Blue Flower

On Saturday 3rd October 2015 an attempt was made to turn the wheel under water power by raising the river level enough to flood the upstream brick floor and allow water to enter the wheel below the metal plate. When the mill was working the river level would have been much higher and water would have fed the wheel from over the top of the metal plate giving it the increased power needed to operate the millstones and machinery. It was not known whether the wheel would have enough water to rotate by feeding under the plate, but it would not be practical to raise the river to the original level.

We met at The Maltings where scaffold boards had been nailed together to make interlocking sluice boards that could be slotted into the existing original sluice slots one by one to allow the river level to rise gradually. These boards were loaded onto the tractor trailer along with tools for removing them afterwards and a chainsaw for trimming them to size. Foam boards and geotextile sheet were also loaded up for the winter protection of the site.

The tractor and trailer led the convoy of family and volunteers to site. A table was set up for cakes and drinks ready for a celebration if the wheel turned. The water wheel bearings were oiled and the wheel was checked to ensure it was not at a tight spot. It was turned manually to ensure it was at a point where it was free to turn to give the best chance of moving under water power. A plank was put across the piers to give easy access to the sluice. Scaffolding was still in place from the brickwork which gave a platform for putting the boards in the sluice, one section of scaffold was removed to leave a gap for the sluice boards to slot in. The first board was put in the sluice and the river rose rapidly and soon a thick wier of water was flowing over the top. The downstream side of the river took longer to recover and the level was much lower for some time, this is what delayed placing the next board in place. A small fish was noticed stranded in the low water so it was photographed and rescued. When the level recovered the next plank was put in place then after a while the third was added.

Video cameras were set up on tripods to cover both sides of the wheel and left running, and a Gopro was put at various places to capture views from different angles. People were also filming and taking pictures with cameras and phones.

The first boards were bowing under considerable water pressure and when the next board was added there was a slight gap which allowed water to escape through the wier, giving a longer wait for the level to build up. Gaps between the boards were filled with weeds and this gave a temporary improvement, pieces of wood were also put in to block the worst leaks which helped. The water rose slowly and eventually started to cover the step at the start of the upstream brick floor. We wondered if one more board would be enough as we could see the water needed to rise above the step at the start of the floor, then the brick lip near the wheel, then a slope up before it would flow over and into the wheel. The last purpose made board was put in place and was not quite enough to give the height needed, the only option was to find another board. There was a scaffold board on top of the container which was brought across, but this was not long enough to use, however it was long enough to use as a bridge across the piers which meant the original board bridge could be cut down and used for a sluice board. The chainsaw trimmed it to size and it was put in place. The wier was leaking badly now, the top board was a single piece, not overlapped stepped boards like the others so there was a large escape of water and it took a long time to build up but eventually it went over the slope and into the wheel area. This small flow was not enough to fill the paddles in the wheel, but was escaping under the wheel and flowing through to the downstream side losing yet more water. At this rate we would never have enough head of water to run the wheel. The plan was to use the bridge board to cut off the supply of water to the wheel to prevent loss under the wheel, then release it when the level built up.

While the board was being held in place the wheel suddenly turned a small amount. After asking if anyone had manually turned it, we realised it had turned under water power, it then turned again and it repeatedly turned almost a full revolution before stopping at the tight spot, then the paddles fully filled up with water and started the process again. Eventually when it came to the tight spot it would slow down instead of stop. More oil was put on the bearings and we decided what we thought was a tight spot was actually an out of balance due to the new replacement steel paddles on one side being lighter than the original paddles which had accumulated rust and soil. With the wheel now turning continuously, the delicious cakes were eaten in celebration and it was agreed to get the wheel turning again at some point now we know it can be done. After all the work of applying for the HLF grant, organising contractors, carrying out the physical work on site and all the other obstacles and behind-the-scenes effort, it was agreed that it was all worth it to see the wheel turning under water power.