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Do you know this man?

April 23, 2012

Taking the roof off and letting the daylight in can be very illuminating!  

Graffiti can be a pretty controversial issue, but one thing can be said for it – it provides a really evocative and physically ‘touchable’ connection with real people in the past.  We have loads of it at Nether Alderley Mill, dating from the first half of the 18th century and beyond, and they mostly consist of the author’s initials, sometimes even accompanied with a date.

With the removal of the roof, however, we’ve been able to see some other, more recent graffiti dating from the 1950s and 60s and written at a time when the mill was not yet looked after by the National Trust.  Because they’ve been written in relatively faint pencil, have been invisible to us until now.

My personal favourite?  A Mr Robert Taylor left the following note in 1960, just in case any young ladies might be interested:

'Tall, Dark and Hansome' - graffito on one of the beams inside the mill. © National Trust

Do you happen to know a Robert Taylor who lived at 32 Hawthorn St. in Wilmslow, was aged 17 and  ‘tall, dark and hansome’ in 1960?  If you do, let us know – we’d love to meet him and find out if his unique personal ad ever paid off!

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Permission granted!

April 13, 2012

As part of the conservation work at the mill, we’re also looking at improving access into the mill itself.  At the end of last year, we submitted a planning application for a ramp into the mill to Cheshire East Council, which was approved last month…

As with all old buildings, it’s hard to avoid uneven surfaces, wonky floors and steps, and Nether Alderley Mill is definitely full of all these things!  But we do try our best, here at the National Trust, to make these places accessible to as many people as possible.  This might mean anything from making information available in different formats or on the internet, to improving physical access to buildings wherever possible and in keeping with the central spirit of the place.

We’re looking at lots of different ways of improving access to Nether Alderley Mill, both physically and intellectually, especially as the mill is arranged over many different floors.  In terms of physical access, we’re taking the opportunity while we’re looking at the roof, to rethink how people can get into the mill.  In keeping with the advice of our architects, curators and other specialists, we submitted a planning application to put in an access ramp that is sensitive to the appearance and historic fabric of the mill, which was approved last month.

Want to see the plans?  You can find the approved application on the Cheshire East Council website here.

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…

And so it begins…

March 28, 2012

On Monday 23rd January, we handed Nether Alderley Mill over to our contractors – the architects Wiles Maguire and the conservation experts Lambert Walker – who will be doing all the crucial work that’s needed to ensure Nether Alderley Mill is kept in good nick.

Over the coming months, there’ll be plenty going on.   First things first, the contractors will be building a large scaffolding enclosure around the mill itself (pictured above), then Nether Alderley Mill’s roof will be coming off, and the timber and masonry structure will be repaired and strengthened before the roof is carefully replaced.  And, in the meantime, we’ll also have the sub-contracted millwrights, specialists in historic corn mills, working on the mill machinery and making sure its fit for purpose…

But this isn’t the only work that’s been happening!  In the background, before work on-site even started, the National Trust have been busily working behind the scenes both from Quarry Bank, which oversees Nether Alderley Mill, and regionally, to ensure that we make the most of this opportunity to reinvigorate this very special place…

Understanding the history of Nether Alderley Mill

Since summer 2011, the mill has been invaded by many visitors, all of them working hard to pull together the plans and surveys that give us a crucial overview of Nether Alderley as a building and as a slice of history.

Over the past months, we’ve had:

  • a team of archaeologists, surveyors and historians making countless investigations as well as examining the historical records to produce an Historic Buildings Survey.  The Historic Buildings Survey helps us to build a comprehensive understanding of the history of both the building itself and the mill mechanism.
  • our existing Nether Alderley volunteers taking us on a full tour of the mill so that we could hear all their stories about the mill’s history.  We have such a dedicated team of existing volunteers who know the mill like the backs of their hands, so it made complete sense to draw on their knowledge of the mill and its stories so that we can investigate them further where necessary.
  • a team of regional and property staff (including Lucy, the Trust’s regional curator for the North West, Phyllis our Project Manager, and the Heritage and Collections department of Quarry Bank Mill and two of our interns) braving the freezing December temperatures to make a comprehensive inventory of all the objects of interest in the mill, something which has never been done at Nether Alderley Mill.  This very important exercise allowed us to take stock of both the historical and the non-historical material on site, so that we can make sure that we protect any important objects within the mill as well as the building itself and the mill mechanism.

And even though all of work has been done, we’re still busy beavering away!  We’ll be continuing to ask ourselves how all this important work feeds into the story of Nether Alderley Mill…

Bringing the Nether Alderley Mill to life

Not only are we hoping to conserve Nether Alderley Mill, but we also want to make sure its story can be seen and experienced by as many people as possible!  There’s a lot to think about though, before we can ‘bring Nether Alderley Mill to life’ for our visitors, and there’s only so much we can plan before the work on site is well underway….

We’ve made a start, looking at how we’re actually going to run the mill when it reopens.  We’ve had countless discussions about volunteering, ticketing, car parking and toilets, and we’ve also been gathering inspiration from other National Trust corn mills, such as Stainsby MillWinchester City Mill and Acorn Bank.

There’s a lot happening at Nether Alderley Mill…

March 8, 2012

Nether Alderley Mill is currently closed to the public, but that’s because we’re working hard to make essential repairs to its roof, timber structure and mill mechanism.

We’ll be documenting the progress of the work here, as well as keeping you up-to-date on any other Nether Alderley Mill news…

For a more general background to the project, check out our ‘What’s going on?’ page, and for a little bit about the history of the mill take a look at our page on ‘The Mill in its heyday’.  The Nether Alderley Mill website can also be found here.