A festival of open-house mills that takes place across the UK every May, National Mills Weekend is run by the SPAB Mills Section, the UK’s national organisation devoted to protecting and promoting traditional windmills and watermills.
As their former Chairman (and owner of Fosters Mill in Cambridgeshire) Jonathan Cook described it, the weekend is “a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get inside their local windmill or watermill and explore their local industrial history. For mill owners it is also a chance to share our enthusiasm for these buildings and for traditional flour milling.”
This year the theme was ‘Our Mill – its history in pictures”, which saw the 300+ participating mills putting on colourful exhibitions of pictorial records made of their mill throughout its lifetime, showing the lives and work of the many people connected to their mill over the years.
The artwork, dating from any era from centuries old to the present day, included photographs, paintings, sketches, embroideries, collages, film or video, and even old maps, postcards, posters and puzzles!
As Mildred, who is Chairman of the SPAB Mills Section as well as being our Founder and volunteer, said, “Mills have always been a focal point for communities and, over the years, they have been recorded in many ways.” Many an artist has been inspired by windmills and watermills; in truth, the silhouette of a windmill’s sails standing to attention on a hilltop horizon, or the hidden gem of a tranquil watermill pond on a summers’ day are images as integral to the British countryside than any of the modern landmarks and ostentatious buildings. Mills have the ability to conjure up fond memories and deep sentimentality: they are often used as mascots by their communities to represent their belonging to, and affection of the local area.
In Cambridgeshire, Impington Mill, owned by Steve Temple, had a very successful event with over 200 visitors. You can see some of them in the photo above admiring the sails on the ground – they look so much bigger close-up!
Upminster Windmill (left), one of our Heritage Partners, were able to show off the newest renovation works to the mill to their guests, with the very exciting event of the scaffolding being removed to show the new smock – a huge milestone for them. Well done Upminster!
Heron Corn Mill, another Heritage Partner, ran a drop-in flax beetling workshop (the process of pounding fabric to give it a flat, lustrous effect… not every day you can try your hand at that!) as part of National Mills Weekend as well as their ‘1220 – 2010: 800 Years of Milling!’ project, celebrating the work that’s gone on at the mill over the last eight centuries. They even had some medieval living history reenactors (right) on site to show how it traditionally would have been done!
Sarehole Mill (which featured in our last blog – read it here) shared these great photos (below and title photo) on Twitter, which show their fantastic display of ‘our mill – its history in pictures’. We particularly like the comparison of the modern-day photo to one much older – it hasn’t changed much!
We hope all the participating mills had a very fun and successful weekend – and if you didn’t visit this time, make sure you put the date in your calendar for next year’s event!