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Leon Burman

Please help us keep the waterwheel turning

By admin 30.08.2021

As every visitor to the Mill knows at the heart of our Mill is the waterwheel, that has been turning through the centuries to drive the Mill. However, like much of the rest of the world, in 2020 the wheel fell silent. 

As some of you will know, in 2014 restoration work was undertaken to the wheel. The old timber floats (paddles), backboards and starts were removed and replaced with green oak and at that time we also replaced the bearing on the offside (nearest the hatches). 

George Oakham, a trustee at the Mill with an interest in all things engineering, replaced the timber. It was a significant undertaking as each piece had to be specifically cut to fit the old wheel – no socket was identical, so each of the 90 oak starts had to be individually shaped. Similarly, each float (paddle) had to be modified to accommodate the drop-in ceiling height over time.

After a lot of time, effort and care, the wheel was restored. You can read more about how he did it here.

This restoration under normal circumstances would have lasted another 10-15 years. Unfortunately, due to the lack of use over the last 18 months of the pandemic, the lifetime of this restoration has been cut short.

As you all know the waterwheel provides a vital insight into water power and the industrial heritage of Whitchurch and the River Test. The waterwheel, like everyone at the Mill, has the power to delight every visitor. It powers the historic machines we hold and use to weave silk fabric. It brings to life the advancements of engineering since the Georgian era, which hold a unique role in Britain’s engineering history. That is now at risk.  

What we are doing about it

At the moment our Industrial Heritage Conservator is working in his workshop making the lifting frame and support for the axle, which will hold the waterwheel safely while he resurfaces the journal. He will then replace every single start, backboard and float on the wheel. However, our cast iron waterwheel will need a lot of support so he is taking every care measuring and remeasuring every part.

The replacement of starts, floats and backboards was not an expense we could plan for, so our Fundraising Working Group, which is Chaired by volunteer Amanda Wiltshire, decided to create a crowd fundraising campaign – our first go at this new form of fundraising! Follow the link to have a look!

This restoration will cost £6,000, please help the Fundraising Working Group raise this sum. 

How you can help, please

We very much appreciate donations towards the costs of restoring the waterwheel – every donation will help us keep the wheel turning into the future.

You can also secure some special rewards from our crowdfunding campaign, with more available on our crowdfunding page.

Sponsor a float: donate £100 and you can sponsor one of our 30 “Floats” which are sometimes called paddles, these push through the water and drive the wheel. You will become a ‘Float Champion’ and have your name listed on the waterwheel panel and website for up to 15 years, plus a personal thank you email, regular updates about the project from the Mill Team and a ticket for four to visit the Mill.

Sponsor a backboard: donate £75 and you can sponsor one of our 30 “Backboards”, which attach to the cast iron waterwheel. You will become a ‘Backboard Champion’ and have your name listed on the waterwheel panel and website for up to 15 years, plus a personal thank you email, regular updates about the project from the Mill Team and a ticket for two to visit the Mill.

A really good start: donate £30 or more. A start is a wooden peg that fixes the wooden float to the cast iron wheel. These hold everything together. A personal thank you email, regular updates about the project from the Mill Team, a ticket for two to visit the Mill and a 10% discount in the shop on the day of your visit.

Telling people, either by word of mouth or social networks, is a fantastic way to help us reach out to supporters to help us get the project off to a great start. We’ll keep you updated so hopefully, we will see the donations roll in.

Sharing the message and link –  https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/whitchurch-silk-mill-water-wheel-appeal We’ll be sharing this news on our social media and website over the next few days, but we wanted all our supporters to know first and if they can help us spread the word. 

Thank you from the Mill Team

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