Blue Flower

When we uncovered the site in 2015 we discovered brick floors of the main buildings and tar floors of the boiling house and in part of the main building. The Blacksmith’s shop was uncovered exposing the forge and anvil stand, we also found the trench and tunnels, elevator and underground cistern.

The main preservation was in 2015 refurbishing the water wheel using specialist steel contractors, and rebuilding the riverside walls and pier with historic brickwork specialists. Other preservation involved removing and cleaning the elevator boot, freeing the bearings, repainting it and putting back in its pit. The bypass channel walls were rebuilt by the site owners.

Exposed brickwork deteriorates in winter and soon breaks up due to the freeze thaw effect where water penetrates the bricks, then freezes and expands, breaking up the bricks. It’s a large site so there was lots to preserve. In the first few years we covered the brick areas with Geotex material every winter, but covers blew off in high winds, frayed away quickly and took a lot of work to cover up, maintain and uncover in spring. Bricks held down corners of the coverings but winds still blew the covers off. We considered spreading soil on them to hold them in place, but machines needed to move soil were difficult to get to site in winter due to the track being slippery, and removing soil again to uncover would have been difficult.

I looked into preserving brick floors using Semi-Permeable treatments like Thomsons Water Seal to coat the brick floors to prevent the Freeze / Thaw effect, but the experts said this method is not suitable for historic bricks. We considered keeping items on display with overhead canopies and enclosures, but this would ruin the atmosphere of the site, and the expense could not be justified when deterioration had already taken place. Its also a very windy site and we didn't think structures like this would survive.

So we decided to permanently cover selected areas with soil, while leaving the most interesting features on show. The decision to permanently cover up is never taken lightly, no one involved wants to cover historic features, but we owe it to future generations to leave it in place for them to discover one day. 

The downstream brick floor was covered with soil and grass for the railway wagon to be sited there, then the upstream river bank was covered which has a tar floor below. The upstream brick floor was uncovered in the early days but was covered again recently as we had the chance to incorporate it into our wildflower meadow.

Where possible, we find alternative ways of protecting features while leaving them on display, examples are the chimney base which was built up with new bricks to protect the original structure; the glass and Perspex panels showing a small section of the brick floors; a wooden surround and removeable cover for the boiling house foundation; painting the elevator hopper; fencing off the cistern roof to prevent footfall damage; and making a walkway in front of the water wheel over the machinery area

The walkway was made to allow visitors to safely view the water wheel turning while keeping them a safe distance from it behind a barrier and giving a flat platform to stand on instead of an uneven surface, it also stops people walking on the historic brick floor and features below, protecting it from footfall erosion.

When our wall collapsed in January 2023 we had to wait until spring for dry conditions to get machines on site to clear the debris and start repairs. We had to cross the blacksmith’s area with digger, tractor and trailer to carry out this work. This meant we had to put soil down in the blacksmith’s area to give a level surface to access the fallen wall, so we decided it was time to permanently cover the area, as severe deterioration had already taken place, the anvil stand had almost disappeared. Part of the forge will still be visible above the soil, we have pictures when it was first uncovered for display. We had to temporarily remove the boiling house foundation bracket and cover for this work, it will be put back when the wall is repaired in 2024.

One of the most significant achievements was getting our water wheel turning again which involved installing a pipe across the machinery area and out along the front of the water wheel. The pipe was hidden in the machinery area by building a small wall and burying it in the soil, then grassing over to blend in with the surroundings. The water feed pipe has now rusted slightly to blend in with the water wheel. 

We replaced the gate frame arch, large pieces of Oak were used to create the frame which was installed across the river, this is a close match to the original guillotine sluice and has now aged to become the same colour.

The cistern was pumped out as it was partially filled with rainwater, we removed tree roots, soil, rubble and weeds, then pictures of the inside were taken. It was then allowed to refill with water as we thought this would be the best way to preserve it. The curved roof is fenced off to prevent damage.

Whenever areas are permanently covered, we always make sure we have early photos of them when the features look their best. Photos are put on the walls of the visitor centre, website, included in the relevant slideshows on our multimedia screens, and in many cases used for signs explaining the features for open days.

At the upper staunch there is a stepped angled plinth which the mitre gates closed against at the bottom of the river bed, this is cleared of weeds at open days for visitors to see from our bridge, some of the quoin stones have been put around the site on display. Iron fittings which held the gates are still in situ on the North staunch wall.

We try to strike a balance, ensuring there are interesting features to see, as well as preserving the site for future generations to discover. Eventually more of the site will need to be covered, but we'll display pictures of the features before they were covered over. 

Most of the finds discovered are displayed on illuminated shelves in the visitor centre, some items are permanently displayed outside, these are mainly large thick metal parts that are unlikely to rust away and many are too big to display in the visitor centre.

Much of the brickwork on tunnel ends and walls around the site is loose and damaged, but the priority is to rebuild the fallen river wall and repair the cracked, bowed trench wall. Only when this work is complete will the other brickwork be repaired, as this is a lower priority.

Graham Bartlett                  Interactive Plan           Wall Repairs           Brickwork           Water Wheel