AGM Newsletter (Jan-Feb 2014)

Howsham Mill Logo CMYK




The Story of the Build

Many of you will have by now visited the mill and seen that it is fully restored.  Work started last summer on 11 June 2012.  The first task was to get all the scaffolding and heavy items to the island.  Permission to use the track across the field was given by the Hall owner and Stephen Pickering, the main contractor, hired the services of Chris Wadsworth and his horse drawn log carrier to do this.  Two days later the first batch of materials was on site and the scaffolding went up, including a bridge over the canal at the site of the old swing bridge.One of the first of many decisions was the choice of stone to replace all that was missing from the roof and to replaced damaged stones.  The first choice was from a quarry in Sussex as it was the best match visually and geologically (a calcareous sandstone).  The only problem was the price – more than budgeted and in the first month, the bulk of our contingency would be spent.  Some serious negotiation resulted in a deal both sides could accept and the stone was ordered, using existing pieces as templates.  All stone was cut to size at the quarry and finished on site.While waiting for the stone, work started on taking down and rebuilding more securely the upper courses of brick and stone, raking out and pointing internal and external walls and meeting sub-contractors on site.  Houghtons of York designed the roof timbers and measured up for the first floor beams, stairs, doors and windows.  Listers of York considered how best to fit in the wiring, light fittings and sockets to add neatly electricity to the building.

By mid-August the first delivery of stone had arrived, once again brought across the field by horse and cart and across the bridge, the first horse on the island for more than 60 years.  A hoist arrangement had been set up and all the pieces of stone for the upper string course were lifted by block and chain to the scaffolding platform, wheeled to position on a small trolley and lifted into place.  Once the stone and brickwork were secure the English oak wall-plates that sit on top of the brick could also be hoisted up into place and tied together at the corners.  Onto this frame went the four hip beams that met and slotted into a wooden boss at the apex of the pyramid-shaped roof.  This was quite a challenge and needed all the ingenuity and strength of both Stephen’s team and men from Houghtons.  This coincided with the first of what would be four floods of the building during the restoration.  But no damage was done and once the water had subsided, the site was quickly cleaned up and work started again.

A major breakdown of the waterwheel had recently occurred; the 150 year old cast iron shaft had sheared.  It had to be taken out horizontally from the wheel chamber using scaffold frames and blocks and chains and out of the building, no mean feat, all while building work was going on around.  The two main beams supporting the first floor had been dragged to the island, each weighing about 1 t.  Lifting these required the use of a mechanical lifter, the only time one was on the island.  It put each beam onto rollers on a  frame where it could be slid through a hole made in the north side of the wall to a frame inside the building and fixed in place in the wall.

With all the roof beams in place, Geoff Neale’s team of roofers could make a start with fixing the reclaimed Burlington slates and all the complicated lead work.  Inside the preparations for the floor started.  It would have a layer of insulation material of leca balls, a layer of limecrete (lime used instead of cement), coils of plastic pipes for an underfloor heating system, another layer of limecrete and finished with reclaimed York flagstones, with a slight fall to the south so that water would drain out after a flood.  All materials were brought to the island, but due to the high level of the river and rain forecast, Stephen decided not to lay the floor just then.  This turned out to be a wise decision as the river continued to rise and peaked on 28 November when the water just covered the window sills, a flood as high as any in living memory.

After more than a week off site and cleaning up, work began again on a limited scale and it was not until after Christmas (and another flood) that the first part of the floor could finally be laid.  There then followed a cold snap that prevented work outside as it was too cold to work with stone and mortar.  Inside the first fix electrical was agreed and Listers started work.  Then everything came to an abrupt halt with yet another flood.

An improvement in the weather in February lifted morale and work could start again in earnest.  The flagstones were laid, the electrics installed, the final delivery of stone arrived that included the ornate crocketed finials, the roofers returned and finished slating and the lead work.  Underneath the roof, insulation was fitted and it was underdrawn with wooden panels.  All the electrics have been neatly fitted behind panels, within beams or where exposed on walls, the copper cabling used matches the old bricks perfectly.  A new waterwheel shaft had been made and brought to site and was fitted with two new bearings and connected to the gearbox and generator.

A new statute of Diana the goddess of hunting had been commissioned from the sculptor Nikki Taylor.  Diana arrived and was proudly installed on a lead-covered, steel plinth at the apex of the roof.  She was an instant hit.  Illuminated by four spotlights from the four corner plinths, she glows in the dark.  Two down floodlights each bathe the south, east and north elevations.

Inside the first floor and staircase were completed, also in English oak, and the link into the level above the waterwheel.  Some of the last items to be installed were the glass floor panels above the wheel and above the end of the wheel shaft, and windows looking into the chamber.  Lights beneath the glass illuminate the wheel while it is turning and have proved popular with children and adults alike.  The underfloor heating system was commissioned, connected to the hot water tank heated by solar power and our own electricity.  To supplement this, there is a wood burning stove in the existing hearth connected to a flue pipe up the rebuilt chimney.  The new doors and windows were fitted, the latter with internal security bars and external Perspex to prevent vandalism, a sad fact of life we have to live with.

Inevitably the final touches took longer than expected.  It was in mid-August that building control approval was granted and we had a finished building, within budget.  The quality of the workmanship is excellent and all those involved in the restoration can be proud of their contribution.  Already the mill has won the Ryedale Rural Green Award and Stephen Pickering and his team won the York Guild of Building team craftsman award.

News in brief…

Annual General Meeting

The Renewable Heritage Trust welcomes all to their AGM on Saturday 1st February at 2pm.

Grand Opening

The Mill was officially opened by Fiona Spiers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund Yorkshire and Humber on the 14th December 2013.

(Fiona Spiers – Cutting the ribbon – Photo: Tony Bartholomew)The event was the chance for The Renewable Heritage Trust to thank all those who were involved in the 10 year long project. Speeches were also heard from Sir Frederick Strickland-Constable (Patron), and Mo MacLeod (Chair).
(Sir Fred – Photo: Tony Bartholomew)

(Everyone enjoying the celebration – Photo: Tony Bartholomew)

Also last month…

The Mill had a successful Christmas Fair with stalls from numerous crafts and artists from the local area.


Our Events & Education Officer has been hard at work putting together the new Events Programme for the Mill. Events include: Craft activities by two local artists, Climate Week 2014, National Mills Weekend, Real Bread Campaign, World War I Commemoration and many more. Keep up-to-date on our website.

Events in January/February

18th – Dementia Friends Information Session – 12-2pm –

26th – Big Garden Birdwatch – 10-4pm

1st – AGM – 2pm – Refreshments Provided

15th -23rd – February Half Term Events (see website for details)

One final point…

The website is currently having some work done to it, so please don’t be alarmed if the information stated above isn’t on it…it will be within the next week.

We hope to see you all on the 1st February for our AGM

RHT Team