Historic Heron Corn Mill at Beetham reopens after a major restoration project

Looking toward Heron Corn Mill across the River Bela (includes a view of the Barn to the left)

Looking toward Heron Corn Mill across the River Bela (includes a view of the Barn to the left) - Credit: Archant

New and old combine at Beetham’s corn mill which re-opens after an extensive renovation project

Curator and maintenance technician, Stuart Hobbs

Curator and maintenance technician, Stuart Hobbs - Credit: Archant

The historic Heron Corn Mill at Beetham is set to fly again after a major restoration project which didn’t just concentrate on the old mill workings, but also brought the site into the 21st century.

The Lowder frame (holds up the millstones and contains the gears)

The Lowder frame (holds up the millstones and contains the gears) - Credit: Archant

The mill, which stands beside the river Bela, is one of the oldest surviving and best examples of a working watermill in the UK. Its working life came to an end in 1955 and for 20 years it stood empty and neglected before the Beetham Trust took it on and renovated the building and its machinery. It opened to the public in the mid-70s and the old stones were occasionally used to grind flour.

But the latest chapter in the mill’s story began in 2004 when a new plan for its future was born. Ten years on, that plan has seen an overhaul of the 18th century grinding machinery and the installation of a hydropower turbine which provides all the mill’s electricity.

The mill will re-open to public on Saturday April 19 with a weekend of activities, including a talk by food historian Ivan Day and milling demonstration by Stuart Hobbs. Stuart was a motor mechanic who volunteered to help with the repairs to the mill machinery and is now the miller, one of two full-time staff.

‘I enjoyed getting involved, I liked the fresh air and the different events and the fact that it was all such a contrast to what I was used to,’ he said. ‘It’s all very interesting and I have learned new skills. It has been great to see how the technology has changed. I had visited mills on holidays and the mechanics always fascinated me so to have a chance to work with it has been fantastic.’

In the late 19th century the mill was grinding between 80 and 90 tons of flour a week – enough for about 12,000 loaves a day – but the emphasis now will be on quality and variety rather than quantity.

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‘People don’t just want wholemeal flour these days,’ Stuart added. ‘They want more exotic flours, such as spelt, so we will be looking into grinding different grains.’

The mill, once one of 70 mills on the Bela of which only three survive, is totally self-sufficient due to the turbine installed in 2010 which provides green energy for the buildings with any surplus being sold to local industry. The turbine was designed to work with the old sluice gate and launder which serve the supply to the original 14ft water wheel which still powers the milling machinery.

Project manager Audrey Steeley, Heron Corn Mill’s other full-time member of staff, said: ‘We are very much looking forward to re-opening. Over the recent years much work on site has prevented us from offering the full visitor experience, but now, with the mill looking great, new interpretation and better access, and with more staff and volunteers on board, we are ready to greet the public.’

When the mill opens on Easter weekend visitors can expect improved access and new interpretation, including a downloadable hydro game, a visitor app and a live feed from the hydro which shows the energy and equivalent income generated. There will also be a talk by Nick Jones from Little Salkeld Mill near Penrith, as well as guided tours and the chance to see the mill in action.

Heron Corn Mill is located at Mill Lane, Beetham, LA7 7PQ and it will be open from 11am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday all year except January. Admission is free for self-guided visits but charges may apply for guided tours, demonstrations and events.

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