Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stainsby Mill

On a recent trip, we had a "three for one" stop in Chesterfield, where we saw the Stainsby Mill, Old Hardwick Hall, and Hardwick Hall. This post will be about the Mill, which was our first stop.

The mill has a long history. The Savage family acquired the property in the 1200s and had a mill constructed. Thanks to the laws of the time, they were able to have all the tenants on the estate grind their grain at the mill, which certainly was much quicker than hand-grinding, but also let the Savages take their cut. In 1593, Bess of Hardwick (who, after four successive marriages, was the second most powerful and wealthy woman in Elizabethan England) bought the estate and made many improvements. In addition to building the new Hardwick Hall (more on that in a later post), the mill was also improved. A kiln and drying floor were added so crops could be dried before grinding. In 1761 the Stainsby Pond and Brook were built to supply extra water to run the mill. In the 1840s, the mill had fallen into disrepair and the 6th Duke of Devonshire completely rebuilt it. A new, 17 foot tall iron waterwheel was installed. The building was rebuilt with local stone and made sturdy enough to withstand the vibrations of the new, heavy machinery. Two new French millstones were added. The update cost almost £1000.

In the 1900s the mill again fell into disuse as American grains (unsuitable for the mill) became more popular and other methods of grinding superseded those used at the mill. The whole estate wound up in the government's hands due to overwhelming Death Duties in the 1950s. Eventually, the mill was restored under the National Trust's ownership and reopened to the public in 1992.

Stainsby Mill

We arrived just before 10 a.m. (in April 2012, 20 years after it was reopened!), so the Mill was not open quite yet. The staff was just getting things running. One of them showed us how individuals would grind grain into flour with a hand-powered wheel. Lucy really enjoyed pouring the grain on top of the wheel and then cranking it around to make flour.

Lucy takes the grain for a spin

But that was not the main attraction. Inside the main building is the large water wheel and grinding stones. As you enter the ground floor, the center of the wheel is visible through a small window and the main mechanisms are found.

There is also an area for conducting business, sorting the grain, carrying the grain up to the grinding floor, and sacking the flour that comes down from the grindstones above. And the little desk where they sell tickets and books and flour produced at the mill.

The main works of the mill, transferring power to the grinding stones upstairs

Water power also helped the workers pull sacks of grain upstairs through a trap door

Jacob pulls the rope to start the grain sack hoist

Upstairs, we saw the grinding wheels in action.

The mill stones in wooden housing with the hopper above for pouring in grain

In the next room, we could see down into the kiln. The floor was originally brick, and later iron plates. The heat from the kiln would heat the floor. Grain would be spread over it to dry. Workers would sweep the dried grain into a chute to the ground floor. There the grain was sacked and taken to the top floor (above the mill stones) to be poured into the grinders.

You can see a few of the iron plates on the top

Closeup of the kiln from downstairs

Up here, they also had an exit to see the water and wheel from the outside.

Bridge over powering waters

The wheel was in lock up!

Gears within gears

You'll notice the small gear wheel on the left, which is connected to the main drive shaft that powers the mill. The drive shaft has a higher speed than the main axle of the water wheel and can be used more economically (powering the grinding stones, the sack hoist, and other parts of the mill).

We did buy some flour from the mill and they gave us a recipe card for different breads. We tried some out and they were wonderfully delicious.

Spelt Bread made in our bread machine

After visiting the mill, we went off to see the main estate, Hardwick Hall and Old Hardwick Hall.

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