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Leon Burman

Restoration of an engineering icon

By admin 17.03.2023

From the beginning of April, the water wheel at Whitchurch Silk Mill will turn again for the first time after three years of painstaking repair. The water wheel is the heartbeat of the Mill and essential to visitors enjoying their visit. But, like the rest of the world, in 2020, the wheel fell silent as its axle ground through its bronze bearing. After this critical mechanism which allowed it to turn, broke on the eve of the pandemic, it jammed in a fixed position.

The Restoration

Nigel Spender of G and H Spender, the Silk Mill’s Engineer replaced the bearing. He ground the worn axel to a mirror finish and restored every part on the ‘Governor’, which raises and lowers the sluice and diverts the water of the River Test to power the wheel. He and his team removed corrosion, re-manufactured intricate gears and milled, turned, ground and completed a comprehensive list of repairs.

It began with replacing the bearing, but each layer of the wheel that Nigel unpicked revealed another extensive list of essential repairs. All necessary to allow the wheel to turn. Repairs began in 2020, but difficulties caused by the pandemic, inflationary prices and the closure of numerous vital suppliers made this restoration increasingly tricky. During this time many, many foundries and engineering businesses closed.

“Those who visit Whitchurch Silk Mill can follow in the footsteps of generations of weavers and see and hear the water wheel in action. It would have been a real loss to us, the public and the country if we couldn’t restore it to working order. We must do all we can to protect places like this and preserve the skills that keep them in working order to inspire our love of the past. Whitchurch Silk Mill is one very special place.”

Sue Tapliss, Director for Whitchurch Silk Mill

The Mill raised funds on the social media-based Crowdfunder website to restore the iconic wheel. Thanks to the generosity of members of the public, the fundraising team raised the money to restore the wheel to its former glory.

With its working Victorian looms, Whitchurch Silk Mill is a rare survivor that beguiles visitors and transports them back in time. The wheel will turn again from 1st April, just in time for the Mill’s busy season.


Photograph by Russell Sach © 2023

Shows Engineer Nigel Spender checking the water wheel at Whitchurch Silk Mill

water wheel at Whitchurch Silk Mill, showing Nigel Spender inspecting the planks

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