Trustee at House Mill in Bow shares plans for getting old machinery working again and attracting more visitors
Tucked behind the busy Bow Flyover a small bridge leads down to a hidden gem, the world’s largest surviving tidal mill nestling on the River Lea.
But trustee at the House Mill, on Three Mills Island, Beverley Charters, who is one of the driving forces behind trying to get the old machinery operating again and bringing more visitors to the Grade I listed building, would like to see the 18th century mill come alive.
Together with 12 other trustees she has put together plans which would also see modern technology introduced allowing the mill to generate green electricity for its own use and for surrounding homes. An educational programme for school children is also on the cards to link in with subjects such as science, history and geography.
The mill is currently only open for guided tours on a Sunday and by appointment during the week. But Beverley hopes to see it open up to visitors on self-guided tours five days a week with each floor featuring interactive active display telling different stories about the mill, which was once a major grinder of grain for the gin industry.
She envisages the plans becoming a reality in less than two years if the The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust can raise �2million in match funding to help it secure a �2.65million Heritage Lottery grant.
Standing on the House Mill’s roof overlooking the surrounding developments, including the Olympic Park, Beverley says: “We stand here in isolation, and everyone says its a hidden gem and it’s marvellous, and we love being a hidden gem, but we would like to be a little less hidden.
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“Generally speaking as long as developments are sympathetic to the conservation area we see the majority of projects in this area as a good thing because they will bring us visitors and recognition.”
During the Second World War Three Mills sustained severe air-raid damage and saw the Miller’s House destroyed while the House Mill survived.
Beverley says: “I love this mill so much because it’s a plucky survivor, also surviving the post-war planners, and if we can make it work again it will survive many more centuries.”
Taking me on a tour starting from the top of the five- storey building working our way down, the same way as the grain would have flowed through the building, Beverley sets out her vision for making the building come alive.
“The idea is that people can walk through all floors with each telling a different story.
“The two top floors will tell the story of the grain and how it got here, of the River Lea and the House Mill as a really important part of the industrial revolution.
“We will always encourage people to start from upstairs. That makes sense because the grain came up in a sack through a door trap. The wheel would be turning and the miller down on the ground floor would pull on the rope and the sacks would come up through the whole five floors. When it’s working again sacks will be flying around exactly like it was.”
As we make out way down the narrow staircase Beverley explains how other floors will tell the story of the people who used to work here, the different crafts and the people who built the mill.
As we reach the bottom floor with its four surviving wheels I suddenly sense Beverley vision coming alive. As I hear the river lapping against the outside walls and Beverley starts talking about having table displays for gin tasting it is almost as I can smell and taste the mill’s history.
Plans are in place to install a turbine in the river outside in the shape of an Archimedes screw, a machine used for channelling water uphill.
Beverley says: “It will very exciting to see the wheels go round but as importantly they will work in conjunction with the screw, so the wheels will turn the grinding stones but they will also make electricity.
“For education we’ll have solar panelling on the roof with new technology but hydro power with old technology. We think it will give us enough energy for our own use and the rest we can sell off to National Grid or neighbours.
“It means 250 years after the building was built it will then have a new use.”
To make self-guided tours possible a lot of health and safety hazards have to be overcome.
“It is an industrial building with many trip hazards and trap doors, so quite a dangerous building.
“What we’re trying to do is put in safety barriers but at the same time have information on them so it will double up as an information point and a safety measure. We will also have a volunteer guardian on each floor and people can ask them questions.”
Other grand plans include providing apprenticeships for the local universities and craft colleges.
But Beverley is finding it tough to raise the �2million in Lottery match funding needed by November.
She said: “Some trusts said they can only help you with buildings and can’t fund machinery. That was a big surprise to me. For us the machinery is an integral part of the mill’s history.”
Currently the mill is purely staffed by volunteers but as part of its programme the trust is applying for funding for five members of staff, including an educational officer, manger and caretaker.