry repairs and traditional joinery, started on site, repairing, replacing, strengthening and splicing timbers. When they were done, the roofers could begin replacing the roof slates.

Putting the roof back on…

A row of slates with their hand-whittled oak pegs holding them in place – the pegs have yet to be trimmed in this photograph. © Wiles Maguire

Carefully numbering the slates as they came off the roof really paid off: the roofers were able to replace the vast majority of the slates exactly where they used to be, or, in the rare instance that this couldn’t be done because the slate was damaged or unsuitable, substitute them with a carefully sourced reclaimed stone slates.

Each tile had to have a new oak peg. Each peg has been hand-whittled by the roofers so that it sits in the slate neatly, allowing each slab to hang securely from the battens. We’ve been reliably informed that the pegs would be taken home each night to be shaped in front of Coronation Street – true dedication!

What’s next?

Even though the roof has been replaced, there’s still plenty to do before the mill is finished:

  • The roof needs to be made water- and weather-proof – after all, we do live in a notoriously damp part of the world! This has already started, using a technique known as ‘torching’. This involves applying lime mortar, a traditional building material which uses animal hair to help it bind, which fills the gaps on the underside of the roof. This seals the roof, preventing the weather from coming in…
  • The inside of the mill will also be freshly lime-washed.

    A plasterer applies the lime mortar ‘torching’ to the underside of Nether Alderley Mill’s roof. © Wiles Maguire

  • Our millwrights are still working hard on the mill mechanism, getting it to run smoothly… They have been gradually bringing back the repaired sections and putting them back in, as well as doing crucial repairs to the waterwheels. Hopefully they’ll be able to run the machinery for the first time since they began work very soon! Watch this space for more on all their hard work…
  • And last but not least, work will be starting imminently on an access ramp into the mill, which will allow easier access into the ground-floor areas of the mill.

And that’s not to mention all the other, behind-the-scenes preparation that needs to go on before the mill can welcome visitors again!

We’ll continue to keep you updated as the work reaches its conclusion… In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments below!

* We wouldn’t recommend you stop in your car at the moment – there’s no space on our car park yet, and it’s such a busy road…!

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